A Very Personal “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Encounter

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Many of you know that my husband, Andrew, is the managing editor of The Champion Newspaper, a weekly publication in the metro-Atlanta area. You should also remember that Tuesday, November 3, was Election Day which means that the media has the job of reporting the final results of election races around the area.

Election Day ended up being a very long work day for him since the returns don’t start to come in until after the polls close at 7:00pm, but since he works so close to home, he was able to come home for supper, rest for a little while and then head over to the Board of Elections office around 7:30pm.  As he was leaving, I asked him when he thought he’d be finished and he told me that he should be done around 9:30 or so.

When the clock in the kitchen showed 9:30 pm and he had not arrived home, I wasn’t very concerned because Andrew has covered Election Day for the past several years and getting the final results can sometimes take a little longer than expected. So I went into the bedroom and laid down. I fell asleep, but woke up when he called to tell me that he was going to have to go back to the office. The lady who does the graphic design was having trouble uploading things remotely and would need him to physically go in and upload the graphics. Again, this was not unusual.

He finally arrived home around 12:00 am and it was then that he shared the scary encounter he had just with the police.

It seems that when he went to his office, the alarm panel was having some problems and he accidentally set it off. He quickly keyed in the code unarming the system and since he hadn’t received a phone call from the alarm company, he assumed everything was okay. He proceeded to his office, turned on the computer, called the graphic design employee, and went about the business of putting the final details of the election results onto the pages of the newspaper.

As he talked on the phone in the office, he could hear noises coming from the hallway and so he told the employee to hold on and walked over to the door to see if he could hear more. At that point, he heard a voice yell, “This is the police. Come out with your hands up!”.

Stunned, he yelled back and said, “I’m coming out with my hands up.” and he slowly opened the door and entered the hallway. The three officers, one of which had his gun drawn, were at the other end of the long hallway. They instructed him to walk toward them. He walked toward them with his hands in the air (his phone was still in his hand and graphic design artist was still on the phone). When he got about halfway down the corridor, they then instructed him to put his phone on the floor, turn around, put his hands behind his head and walk backwards to them.

When he reached them, he was told to turn around again and they proceeded to ask him a series of questions–”Why was he in the building? What was he doing there?  Did he have a key to the building?” He told them that he was the managing editor of The Champion Newspaper, that it was Election Night and that he was working on the newspaper.

At that point, they asked him for identification which he promptly showed them. They asked to see his key to the building and told him to use it to unlock the door which he did. One of the officers asked if he would mind if they searched him and he gave them permission to search his body. They asked him if he had work identification and he told them that it was on his desk back in his office, so they walked him back to his office where he showed them his work identification. They ended the interrogation by asking him to give them specific details about the election. The police officers told him that there had been recent burglaries in the building, gave him their business card and finally left.

Obviously, this was an incident that could have went very badly as we have seen with other situations in recent months and years. So I wanted to use this as an opportunity to share a few important insights.

First and foremost, as a believer, this incident confirmed for me the importance of praying for my husband. Whenever he leaves the house, I walk him to the door, kiss him goodbye and I stand in the doorway and wave as he pulls out of the driveway and drives down the street.  In those moments, I pray for the Lord to bless, keep him and to protect him from hurt, harm and danger.  I’ve prayed those prayers too many times to count, and to be perfectly honest, sometimes I’ve wondered if they even work. Well, they do. So, wives, pray for your husbands because we never know what they will face each day.

Another important factor in this situation is possessing a spirit of humility and self-control.

Those of you who know Andrew know that he is a gentleman and I mean that in the truest sense of the word–he is a gentle man. He’s naturally reserved and pleasant. He doesn’t have a “thug” bone in his body. He’s well-learned, well spoken and well-mannered, and well dressed and these character traits have served him well.

Keep in mind, though, that it was very late and it had been a long day. He was tired and ready to go home. The last thing he expected to have to deal with was three police officers with guns drawn yelling at him to come out of his office with his hands up. He could have copped an attitude (pun intended) and said a lot of things in those moments, but he didn’t. He remained calm, collected his thoughts and cooperated and did what the police asked him to do. He knew that he hadn’t done anything wrong and he believed that he would have a chance to explain why he was there.

Now, some of you might be drawing the conclusion that the situation ended well because my husband is a good, black man and did as he was told, but that would be an inaccurate oversimplification. If we are to move forward as a nation and achieve racial reconciliation, it is vitally important to acknowledge the fact that insidious, pernicious racism still exists, that law enforcement, for the most part, has preconceived, negative ideas about black men, and that there are many times when innocent men of color who are doing nothing wrong (as in the case of the former professional tennis player, James Blake, who was tackled by a NYC police officer as he stood waiting outside of his hotel), still get treated badly. This brings me to my final point.

In order to have the best and most favorable outcome in these types of situations, respect cannot be one-sided. It must be shown by both parties. It is unreasonable to think that a police officer or a citizen can treat the other with disdain and disrespect and there not be some kind of negative repercussions.

The officers in this case came to the premises based on a legitimate call from the security company. They had reason to believe that an unauthorized person was in the building. Add to that the fact that there was an unlocked door (which my husband knew nothing about since he had locked the door he entered when he came into the building) which made things look even more suspicious.

I appreciate that the police officers took the time to listen to my husband as he explained what he was doing in the building that night. I also think that they exhibited a degree of civility when they “asked” him if they could frisk him for weapons and I’m grateful that they did not manhandle him.

Still, the idea of a police officer searching my law-abiding husband’s body like a common criminal after he showed his identification and explained why he was there is highly offensive to me and my feelings are tempered only by the fact that “all’s well, that ends well”. I wonder if they would have taken those same measures if my husband’s boss, who happens to be a white man, had been the one to step out of the office and into the hallway. Somehow, I don’t think they would have, but I don’t know. All I know is that my husband is home, safe and sound, and for that I am grateful.

 

3 thoughts on “A Very Personal “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” Encounter

  1. Written very well and given much balance. I am so thankful, as you are, that all ended well. Like you, I also take issue with the body search. I’m so weary of those who are in authority overstepping their bounds. With that said, the most important thing is that Andrew came home, safe and unharmed.

    I have to remind myself sometimes that even during the civil rights movement we weren’t all on the same page. There are those of us who believe that the solution begins with us, with how we present ourselves, with how we choose to respond. Then there are those who believe that we shouldn’t have to “step and fetch” for our rights, that we shouldn’t have to cooperate beyond what the law requires in order to be left in peace. I have to admit that I toggle between the two positions. I often decide the only right answer is the one that allows you to make it home for dinner tonight. All I know for certain is that although we’ve come a long way, we still have a long, long way to go.

    Thank you for sharing your story.

    Like

    1. Lisa, thank you for your insights. I, too, teeter between the two positions you mentioned in your answer and like you said, I’m just glad that my husband made it home safely.

      Like

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