The Gropes of Wrath

The NYPD loves touching black men—writer Nicholas Powers on being a stop-and-frisk virgin

Of course, I ask him the question. "My first time, I was in college. A man in a leather jacket came up to me and screamed, 'Up against the wall! You fit the description!' I was freaking out. I was an activist and rationally prepared for being stopped, but not emotionally."

He sees profiling trickle down within black neighborhoods. Men who are bitter and hungry, and who don't have the money to settle the question of their manhood, target the weakest among us. His words make me look at myself. Not only has no police officer ever touched me, neither has any criminal. Hassled for money, yes, but never mugged.

"It's all related," says Noel Leader, co-founder of 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement Who Care. "I am a black man and a black police officer, and I can tell you the ramifications of being humiliated are that you feel powerless." He remembers walking home from a shift at McDonald's in 1975. The job was to help his mom out so she wouldn't have to pay for his clothing. Two cops drove up and shoved him against the wall. He stood there, hearing them laugh. As he waited on the wall, the officers drove away—with no apology. "I cried as I walked home," he says. "Police humiliation adds to anger, and the men take it out on their wives, kids, or next person who comes along."

Every brother I know has a story. Even at SUNY Old Westbury where I work, the school president, Reverend Calvin Butts, has been caught out there. "I was 17 years old," he says. "On a date with my girlfriend in Greenwich Village. Was carrying a cane, you know, trying to be cool. A police officer stopped me, takes my cane, and begins yelling at me."

He sighs as if deflating an old memory, "I felt chumped. My girl standing there looking at me. And you know the point of it is to embarrass you. I wanted to explode." How long, I ask, before the rage faded? "The anger never left," he says. "It's why I can still tell you about it today."

He has more stories—everyone I ask has more. I'm just not able to hear them. They remind me of how available our bodies are to any cop who's bored or angry. Someday that body will be mine. My precious virginity will be taken and it won't be a choice.

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