Why Black Men Resist Arrest
Fourteen years ago, I was brutally attacked in my apartment in Buenos Aires.
The attack happened on a sunny Sunday, roughly six months after I moved to Argentina from New York City. It was the type of morning where you’d wake up happy to be alive and expect the day only to get better. Unfortunately for me, it got a lot worse.
I arrived home from picking up breakfast to find the door of my third-floor apartment open and three men inside. My survival instinct to fight or fly chose flight, so I ran toward the elevator. The burglars grabbed me before I could make it through the still-open elevator doors and dragged me into the bathroom of my apartment. I immediately switched from flight to fight.
I fought like hell; I wasn’t thinking rationally. I’d been taught that when you’re staring down the barrel of a gun or any potentially deadly weapon, you don’t fight back. You give the guy cocking the Glock, brandishing the knife, or, in my case, wielding the screwdriver, what he wants. But in life-and-death situations, the mind works in mysterious ways. You don’t know what it will tell your body to do until the moment you think your life might soon be over.
Every time another White cop executes a Black man after he resists arrest, and I read how the Black man couldn’t breathe and called out for his mother, I think about what I thought were my final moments on my bathroom floor.
When you’re Black and you see a cop — especially a White cop — you don’t see someone who has sworn to serve and protect. You don’t even necessarily see an authority figure. You see the gun in their holster. You immediately feel like a target.
With three men on top of me, I could barely breathe, and I couldn’t stop thinking about my mother. I didn’t want my death to haunt her for the rest of her life. So I fought back. I fought like hell.
As harrowing as my ordeal was (I recounted it in the first chapter of my 2014 book Is It True What They Say About Black Men?), I got lucky that day. If it had been me against three cops instead of three robbers, you probably wouldn’t be reading these words today. I might not have lived to return to the United States in 2019 to find my country as unwelcoming to Black people as my apartment was to me that sunny Sunday morning.
My husband and I watched news reports about Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man who lost his life because a 26-year Minneapolis police force veteran mistook her gun for a taser. It was cut with updates on the murder trial of Derek Chauvin, the Minneapolis cop who used his knee to strangle George Floyd last May. We were both appalled by the defense strategy of putting Floyd on trial as well.
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We talked about White people who have no problem speaking ill of the dead when it’s yet another Black man. Even the ones who say “don’t blame the victim” in defense of White sexual assault survivors change their tune when the victim happens to be a Black man. Why do they fight back? Why don’t they do as they’re told?
Then we switched to White cops who shoot to kill Black men. That’s when my husband, a White Australian who has received a crash course in American racism since moving here with me, said something so profound about trigger-happy White cops in America: “They’re not patrolling; they’re hunting. You can’t help but feel they have quotas to meet.”
He’s been married to a Black man for a year and a half, and he’s starting to think like one. When you’re Black and see a cop — especially a White cop — you don’t see someone who has sworn to serve and protect. You don’t even necessarily see an authority figure. You see the gun in their holster. You immediately feel like a target.
How could we not think that way in a country where images of cops hunting Black citizens assault our senses regularly? It’s the smartphone and body-cam video footage of two officers holding guns on Caron Nazario, a Black Latinx army lieutenant in uniform, for not having a permanent rear license plate. When the military officer said he was afraid to get out of the car, one of the cops told him he should be scared and threatened him with execution before he pepper-sprayed, struck, and handcuffed him in the middle of a well-lit gas station parking lot.
My husband and I had a temporary license plate on our car for a month after buying it. He was terrified any time I drove anywhere alone because of what a cranky, racist White cop — or two of them — might decide to put me through.
You don’t have to be Black to get it — you just have to pay attention to the news. It’s always the same old story that’s been playing on repeat for decades. We can lose our lives even when we’re not resisting arrest. When you’re Black in America, you can be executed just for waking up, like Breonna Taylor. After what happened to George Floyd, what Black man in Minneapolis wouldn’t be terrified at the sight of a White cop approaching him? Resistance isn’t about defiance. It’s about survival. How could the instinct to fight or flight not take over?
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It happened to me once, and I know it can happen again. I might be the next Black man stopped by a White cop for some relatively minor infraction. I’d like to think I’d shut up and do as I’m told, but PTSD doesn’t always cooperate. We’re not only at the mercy of White cops; we’re also at the whim of our collective PTSD.
I hate to think of what might happen if — when — that day comes. I hate to think of what it will do to my mother. I hate to think of what it will do to me.