Current and former foster youth weigh in on racism and police brutality.
Racism, sexism and police brutality have been a constant in my life. I remember from a very young age the cops would harass me, constantly trying to find any reason to make an arrest.
I could not remember a time when I was not faced with the biased opinions and hatred of the police department. One of my oldest memories is of police officers surrounding a small, frail 12-year-old me. They had their hands on their guns while others had the taser to my back, threatening to pull the trigger. It seemed as if I was constantly faced with life or death situations. Fear was a constant in my life, instilled in me as a young man constantly faced with oppression.
As time went on, the brutality and oppression got worse. I constantly found myself in the grips of the system from being a rebellious kid. Drugs and violence became a constant in my life. The system was created to oppress people and that’s exactly what it did. I remember my first time being incarcerated in a detention center, being thrown around and forced into a cell with others much bigger than myself. My horrific crime of trying to steal beer to fit in was deemed a robbery. They treated me as though I was an adult, putting me in jail with murders and rapists. At just 12 years old I had to learn that the police set out to protect and serve are really the enemy. They were designed to hurt me.
As I got older this only got worse; two memories stand out to me the most. At 19 years old, I was like a zombie going through the line of county jail. All human rights were stripped from me – no clothes, squatting to show my areas that were supposed to be private. Then I reached a crossroads where I had to choose to be myself or someone else. I chose me when the prison guard asked, “what’s your sexual orientation?” “Gay,” I said. If I had no rights before, this is where they were really taken. I had no shower, no fresh clothes for weeks, not even a phone call. I was given a meal at a tiny cell door and was told maybe they’d try to get me a phone call. I was transferred from a two-man cell to the SHU (special housing unit) where they housed the worst of the worst, just because I was gay. A safety precaution, they would tell me. I was in the SHU with not even my basic necessities met. I was not even given a mat to sleep on. I was at a loss for words; every prisoner got a mat, but I couldn’t because of my sexual orientation. At this point, I felt far less than human and my voice wasn’t heard.
There was another experience that made my feelings toward the police department concrete. I remember it like it was yesterday when an old friend turned into an enemy. He stabbed me and beat me until I could hardly breathe. I remember running to the police vehicle I saw for dear life. As I got closer I yelled for help. Immediately, they handcuffed and harassed me as I cried with blood dripping from my face and neck. I could not comprehend why. That night was horrible. I begged them to let me walk home. I had no idea how I looked until I got home.
They followed me until I made it through the gate. Slowly I dragged my feet through the hall, weak and faint. Finally I made it through the door and straight to the mirror. Blood was oozing from my face and neck, gashes covered my body. I was hardly able to breathe. All I could think about was how the police force let me down again.
Since I was a young man, this all was a constant, being targeted for my tattooed skin or just for being me. Police brutality was almost normal. These are just a few stories of what I went through as someone who’s been involved in the system since I was 12.