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Brief But Memorable Encounters With The Police

By Dr. Antar


My first memorable encounter with the police was as an observer in the 1960s. As a teenager I remember watching a black policeman refusing to pay a deposit on soda containers. He angrily pulled out his police badge and told the cashier, “I’m a policeman. I don’t have to pay a deposit.” I knew that what he stated was not true. I did not know why the policeman lied. I thought that since black policemen were very few, he felt privileged. I definitely felt that he was bullying the cashier.


My second encounter was during the 1966 Hough riot in Cleveland. During the riot the National Guard occupied some black neighborhoods with tanks. They were strategically stationed around businesses. While demonstrating in front of a McDonalds myself and others were loudly questioning the blackness of a black policeman. He was visibly shaken by our chants. He felt compelled to say that he was black and that he was black before becoming a policeman.


Another instance of an encounter with the police was in 1967 in Cleveland. On my way to visit a friend in the evening I ran out of gas. A policeman happened to be driving on the road I was on. He stopped. I explained that I ran out of gas. He took me to a gas station where I filled up a gas can and took me back to my car to put gas in my car. This contrasted with an experience of a friend. During the summer of 1968 after Carl Stokes was elected major of Cleveland my college friend had a flat tire. A policeman happened by and stopped to address the situation. After seeing that my friend’s tire was flat, the policeman said, “Call your black major and have him change your tire.” Carl Stokes was the first black major of a major American city.  


In 1971, three other Muslim males and I drove from Atlanta to Tuskegee University. During the trip, I had my first experience with the police in the South. When we got to a small town, maybe Opelika or Lagrange, we were stopped and questioned by police. About ten minutes later, as we were exiting the town, we were stopped by another group of police. We explained that we were previously stopped and asked what was going on. They replied that they were looking for some suspicious males.   


In 1977 on my first day on the campus of the University of Michigan, l had a very brief encounter with an Ann Arbor policeman. For three weeks up to that day, police were looking for a black man believed to be responsible for three rapes. Before coming to the campus I had read about the occurrence and expected some possible blow back on me. Well it happened in the evening. About 30 yards after leaving my room in the Muslim House, I was stopped by a parked policeman and asked to show an I.D. He looked at it, gave it back to me and told me that I didn’t look like the rapist. 


After completing my course work at the University of Michigan in 1980, I moved to Jackson, Michigan. One weekend I decided to visit friends on the campus. I ended the visit at 1:00 AM. The drive back to Jackson was 30 minutes long. I got to within a half a mile of my apartment when I was pulled over by a policeman. He took my driver’s license and ask me where I was coming from and where was I going. I told him that I was coming from Ann Arbor and returning to my apartment down the street. He returned my driver’s license and drove off. He seemed disappointed.


One dark, rainy evening in 1981 I was stopped by a policewoman after going through a stop sign. The policewoman asked for my driver’s license and insurance card. Well, both documents had expired. So, she gave me a ticket and advised me to report to traffic court. She explained that if I brought an updated license and insurance car, I would not have to pay a fine. She seemed sorry for my situation. I took a new license and insurance card to court and so I did not get a ticket.


Around 1986 I was attending a statewide prison chaplain meeting in Saginaw, Michigan. It was my third yearly statewide meeting. Between the workshops, I usually got on a bus downtown just to see some of the city. During our afternoon break, I took a bus downtown. I walked around a few minutes and saw how depressed it was. After that I stood under the bus stop sign waiting for the bus. The bus stop was beside the telephone company. After about ten minutes, a policeman approached me and asked me what I was doing there. I looked up at the bus stop sign and replied that I was waiting on a bus. I also stated that this was a bus stop which I was standing next to. Then he asked me how long I was going to be there. In disbelief, I said that I was waiting on a bus and would be leaving after it arrived.

The policeman sensed my disbelief and told me that I didn’t have to be so smart about it. He left saying that he initially came around because the workers in the telephone building had some purse snatchings and so were suspicious. I thought to myself that I wasn’t dressed like a purse snatcher. I was wearing a suit and a dress shirt. I didn’t think I was dressed for purse snatching. Ten minutes later, the policeman was on the corner looking to see if I was still standing at the bus stop. Shortly thereafter, the bus came.


In September of 2000 I traveled to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to teach English. I had two brief encounters with the Jeddah police that year. The first one involved getting assistance. One weekend I decided to go to my office on my day off to use the internet. The office building closed around noon. I stayed while it was closed. When I decided to leave, I discovered that the whole building was locked, so I couldn’t get out. I called the police and they were able to contact the security guard who let me out of the building. This was a positive experience. My second encounter occurred when I was returning to my apartment in the afternoon from a store. I was walking wearing a somewhat ragged garment when I was stopped by a policeman. He got out of his car and asked me for my visa and ask me where I was going. I was within eyesight of my apartment and pointed to it. He returned my visa, got in his car and drove off. A friend of a renter witnessed the event and laughed after the policeman drove off. Apparently he thought that an American being stopped by the police was amusing. I think that the policeman thought that people in that neighborhood dressed better than I was.


Airport checks by the T.A. is a constant irritation for me. The racial and religious discrimination is obvious to me. I say that because quite often the whites in front of me and behind don’t get a pat down, while I do. There have been occasions when I pass through the x-ray machine without any visible illegal objects on my body and still get a pact down. Discrimination is alive and well at the airport.

Unjustified inspection of me and my luggage occurred on a trip from Atlanta to Kuwait. I arrived in Kuwait in September of 2006 minus a suitcase with my clothes. The U. S. government had kept it for inspection. I walked around Kuwait with no possessions except those on my back for two days. Upon my return to Atlanta in August the following year, I was deterred from entering the U.S. by immigration for no apparent reason. I had to wait an hour for my luggage to be inspected for no other reason than that I was returning from Kuwait. There were other situations when I was singled out for searches because of suspicion of Blacks and Muslims.


I would like to mention four more encounters with the police. All of them occurred while I was driving. One involved being stopped for driving ten miles over the speed limit in West End Atlanta. I was given a warning. Another time I was stopped on the highway while on my way to the morning prayer in the West End. The black policeman asked me had I been drinking. I told him that I don’t drink. He said he was just checking. I don’t know why he stopped me. As a protection against my license plate sticker being stolen, I taped over it with scotch tape. I didn’t realize the problem it could cause. While on my way home I was stopped by a policeman. He told me to wait while he looked up my license plate number. When he finished, he told me that the sticker matched the license plate and the tape over it made it look suspicious. When I told him that I taped it to keep it from being stollen, he laughed.  In the last encounter a policeman stopped me for having a taillight that was out. I got out of the car, opened the trunk and tightened the light bulb. The light came on, so I told the policeman that it was working now. He got indignant and told me that he didn’t make it up. Then he drove off.

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