Walking While Black

The bill of rights for black men


Amendment IV: The fact that a Black man is a nigger is sufficient probable cause for him to be searched and seized.

Having failed to convince Connelly, the chubby, gray-haired officer in charge, we were up against the wall in a matter of minutes. Each of us had the legs of our dignity spread apart, was publicly frisked down from shirt to socks, and then had our pockets rummaged through. All while Officer Connelly insisted that we shut up and keep facing the wall or, as he told Red, he would treat us like we "were trying to fight back." The officers next searched through my backpack and seemed surprised to find my laptop and a casebook I had brought to the club so that I could get some studying done on the bus ride back to school.

We were shoved into the squad car in front of a crowd composed of friends and acquaintances who had been in the club with us and had by now learned of our situation. I tried with little success to play back the facts of the famous Miranda case in my mind. I was fairly certain these cops were in the wrong for failing to read us our rights.


Amendment V: Any nigger accused of a crime is to be punished without any due process whatsoever.

We were never told that we had a right to remain silent. We were never told that we had the right to an attorney. We were never informed that anything we said could and would be used against us in a court of law.


Amendment VI: In all prosecutions of niggers, their accuser shall enjoy the right of a speedy apprehension. While the accused nigger shall enjoy a dehumanizing and humiliating arrest.

After my mug shot was taken at the precinct, Officer Connelly chuckled to himself as he took a little blue-and-white pin out of my wallet. "This is too sharp for you to take into the cell. We can't have you slitting somebody's wrist in there!" he said facetiously. I was handed that pin the day before at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. . . . I wanted to be transported back there, where I had seen the ancient Egyptian art exhibit that afternoon. The relics of each dynastic period pulled a proud grin across my face as I stood in awe at the magnificence of this enduring legacy of my Black African ancestors.

This legacy has been denied for so long that my skin now signals to many that I must be at least an accomplice to any crime that occurs somewhere within the vicinity of my person . . . this legacy has been denied so long that it was unfathomable for the cops that we were innocent bystanders in this situation . . . this legacy lay locked all night long for no good reason in a filthy cell barely bigger than the bathroom in my tiny basement apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts . . . this legacy was forced to listen that night to some white guy who was there because he had beaten up his girlfriend the way the cops frisking my cousin had threatened to beat him down if he kept trying to explain to them what had really happened . . . this legacy is negated by the lily-white institutions where many Blacks are trained to think that they are somehow different from the type of Negro this kind of thing happens to because in their minds White Supremacy is essentially an ideology of the past.

Yet White Supremacy was alive and well enough to handcuff three innocent young men and bend them over the hood of a squad car with cops cackling on in front of the crowd, "These BOYS think they can come up here from Brooklyn, cause all kinds of trouble, and get away with it!"


Amendment VII: Niggers must remain within the confines of their own neighborhoods. Those who do not are clearly looking for trouble.

Indeed, I had come from Brooklyn with my younger brother and cousin that evening to get our dance on at the Latin Quarter. However, having gone to college in the same neighborhood, I consider it more of a second home than a place where I journey to escape the eyes of my community and unleash the kind of juvenile mischief to which the officers were alluding. At 25 years old, after leaving college five years ago and completing both a master's degree and my first year of law school, this kind of adolescent escapism is now far behind me. But that didn't matter.

The bouncers and the cops didn't give a damn who we were or what we were about. While doing our paperwork several hours later, another officer, who realized how absurd our ordeal was and treated us with the utmost respect, explained to us why he believed we had been arrested.


Amendment VIII: Wherever niggers are causing trouble, arresting any nigger at the scene of the crime is just as good as arresting the one actually guilty of the crime in question.

After repeated incidents calling for police intervention during the last few months, the 24th Precinct and the Latin Quarter have joined forces to help deal with the club's "less desirable element." To prevent the club from being shut down, they needed to set an example for potential wrongdoers. We were just unfortunate enough to be at the wrong place at the wrong time—and to fit the description of that "element." To make matters worse from the bouncers' point of view, we had the audacity to demonstrate our understanding that for them to touch us without our consent constituted a battery.

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