My name is Steve Locke. This is what I wore to work today. On my way to get a burrito before work, I was detained by the police.
I noticed the police car in the public lot behind Centre Street. As I was walking away from my car, the cruiser followed me. I walked down Centre Street and was about to cross over to the burrito place and the officer got out of the car.
“Hey my man,” he said.
He unsnapped the holster of his gun.
I took my hands out of my pockets.
“Yes?” I said.
“Where you coming from?”
How’d you get here?”
He was next to me now. Two other police cars pulled up. I was standing in from of the bank across the street from the burrito place. I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class. There were cops all around me.
I said nothing. I looked at the officer who addressed me. He was white, stocky, bearded.
“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.
“No. I came from Dedham.”
“What’s your address?”
I told him.
“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”
A second police officer stood next to me; white, tall, bearded. Two police cruisers passed and would continue to circle the block for the 35 minutes I was standing across the street from the burrito place.
“You fit the description,” the officer said. “Black male, knit hat, puffy coat. Do you have identification.”
“It’s in my wallet. May I reach into my pocket and get my wallet?”
I handed him my license. I told him it did not have my current address. He walked over to a police car. The other cop, taller, wearing sunglasses, told me that I fit the description of someone who broke into a woman’s house. Right down to the knit cap.
Barbara Sullivan made a knit cap for me. She knitted it in pinks and browns and blues and oranges and lime green. No one has a hat like this. It doesn’t fit any description that anyone would have. I looked at the second cop. I clasped my hands in front of me to stop them from shaking.
“For the record,” I said to the second cop, “I’m not a criminal. I’m a college professor.” I was wearing my faculty ID around my neck, clearly visible with my photo.
“You fit the description so we just have to check it out.” The first cop returned and handed me my license.
“We have the victim and we need her to take a look at you to see if you are the person.”
It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car. I was not going to present myself to some victim. I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery. I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially. I knew this in my heart. I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal. This meant that I was going to resist arrest. This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.
If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.
Something weird happens when you are on the street being detained by the police. People look at you like you are a criminal. The police are detaining you so clearly you must have done something, otherwise they wouldn’t have you. No one made eye contact with me. I was hoping that someone I knew would walk down the street or come out of one of the shops or get off the 39 bus or come out of JP Licks and say to these cops, “That’s Steve Locke. What the FUCK are you detaining him for?”
The cops decided that they would bring the victim to come view me on the street. The asked me to wait. I said nothing. I stood still.
“Thanks for cooperating,” the second cop said. “This is probably nothing, but it’s our job and you do fit the description. 5′ 11″, black male. One-hundred-and-sixty pounds, but you’re a little more than that. Knit hat.”
A little more than 160. Thanks for that, I thought.
An older white woman walked behind me and up to the second cop. She turned and looked at me and then back at him. “You guys sure are busy today.”
I noticed a black woman further down the block. She was small and concerned. She was watching what was going on. I focused on her red coat. I slowed my breathing. I looked at her from time to time.
I thought: Don’t leave, sister. Please don’t leave.
The first cop said, “Where do you teach?”
“Massachusetts College of Art and Design.” I tugged at the lanyard that had my ID.
“How long you been teaching there?”
We stood in silence for about 10 more minutes.
An unmarked police car pulled up. The first cop went over to talk to the driver. The driver kept looking at me as the cop spoke to him. I looked directly at the driver. He got out of the car.
“I’m Detective Cardoza. I appreciate your cooperation.”
I said nothing.
“I’m sure these officers told you what is going on?”
“Where are you coming from?”
“From my home in Dedham.”
“How did you get here?”
“Where is your car?”
“It’s in the lot behind Bukhara.” I pointed up Centre Street.
“Okay,” the detective said. “We’re going to let you go. Do you have a car key you can show me?”
“Yes,” I said. “I’m going to reach into my pocket and pull out my car key.”
I showed him the key to my car.
The cops thanked me for my cooperation. I nodded and turned to go.
“Sorry for screwing up your lunch break,” the second cop said.
I walked back toward my car, away from the burrito place. I saw the woman in red.
“Thank you,” I said to her. “Thank you for staying.”
“Are you ok?” She said. Her small beautiful face was lined with concern.
“Not really. I’m really shook up. And I have to get to work.”
“I knew something was wrong. I was watching the whole thing. The way they are treating us now, you have to watch them. “
“I’m so grateful you were there. I kept thinking to myself, ‘Don’t leave, sister.’ May I give you a hug?”
“Yes,” she said. She held me as I shook. “Are you sure you are ok?”
“No I’m not. I’m going to have a good cry in my car. I have to go teach.”
“You’re at MassArt. My friend is at MassArt.”
“What’s your name?” She told me. I realized we were Facebook friends. I told her this.
“I’ll check in with you on Facebook,” she said.
I put my head down and walked to my car.
