I Have to Play By Different Rules

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There was an incident a few months ago. My son and I were outside. My house alarm went off and I didn’t turn it off in time.

I was trying to leave the house, so I didn’t answer the phone when the alarm monitoring people called.

Three minutes later when I had a free moment, I called them back. I was put on hold for 20 minutes. By the time I was talking to someone, police had already been dispatched to my home.

I live in a slightly higher crime and definitely lower-income neighborhood. I’m black. And I’m trans.

I want to have an alarm system on my house, but I don’t really want to interact with police.

There are rules to interacting with police officers.

  1. Don’t be in a situation where they have any reason to think you might be criminal.
  2. Do not surprise them. At all. In any way.

There are others, but these two are the most relevant.

Interacting with police while the house alarm is going off immediately violates rule #1.  I’m black.  There’s no reason for the police not to assume criminal activity.

Being transgender violates rule #2.  I will always surprise them.  Either they will suspect I am trans from my appearance or my identification will give me away.

When I learned that police had been dispatched to my home, I was unnerved. I was already driving away. But what if I had been there?

This was fresh in my mind a few days later.

I set off my alarm again.
I was trying to get out of the house again.
I didn’t turn it off in time. Again.

Only this time, it had only been a couple days since a police officer shot and killed Atatiana Jefferson in her own home, shots fired from outside, with no alarm to make officers think she was a criminal.

The alarm was going off.

But.

No one called me.

Were the police on their way?

I didn’t know.

Should I stay in the house, be calm, and wait for twenty minutes on hold?

I was already running late (because of course I was).  Interacting with police while my alarm was going off.  It felt too dangerous.

Should I ferry my child out of the house at my normal pace?

I didn’t want to run into police, a black trans woman trying to get her child into the car.  Too many factors make that situation extremely dangerous.

So, I panicked.

We rushed us out of the house.

I yelled at my son.

We were already ready to go.

Worst case scenario, I would be in the car if the police showed up. The familiarity of pulling a car over would probably help deescalate the situation for them.

The whole time though, I knew the more flustered I got, the more criminal I looked.

That only made me more determined to leave before the police showed up. It made me move more quickly. It made me more flustered.  Made me speak more harshly.

Only by avoiding the police altogether, could I safely obey the two rules aforementioned.

In those moments, I wasn’t a good mom. I wasn’t gentle and understanding. On top of all this, I was distractedly on hold again trying to contact the alarm people.

We left the house just fine. The police never came. I panicked for no reason.

But, in the moment, every decision was valid, logical, and terrifying.

I panicked because of everything.

I wish that people stopped looking at these stories like mine in isolation, as if there aren’t social and political ramifications, as if the damage and loss of trust is just one person or family or community as if alarm systems don’t make us feel simultaneously safer and less safe.

This fear.
These rules.
They govern my life.
Every day.

I plan out scenarios so that I will be prepared.

If my life is ever on the line.

And it always is.

I’m tired of living like this.  Wouldn’t you be?  If you spent every day policing yourself, your children, your partners … just so you all can stay safe.

When I learned about the police precinct…the one whose police had murdered George Floyd. When I learned that the building had burned to ground, I felt … safer.

I don’t now, and have never, lived in Minneapolis. But, I felt personally safer. Here. In Oklahoma City.

As a black trans woman living in America, the burning of a police station made me feel safer.

Black Lives Matter has been here for years.  We’ve had racial reconciliation talks for years. We’ve had marches for years.  We’ve had “reforms” for years.  We’ve had implicit bias training for years.  We’ve had community policing discussions for years.

This – this singular event – is the first time in my whole life I have felt significant change.

Until we accept that a commitment to liberty and justice for all DEMANDS that these institutions be demolished (to be clear – I hope by complete bureaucratic dismantling rather than this alternative of burning buildings).

Until then, I’m going to teach my son to be just as scared as I am.

Because I want him to keep breathing.

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