Police Brutality on a Chicago Street Corner

City scene at night

Police Brutality on a Chicago Street Corner

My carelessness endangered my friend

I thought they were coming over to ask for directions, but they were moving so fast. Their car was painted flat black all over — no trim or markings of any kind. The two of them came flying at us the instant the car stopped moving.

Two White cops, both young, one tall, one short. The short one looked so angry. They weren’t wearing normal police uniforms, but rather some kind of commando outfits — black bullet-proof vests, black pants covered with zippered pockets and chains, from which various deadly-looking objects swung. At first I didn’t realize they were cops.

Up to a point, their actions made sense. They’d been parked down the block and had seen what looked like an older couple being accosted by two young men.

They came to our rescue. If my husband and I had been in trouble, we would have been grateful for their presence.

But we weren’t in trouble. We were hanging out on a corner in Chicago, late at night, with our son and one of his friends — a friend we’d known and loved since he was a toddler. We’d been to a concert and dinner together. My husband Gene and I are White, as is our son E. Our friend TB is Black.

TB and I had been engaged in an intense conversation since dinner. We’d taken a walk around the block while Gene and E stood talking on the corner. It was after midnight when we got back. I was tired. Our RV was parked in a suburb south of the city, an hour’s drive away, and I wanted to get going. I also wanted to let the boys head home to their apartments before it got any later.

I walked up to my husband and son while TB leaned against the wall of a brownstone. They clearly weren’t finished talking, and E waved me away when I interrupted them. I waited a couple minutes, then told them again it was time to go. They ignored me. I gave my son a little push and he pushed me back. Then we tussled, a short mother and her taller son, just goofing around, while the father kept talking and the friend laughed at their antics from his spot next to the building.

That is when the cops saw us.

Everything happened so fast, and I didn’t understand what they wanted. The tall cop rushed to where the three of us stood and started asking questions. The short, angry one went straight for TB. Screaming.

“We thought you were being attacked ma’am,” the tall one explained.

“No, no,” I assured him, “it’s a misunderstanding! We were just playing. Everything’s fine. This is my husband, this is our son, and this is our friend.” It took several repetitions, but he seemed to finally believe what I was saying.

I turned around just as the short cop yanked TB’s hands behind his back and then threw him against the car, made him spread his legs. The guy’s face was red and contorted with rage. He screamed threats and obscenities at TB, who complied with slow, measured movements.

“STOP!” I yelled at the cop. “He’s our friend! He’s our friend! He didn’t do anything. What are you doing? STOP HURTING HIM!”

He was like an out of control child having a tantrum, and I wanted to grab his arm and shout, “What the hell’s wrong with you?” Only he wasn’t a child and he had a gun. I would have kept shouting at him, but E was suddenly next to me.

“Mom, stop talking to him,” he said. “Don’t say anything. You’re making it worse.”

I hadn’t thought of that. If I made him angrier, he wasn’t going to come at me with all his rage. He would take it out on TB. I stopped shouting, and the three of us watched, powerless to do anything, until finally the tall cop intervened.

“That’s enough,” he said. “Leave him be.” The crazy cop kept shouting. “I said that’s enough. Time to go. Let’s go now. Come on,” said tall one. And just like that, it was over. They got in their car and drove away. Our friend was alive.

At first, TB asked us never to mention the episode again. “It’s not the first time this has happened,” he said, “and it won’t be the last. But I wish you didn’t have to witness it.” So we kept the story to ourselves. Later he gave us permission to include it in the book we were writing.

This story is about more than police brutality. It’s also about the danger of white ignorance and privilege. It never occurred to me that by playing a pushing game with my son, I was risking the life of our friend. What seems harmless to me could be deadly to someone who’s Black. If I forget this, it’s because my white privilege allows me to forget.

TB’s story didn’t make it into our book. I think it was still too raw and too hard to write. This is the first time it’s been shared publicly.

Photo by Lorenzo Messina from Pexels

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