When They Saw Me: Stories of Police Injustice From My Adolescence, Part 4: “Tell or Go to Jail!”

Image result for corey wise going to support his friend
Korey Wise (right) and Anton McCray of the Exonerated Five on the night they were arrested in 1989

It was a hot Summer. Yea, I know every Summer is hot but the summer of my senior year was the hottest ever, and it didn’t have much to do with the temperature. The hood was booming and busting. School was out, pools were open, and the mischief we had brewing was ripe for action. In a city that appeared to think hood kids just want to play basketball at the recreation center and eat cold-cut sandwiches from the Summer Free Lunch programs, we typically found all kinds of madness to get into.

Not everything we did was bad, per se. We just wild out a bit more than many adults and disgruntled police officers could tolerate. Just like the boys in the Netflix Docu-series When They See Us. In the first episode, several boys scramble through the park. Some causing trouble, but most just having a good time with friends. Running. Laughing. Wilding.

The problem often with language is that misinterpretations can prove to be detrimental. Especially when the language is hood talk or Ebonics, and the interpreters are White and have no desire or even care about what our terms mean. Sometimes its wild how some people don’t care about black and brown bodies enough to dig a little deeper to find out real meanings of terms.

It’s that simple.

In our hood, that Summer, we were wilding. And we knew it but there was only so much basketball and sandwiches we could eat. Our hobby of choice this summer: Riding clean in box Chevys, Delta 88’s, and LeSabres with limo tint and loud bang! (More slang for some of y’all to Google!)

And ride we did. Earlier that year I used my money that I made working and hustling to buy a brown 1983 Buick LeSabre (same year of my birth). I put some sound in it, kept this one glasshouse (no tint), and factory (no rims). Everyone had whips this particular summer. When anyone came to the block, we would be parked in a row, looking fresh and feeling better. Everyone had money in our pockets, the block was jumping, and we were doing good.

But as we all know… All good things must come to an end.

Toward the end of the summer, when the money became funny and the change a little strange, my car started having problems. First, it was the carburetor. Then, the thermostat. Soon after that, the starter went out. Within a few weeks, my car needed new head gaskets and I was out of money. A homie of mine had a solution. I gave him a few dollars and in the morning, I had a new car. A blue 1984 Buick LeSabre… kinda like mine but way better.

Better seats. Better paint. Better wheels. And most importantly, everything under the hood was better.

I was back in action. A few modifications, take some things off of my old car, put them on the new car. Boom. We are in business. Riding clean like Cain on Menace II Society!

I felt like him too. Couldn’t tell me nothing. Couldn’t tell my mama nothing, either. My mother knew I was a hustler. She knew that I went to work but she had figured out by this time that my part-time job wasn’t the only way I able to consistently buy new clothes, shoes, pay bills around the house, and buy a car… or two. She just figured I was doing what I needed to do to with the circumstances we were given. And I was. But maybe this time I had gone too far.

One day while rolling around, I noticed someone staring quite hard at me and my car. I didn’t sweat it. After all, the whip was clean, and I was fly. Also, jackers are always looking so we stay on guard. Nothing happened though. I went about my way. A few mornings later, while I was sleeping in on a Saturday, my mother bursts into my room screaming,

“Get up. Get up, now! The cops are all around your car saying it’s stolen but they can’t prove it! Go out there now!”

“I ain’t going out there,” I say, shaking the sleep out of my eyes. “Ain’t no way. Whatever they need they will just have to find it without me.”

My mom just stood there. Baffled at first, then with a little more thought, looked at me and my best friend who had stayed over and said,

“Well, you better do something because Lil T and Jay are on the car, and they are talking to the cops now.”

Damn!

“Bro, fuck that!” my best friend replies.”I wouldn’t do that man. They probably just fucking with T and Jay because they saw them on the car.”

“True,” I say. “Let’s just camp out until they dip.”

