I have lived long enough to know encounters with the police, for someone who looks like me, can suddenly go off the rails regardless of my standing in the community. Living where I did, being pulled over by the local police, was inevitable. Fortunately, most encounters were noneventful.

However, I do remember one I found puzzling. It occurred at a police station in the town of Berlin adjacent to where I lived. I needed a copy of an accident report from them since the accident happened in their jurisdiction.

The woman officer behind the desk was cordial, but her fellow officer projected a far different demeanor. His gaze and overall posture took on the immediacy of authority and confrontational readiness.

The woman officer gave me a copy of the accident report. I thanked her and left. As I sat in my car reading over the information, my thoughts suddenly focused on the male police officer and the look of puzzlement on the female officer when he approached the desk.

I envisioned a thought bubble over her head something like this, “what is your problem? He’s just here for an accident report. Why are you getting agitated?” Don’t know if she was thinking along those lines or not. But, her confused look suggested it.

I have had my encounters with the police, primarily due to my heavy foot on the gas pedal. But none in comparison to what I felt at the Berlin police station. The vibes coming from the male officer were clearly signaling he was looking for some reason to invoke his authority for my temerity of coming to his station and ask for a document I needed for insurance purposes.

Current events caused me to recall this particular incident. The look on the male and female police officers came to mind as I wonder what is it with police when they encounter someone looking like me? My encounter was mild compared to those of George Floyd, Adam Toledo, and Dante Wright. These three died at the hands of those  

For some strange reason, police invoke some unwritten rule whenever they encounter a Black man or Woman. The circumstance of the encounter is immaterial. It is as if those who are Black, Brown are instantly dismissed as less-than. Or what I call negation of the concept of being created in the image of God. You know that verse in Gen 1:27 where it says the following:

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God, he created them; male and female, he created them.

It doesn’t say, God created white men and women in his own image. It states he created male and female in his image. So, if God created male and female in his image, it is not logical he viewed his creation of humankind with pride? The look the Berlin police officer gave me definitely was not one of being made in God’s image but clearly something else. I now realize it was the look of denunciation. Which meant he had every right to see me as “less than.”

For this police officer and others like him, it didn’t matter if I was a tax-paying law-abiding citizen; my blackness in his mind made me “suspect” even when I came in for an innocuous accident report. From my perspective, I present no threat. From his, however, my very presence was threatening. Meaning an automatic defensive posture.

I suspect had I been stopped by this officer outside of the police station, he would have felt justified in treating me as a non-human. I further imagine if something as simple as inquiring why I was being stopped would have given him reason to escalate the situation. If our encounter had risen to the level pulling his service weapon, his justification would have been he was doing his duty.

It seems Black people encounters with police officers – saying they’re doing their duty – are disparately different compare to whites. What is this “duty” police officers often see as justification for the abhorrent treatment of Black men and women, which often leads to them losing their lives? Especially since Kant said the following about duty:

In fact, it is absolutely impossible to make out by experience with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action, however right in itself, rested simply on moral grounds and on the conception of duty.

So when George Floyd was lying face down in the street with Chauvin’s knee on the back of his neck, ignoring Floyd’s cries, “I can’t breathe,” him doing his duty or his not seeing Floyd as a being made in the image of God? Was his maxim of action based on the concept of duty or his contempt for Floyd because what Winthrop Jordan wrote about Blacks,


The Negro’s color attained greatest significance not as a scientific problem but as a social fact.” –  The White Man’s Burden,  Winthrop Jordan  

Was the maxim of action required by the Windsor police when they stopped Army Lt. Caron Nazario pepper-spraying, drawing their weapons threatening him deadly force. For not having tags on his newly purchased car, even though a temporary license plate was clearly visible? Or were these actions by the police the result of their failure to see Lt. Nazario as created in God’s image, which justified their treatment of him?

