Unjustified police stops continue in communities of color. I know because it happened to me

(Source: Pexels)
(Source: Pexels)

When you arrive home early morning after a hard night of work only to discover your beloved house cat has gone AWOL, what else could possibly go wrong?

Here at BLK News Now!, I seldom get personal, but like many of these videos I see of people recounting moments of despair, I echo a sentence many of them first say: “I did not think anything like this would happen to me.”

It all happened last month when I learned my cat Salem was missing and for over half of the day. How he got loose wasn’t as important to me as finding him because unfortunately, he has been raised solely indoors his whole life without a tracker or chip. Because he has a dark chocolate fur, that appears black, he, like other dark cats, are stereotyped and targeted by cruel people, so I’m very protective, and needless to say I panicked when I realized he was nowhere to be found in the house. I immediately went to look for him. My boyfriend, who could hear the fear and sadness in my voice, left work to join me on my search.

Police scene from "South Park"
Police scene from “South Park”

Walking while Black in my neighborhood had never been an issue – until that day. My boyfriend, who is Latino, accompanied me as we walked further down the neighborhood a few blocks past where I started my search. We were completely focused on simply finding my cat, we never went into anyone’s property, and ask anyone standing outside their home if they saw my cat. I was shocked when suddenly while walking a White woman yells aggressively behind us a few houses down asking what we were doing. We actually stopped, looked back and told her we are looking for my cat that is missing. She she said “OK,” which I took as a positive sign. I asked if she had seen a black cat, but now she doesn’t answer me. At this point, she is now circling and inspecting the cars in her driveway as we continue to walk. The ordeal took a weird turn when she yells back “What did you say? Did you say you’re going to steal my Cadillac converter?”

I couldn’t believe it! My boyfriend and I spun around in complete shock and responded with a resounding “no” before I again explain to her that I was simply looking for my missing cat. Unfortunately, I had found myself face to face with a real life “Karen” neighbor. Apparently, my answer wasn’t good enough. She insisted that our intention was to steal the catalytic converter and in typical “Karen” fashion, she makes a scene by getting louder as she is yelling at us. I continue to try clarifying, but it did nothing. Annoyed, I tell her one final time that I’m just looking for my cat – and for her to go inside of her home. What did I get in return? “[We] are what’s wrong with the world.” I reminded her it was actually people like her she was referring to. How “searching for my cat” translates to “stealing your Cadillac converter” didn’t make sense to me. But Karen wasn’t done.

About 20 minutes later, my father met me in my neighborhood to help us search. I noticed a police car pass us as we were walking. I live near several police, so I didn’t feel alarmed by it. But minutes apart, another police car passed us. My worries didn’t kick in until suddenly while walking through the park path, one police vehicle stops in front of the path’s entrance, then another police car. I had already given my father the story about the nutty neighbor. Once he saw the police stop and we were the only people around at this time, he immediately knew what was going to happen. I immediately grabbed my phone and felt that’s all I could do at that moment. The police told us indeed “Karen” had called the police on us. According to the police, “Karen” said she had cameras and saw us circling the street and suspected we were trying to steal her Cadillac converter — and apparently, being smart criminals, we told her exactly what we were allegedly up to.

For the millionth time, I found myself explaining to a stranger, that we were looking for my cat. While I give credit to the police being relatively polite and kind, I took issue with being asked for all of my information. While I was not pressured, I felt pressured because I was being unjustifiably stopped and assumed a thief. Needless to say, no one with me had anything to hide, but we were treated with suspicion. I did advise the officers that I felt it was not justified for all of us to have to provide all of our credentials to them but I didn’t want to get on the officer’s bad side by refusing to provide my personal information. My other concern was with my own suspicion that our information was being taken by the police officers to satisfy “Karen.” Do I not live in this neighborhood too? I have also seen people in my neighborhood walking, but should I call the police on every new person I see? 

It probably goes without saying that the best result from the entire ordeal was finding Salem. He is also now microchipped and has a tracker. The day I lost Salem will forever be a part of me, not just because of the trauma of not knowing if my cat was dead or alive. I’m also shaken to be reminded that I live in a world where a Black woman, in 2022, simply walking in her own neighborhood looking for her cat, can be accused of something I can’t even fathom doing… and the police were called! I can’t help to think had I been White would the story be different. In my time of emotional distress, when just moments before her asking what we were doing my face still soaked from the tears, would I have been greeted with concern, or given a kind word of encouragement instead of being met with blame and fear? I never thought someone would call the police on me simply while being Black. I was also reminded I live in a world where that is considered acceptable. Too often White women weaponize the police for benign encounters with Black people. To be honest, this also scares me. I can’t say despite the many friends and family I have that are police that I was not a bit scared in that moment. Sadly, there are several stories that start out “normal” and the police are called but those stories didn’t end as well as mine.

Yes, the silver lining is I did find my cat, but I also had two uncomfortable “firsts” that I can honestly attribute to being a Black woman. Despite the holiday nightmare, I’m most grateful to have Salem back. I look forward to a day when people realize black cats can never be as dangerous as ignorant humans. 🐈‍⬛