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ED GORDON, host:
Earlier in the program we heard from Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton about his approach to reducing crime. He says reaching out to communities is an important part of making the city safer.
But not all police departments put such a high priority on getting to know the community. Youth Radio's Anyi Howell says that police harassment and racial profiling are unwelcome rights of passage for many young people in the fight against crime.
Mr. ANYI HOWELL (Reporter, Youth Radio):
The first time I fit the description of a suspect I was ten. And the more I was stopped for conversations with police, the more I began to make adjustments in my life.
I had to learn not to stand outside the house with nondescript cups, or ride four-deep to the club. Some of our friends like to keep all the registration papers in their glove box ultra updated. Others get nervous about how many people in their backseats are wearing ball caps.
For as long as the term racial profiling has been around, fools have been denying the phenomenon exists. But I contend every black man in America, at some point, will be racially profiled or harassed by the police. It's a part of the DNA of our experience in the United States.
One morning last spring while I was parking my car at the BART train station, a police officer looked at me and ran my license plate. He entered a false number and my Oldsmobile Royale Brougham 88 came back as a stolen Honda. So now I'm a car thief. My friend, Elmer(ph), and I weren't prepared for what happened next.
ELMER: Our conversation was interrupted very rudely and abruptly.
Mr. HOWELL: I mean, just how to - what happened.
ELMER: In the distant background I hear the voice of a police officer saying, everybody move aside. And I turned around to see the barrel of this officer's handgun staring me down, face to face. And he tells me to step back and stand on the concrete.
He said, you know, brothers like you, I know how you all get down. You all be in the street, you all steal cars. You're like, you know, he's not talking to us like, you know, like citizens, you know. He's talking to us like we're convicted criminals that he's delivering to Massachusetts for multiple murders.
Mr. HOWELL: The BART police officer realized his mistake on the triple check, and after embarrassing himself, he let us go. That wasn't the first time a police officer came at me sideways, but I was floored by the reality that an officer's simple mistake was enough for him to approach me at gunpoint.
The situation is so bad, I know brothers who are putting magnets and stickers on their cars that read, support our troops, because they think displays of patriotism will stop them from getting profiled. That strategy would only work if you could slap a Caucasian bumper sticker on your black self.
But please believe when I got my new car, I went to the auto parts store and bought a case of oil, transmission fluid, and a couple of American flags. You know, just to keep my car running.
When you go from being a black boy to a black man, you start to understand police will use deadly force on you. I could sneeze and get shot to death. The next time police harassment happens to me, I'm demanding a certificate of release. It's a document saying a person was detained but not arrested, and then let go. Almost like a receipt for racial profiling, more than just another story to add to my experiences with out-of-pocket police.
For NPR News, I'm Anyi Howell.
GORDON: That piece was produced by Youth Radio.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.