My colleague was in our shared office and she was able to calm me down. I had about 45 minutes until my class began and I had to teach. I forgot the lesson I had planned. I forget the schedule. I couldn’t think about how to do my job. I thought about the fact my word counted for nothing, they didn’t believe that I wasn’t a criminal. They had to find out. My word was not enough for them. My ID was not enough for them. My handmade one-of-a-kind knit hat was an object of suspicion. My Ralph Lauren quilted blazer was only a “puffy coat.” That white woman could just walk up to a cop and talk about me like I was an object for regard. I wanted to go back and spit in their faces. The cops were probably deeply satisfied with how they handled the interaction, how they didn’t escalate the situation, how they were respectful and polite.
I imagined sitting in the back of a police car while a white woman decides if I am a criminal or not. If I looked guilty being detained by the cops imagine how vile I become sitting in a cruiser? I knew I could not let that happen to me. I knew if that were to happen, I would be dead.
Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description.
I had to confess to my students that I was a bit out of it today and I asked them to bear with me. I had to teach.
After class I was supposed to go to the openings for First Friday. I went home.”
This was originally posted on December 4, 2015. Sounds like this just happened yesterday, doesn’t it? Things haven’t changed much for us, has it ?? Locke received over 1000 comments to his post and many more responses (ie.”likes”).
Juanita Harris 8/28/20 · 1 Like
I know this experience you will never get over it, so sad. As the mother of 3 black men, I fear for their safety every day. We as blacks shouldn’t have to live this way in the United States of America. Praying for you and every black man out there.
Christian Hogg 8/1/20 · 0 Likes
I feel that in a similar circumstance, where I fitted the description of an offender, I would be OK, I’d be able to explain who I was, what I was doing there and that they needed to continue to search for the offender. I see that it is different for you because you do not possess the White Privilege that I have. This needs to change.
Deborah Tonelli 7/1/20 · 0 Likes
I’m so so sorry you had to endure that! I honestly felt every bit of your angst as I read your words. I was hoping as I read that you were going to be OK. As a 66 yr. old white woman I will probably never experience the fear that you suffered. I can only hope that a new administration will succeed in stopping the rampant racism that exists.
Greg Huntoon 7/1/20 · 0 Likes
Steve, every single time I read this, my eyes fill up with tears. I’m so sorry you had to go through this. My son is African (American…born and raised here, but 100% Nigerian blood). He talks about the way cops (s)talk to him when he’s walking in our Beverly Hills neighborhood. “Where are you going?” “Where do you live?” “Can you show me ID?,” as if he couldn’t possibly live in the neighborhood. Having to teach anyone, let alone a 15-year-old kid how to act and react to police is such an abyssmal state of affairs. For every other time I see your story pop up on my feed, I’m here to tell you I’ll get tears then too, brother. I’m so very glad that you’re alive and able to share your experience.
This woman just doesn’t get it ……
Patti Gmitra 8/31/20 · 0 Likes
I would like to tell you, sir, that I respect you. Not because you’re a professor. But because even though you felt all those things, You didn’t mouth off to the police. You answered their questions. You asked each time BEFORE you put your hand in your pockets. You didn’t run even though you really want to. You remained calm on the outside. And you were let go with no one hurt or killed. It’s a very sad thing that you and other black men have to go through this. But don’t you and others see that if each time someone is stopped because of “they fit the description”, they just cooperate with the officers, answer their questions, and don’t act like an idiot, things would start to settle down?
They get it ……….
Freya Maywin 7/1/20 · 0 Likes
This is terrible. So sick of race being a determination factor in everyday life. I am Spanish and have also been the victim of racism. I’m so sorry that you had to go through this. I was literally beaten by a cop once. He took me to jail for no reason. Even the judge looked baffled before telling me that I was free to go. I mean, he literally beat the crap out of me. I turned him in to internal affairs. He is still on the police force to this day.
Emma Rain 3 months ago · 1 Like
This is as prevalent in Australia as it is in the States. This is how we treat Aborigines here. This is exactly how our cops treat Aborigines.
Natasha Ellwood July 1, 2020 · 0 Likes
Like Steve wrote at the bottom – those police officers were probably very proud of how they handled the situation, and yes you are correct there was no violence involved.
However, for me, the point here is deep rooted racism to the core. He is black- that’s all they needed to single Steve out from the crowd. It is clear he does not match the description – he is not wearing a puffy coat, he is wearing a unique hat, he had a faculty badge on that would normally prove you to be at work at the time of the incident.
Imagine if you were stopped on the street by (at least 4) police officers and held for almost an hour on your lunch break for no other reason than that you were white and happened to be wearing a blue coat (for example), and half an hour down the road there was a break in where the description of the criminal was “err they were white and had a coat on”. How shaken up would you feel if there was a moment where you had a high chance of ending up in a jail cell, sentenced to prison because of that. Imagine if that was probably the best outcome you could see in that future. THAT is what is wrong here.
Steve, thank you for sharing your story. I’m so so sad that this story is told and heard every day throughout the country, and is still a reality for so many.