by Reggie Shuford
The single interaction of a stop and frisk can be life-changing. Being stopped and searched by a police officer on the assumption that you may be committing a crime can range from humiliating to deadly.
I should know. In 2014, I was subject to an illegal stop while visiting my hometown of Wilmington, NC, an incident I wrote about in detail a few years back. At about ten o’clock one sunny November morning, I stepped outside to take a work call. I am a pacer while talking on the phone. I paced throughout the call with my colleague and found myself across the street from the home of a former board member where I was to soon rejoin an in-person meeting, in an upper middle class, predominantly white neighborhood, not far from where I attended my first year and a half of high school.
Within a matter of minutes, I saw a police car drive up. The officer got out of the car and approached me, without saying anything. Feeling a bit apprehensive, based upon previous encounters with the police, I said: “May I help you, officer?” He replied: “We received a few calls about a suspicious man being in the neighborhood.” I was annoyed and agitated: “This is a public street, and I am not doing anything wrong.” Despite the aggressive tone of his own voice, I realized that it was indeed in my best interest to keep calm. We’ve all seen how police encounters involving Black Americans can go sideways quickly.
So, I took a deep breath and said to myself, “Okay, let’s do this again.” I then said to the officer, “This is a public street. I have every right to be here. I am doing nothing wrong. I am at a meeting across the street and am speaking with a colleague.” The officer (whose last name is Benton, I later learned) responded, “How do I know that? I don’t know who you are.” I repeated that I had every right to be on a public street and asserted that it was my right not to identify myself. “However,” I said, in the interest of de-escalating the situation, “if you tell me that I do have to identify myself, I will. But I don’t think I have to.” The officer just kept watching me as I continued my call, apparently trying to intimidate me into ending it and being on my merry way. Eventually, my colleagues came out, and we confronted the officer, making clear to him that we believed his illegal stopping of me…