I could continue to cite case after case where encounters between Black and Brown people with police ending in tragedy, but doing so is not necessary. However, what is relevant is our need to address this question when police officers stop individuals who look like George Floyd, Daunte Wright, and Lt. Caron Nazari. Do they see men who were created in the image of God? Or do they see men who, Judge Taney in the infamous Dred Scott Decision, said such men were;

 “a subordinate and inferior class of beings who had been subjugated by the dominant race … remained subject to their authority, and had no rights or privileges but such as those who held the power and the Government might choose to grant them?”

The 13th, 14th, 15th amendments nullified Taney’s decision. But the substance and intent of his words seem to manifest actions taken toward Black and Brown people, who police officers don’t see a created in the image of God.  

I recognize not all police officers react the way described earlier. Also, it can be said Chauvin and the police officers of Windsor are an outlier. Along with most traffic stops by police are noneventful situations.

But as the old saying goes, it only takes one rotten apple to spoil the entire barrel. It only takes one who sees someone who believes individuals who are Black or Brown are to be dealt with differently can do significant damage to a town or city reputation along with major financial liabilities and lawsuits.

Encounters with the police should be infrequent. But, at some point, they will happen. The majority of them end without incident. Meaning rarely is there any doubt the police officer sees the individual they stop like them made in God’s image.

For those who look like me, well, it depends if the officer who stops me believes I am subject to their authority, and I have no rights or privileges but such as those who they might choose to grant me. For the simple reason, in their eyes, God did not create me in his image.

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As always, really appreciate your writing and perspective.

I think about the psychological programming that leaders of societies and militaries have used in the past and continue to use to go to war and kill other people, the dehumanization they promote of a particular group of people. Through campaigns to de-humanize “the enemy”, leaders effectively brainwash people into seeing them only as less-than-human threats and since they are de-humanized, empathy and conscience are derailed from preventing people from assaulting them with hate and violence.

After centuries of the perpetuated myth of the “angry black male”, generations of white people, police, politicians, etc. have grown up with an instant and of course racist response to just the sight of someone who is black and male. Even shy, skinny teenagers can be instantly seen as a potential threat just because they are black and male.

What is hard for many people in the majority race of a society to really understand is what it feels like to be immediately judged and viewed as a threat, especially by police, simply because of the skin color that a person just happened to be born with. Skin color representing the character, intellect, values, principles and intentions of any human being is so absurd on the face of it but it is the result of insecurity, ignorance and tribalism that has been intentionally perpetuated throughout the years.

As you address, racism and the fear of black men is in direct conflict with the very basic concept of humanity, that all people are people and created equal. And when a society that has long promoted the perception of a group of people as violent and dangerous, putting a gun and the power of the state in the hands of someone who has been fully indoctrinated into this bigotry is terribly dangerous.

What is disappointing to me is that I don’t think people like the cop you describe have any conscience about how prejudiced they are. I think they see themselves as realistic and sensible, in their minds, black men are de facto likely threats period. To bigots who are often surrounded by other bigots, it is a shared “truth” that they all agree on. They lack the wisdom and objectivity to see themselves as the threats they are to a decent society, they think they’re protecting it when in fact they are seriously damaging it.

I don’t know that such minds can be changed, prejudice is so deeply rooted in people and parts of society, like policing (not to say that all cops are bigots but many clearly are) so it would seem that government, federal government being probably the best party since some states and their governments are so dominated by racism, needs to provide robust oversight of law enforcement to root out racism in police forces and keep it out.

To be a police officer is to be imbued with great power from government, the power to dominate and seize citizens, to physically assault them and to kill them. This power is too great to be allowed to be abused. If hearts and minds can’t be changed to help officers and sometimes entire police forces to see all people as created equal and entitled to equal respect, then the government needs to identify and remove those abusing that power and enforce restraints on all police departments in the country that allow or promote such abuse.

No human being should be intimidated or made to feel like a suspected criminal simply because of their skin color any more than because of their eye color or hair color. And a cop who disagrees with this basic principle of humanity is de facto unfit to wield the power that comes with a badge.