Sunday, March 25, 2012

How old was I, when I became a suspect for life?

I'm trying to remember how old I was, when I discovered that I was "a real suspicious guy."

I was 18. It was the summer of 1968, in Chicago, just before the Democratic Convention. It was late evening. My dad owned a television repair business on 63rd Street.

When we closed up shop, we put the televisions we were working on in the vault and carried the repaired sets to the van out front, so we could make deliveries on the way home. That's where the trouble started.

As we were getting into the van, a police car, with lights flashing, blocked us in. Two officers got out, guns drawn, and told us to get out of the van with our hands up. They were convinced we were burglars.

I thought this would be straightened out immediately. The business name was "C. Ingram's Radio and Television." The Van was registered in his name, Case closed.

The policemen couldn't seem to get past two African Americans loading televisions into a van. They couldn't wrap their hears around the idea that we'd just come out of dad's legitimate business. Despite all the paperwork being in order, they called in to check if anyone had reported the van stolen.

Meanwhile, we "assumed the position." Against the side of the van, feet apart, leaning in on our outstretched hands. I suppose we were lucky we weren't handcuffed, but that's a damned uncomfortable position to hold for more than a few minutes. We held it for most of an hour.

Dad, raised in Mississippi, bent over backward (or, in this case forward), to not disagree with the officers about anything. Not even their absurd assumptions. When one of them said, "You're a couple of stupid thieves." and dad said, "Yes sir." I blew up.

We'd been in business there since I was 8 years old, 10 years. We went to the church across the street and their district commander was a member of that same church, knew who we were, so why didn't they ask him,instead of looking for some excuse to arrest us? I didn't think there was any shortage of real criminals who deserved their attention.

My dad, a light skinned man, turned white. You could see the jaw muscles clench in the officers' faces, but they left. 

"Are you crazy?" dad asked. "What's with this 'Yes sir,' when someone calls you a thief?" I asked. I never got an answer I agreed with. I was over 50 before I dot an answer that I understood.
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