Over at the car, the cops are harassing the two little homies. Lil T and Jay were a few BG’s (baby gangsters). Not that I was an OG (original gangsters) during that time (or even one now) but they were younger than me and I would put a little cash in their pockets for stuff like store runs and stuff. They were both really cool youngsters with so much promise and potential. Jay was super athletic: football, basketball, track. Didn’t matter he could do it, and do it well. Lil T was quick as lightning, and was a decent basketball player for his size. Both were still under 15 years old at the time.

Cops rushed them because they were told that the car they were sitting on was stolen and that they needed to tell them who’s car it is.

Lil T was a fire cracker as well, and told the cops,

“Man this my nigga car, I know for sure it ain’t stolen.”

“Who is your friend?” asked the cop

“I’m sure you would like to know, huh?” jabbed Jay. “Man, y’all need to get up out of here always looking to mess with us over here!

Jay hops back on the car and chills on the hood.

“Get off the car now!” the cop exclaims.

“Man, this is my homie car. I ain’t getting off of nothin’!” Jay yells back.

After what I was told was some back and forth by Jay, Lil T, and the cops, and the cops getting frustrated because all they could get from the homies was my alias and a bunch of talk back, one of the cops threatened,

“You have two options: tell or go to jail.”

“You can’t take us to jail. We didn’t do nothing. You can’t prove we did nothing. So we ain’t doing or saying nothing.” Jay says.

The cop immediately cuffs Jay and puts him in the car.

“Damn, that’s fucked up!” Lil T exclaims. “You can’t do that, man.”

“We just did. And we are taking this car, too!” the cop snaps back.

They called a tow truck to remove my car, and with my car in tow and Jay in the back of the squad car, they drove out of the hood. The car was never pronounced as stolen. It remained impounded.

Jharrel-Jerome-plays-Korey-Wise-in-When-They-See-Us-1896290
Actor Jharrel Jerome plays Korey Wise in When They See Us. He was taken to the precinct to support and protect his friend. Korey never leaves jail until he is exonerated 13 years later.

When I came out of my house that morning, I was told what happened, and why I no longer had a car, and why one of my homies was taken to jail. The decision to not go outside has been a difficult one to live with to this very day. I believe with relative certainty that my life would be drastically different had I done so. And perhaps Jays would be too.

Jay was released later that day. I don’t know if he was charged with anything. The car was never pronounced as stolen. It remained impounded. I know Jay continued to play sports, mostly at recreation center, but would eventually be incarcerated again. Lil T would also get arrested later in life. He, too, has been incarcerated a few times since that incident. I often live with the thought that perhaps their lives would be different if I had just come outside. Maybe it would’ve been me who went to jail that morning, and they would be able to tell the story a different way. It’s possible they could have learned from my mistake that morning and never engaged any activity that would land them in jail.

Maybe the cops could’ve handled the youngsters with more care and consideration. After all they were young teenagers. Maybe if this were the suburbs and not the hood the cops wouldn’t have felt threatened by a few small teens. But we know that we don’t get seen as we actually are but who they want us to be: criminals, thugs, gangsters, grown men in boys bodies.

My heart has still not been freed from the feelings that their fate would be different if not for my self-preservation and fear. Survivors guilt becomes just a bit more real, and harder to stomach.

I made it out, they say. “Oh, you are not like them,” they say.

“I can’t believe you lived like that,” they say.

If I could only change how they saw us. How they saw me. My uncles. How they might see my sons. My students. My church members.

But I can’t. All I can do is tell the stories. Telling the stories to remind them, to inform them, to shed light for them on the areas that are dark for us and blind and forgotten to them.

All this with hope that they may help me change the stories. The narratives. Their futures. So that when they see us, they see human. They see redeemable. They see someone worthy of grace and dignity. A creation of God, in the image and likeness of…

When they see us…

*This series is dedicated to all the young black and brown Kings across America and the Diaspora who are seen but not given the dignity to be counted as worthy of life and a future*

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