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I ran from cops when I was teenager. What if I had been Black? | COMMENTARY

When I was 14, I ran from the cops. North Baltimore, late at night. They were responding to a call about gunshots. They were firecrackers, but they didn’t know that. I ran. No one shot me in the back.

When I was 16, I watched my dad shove a cop’s hands away and get in the guy’s face for accusing us of scalping tickets at an O’s game (we weren’t). No one shot my dad. I didn’t have to watch him gunned down.

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When I was 25, I ran at a pair of Los Angeles police officers with a large stick in my hand. The stick wasn’t meant for them; they showed up while I was (stupidly) storming around the block looking for whomever had just broken into my apartment — but they didn’t know that. They didn’t shoot me. They laughed. They also laughed at the not-yet-legal pot my roommate left out. We didn’t get our stuff back, but I didn’t get shot, and we didn’t go to jail.

When I was 26, I got in the face of a cop from L.A.’s Rampart Division, where in the late ’90s more than 70 officers were implicated in unprovoked beatings and shootings and planting and covering up evidence. I yelled at him for not wanting to write a report after I was the victim in a hit and run. He didn’t lay a finger on me.

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I made some incredibly poor decisions around police during the first 26 years of my life, and I also watched my father stand up to a policeman who was acting wrongly, and I was able to feel proud instead of scared. We walked away unharmed each time. Did we just get lucky?

I and people I love have disobeyed the police’s orders, have run from them, have laid hands on them, gotten in their faces and screamed at them in anger, and we have never been shot or met with physical violence — never even worried about the possibility of getting shot.

Many Black Americans cannot say the same.

For any white folks saying Jacob Blake in Wisconsin shouldn’t have turned his back on the police, that he’d still be able to walk if he had listened, do you think the police should have shot me in my back when I ran away too? Did my offense warrant point-blank final judgment? Or would you be a little more appalled if they put seven bullets in the back of a white kid from a good suburban neighborhood?

Do I deserve to be dead, paralyzed from the waist down, in prison? How many Black men and women have been all of these things for the same “offenses” or less? For walking away? For selling a loose cigarette? For not saying “I can’t breathe” enough times, or maybe for saying it too many? For being asleep in their own bed when the cops bust into the wrong apartment on a no-knock warrant?

When I was arrested after running from the cops, they took us in without use of force, called our parents to pick us up; a magistrate made us write essays about what we learned, and we went about our promising lives with a good story and clean records. A “good” story? How many Black Americans can claim that about their run-ins with police?

If I was Black and I did these things, would I still have landed an internship at The Sun on the sports desk and been published in the paper as a high school student? Would I still be a children’s book author? A teacher? Or would I be dead, paralyzed, in prison, a criminal with a record fighting to convince someone to hire me? Denied even the right to vote.

The leniency the criminal justice system showed me allowed me to thrive.

It let me off the hook while letting Black citizens be shot in the back and blamed for their own murders. Its toughness on crime imprisons them for any infraction or none at all and then blames them for not prospering. The current system oppresses by violence and by policy, by a closed fist and a closed purse and a brutally closed heart.

I ran from them, I ran at them, my dad grabbed them, and I yelled at them, and I am still alive and uninjured and free. And I never worried about the other possibilities until years later.

That is an enormous privilege, one that doesn’t come with being Black in America.

Black Lives Matter.

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If you still question that statement, then you are part of the problem. But you also have a choice. You can choose not to turn away.

Reuben Sack (writtenbyreuben@gmail.com) is a children’s book author, ghostwriter and creative writing instructor based in the New York metropolitan area.

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