When I Recognized Race: John Talley III
My wife, Celeste and I got married back in 2011. We had nights when we just spent time with one another. There were times when we went to the movies, went to a restaurant, or both because we were broke and did not have much money. One night, I had the bright idea to make dinner at home, then drive up the street to Walgreens that had the local Redbox station inside of its store to rent movies for only a dollar! Celeste was on board with this idea, so up the street we went. As we arrived, I steered our 98 Buick into the parking spot and as Celeste got out of the car, I had an encounter that John Talley would never forget. To this day, I still think about it sometimes when I pull into parking spots at various stores.
After about two or three minutes, I was approached by a law enforcement officer. He tapped on my parked car’s window and asked me, “What are you doing here?”
I replied, “I’m waiting on my wife to come out of Walgreens because we are getting a Redbox movie.”
He responded, “Is this your car”? I responded that it was, then he asked me for my license and registration. Now, in the back of my mind, I’m wondering why he is asking me these questions. But as a black man, I’d never fix my lips to ask police officers questions like that. So, I kept it to myself. I gave him my license and registration. I moved very slowly while keeping my hands visible, so he knew I was no threat. He started to talk into his walkie talkie saying words like, “Yes” and “Okay.” He turned back to me and said, “I’ll be back, don’t move!” At this point, I’m scared and nervous. I felt like Eminem in the movie 8 Mile. My palms were sweaty, knees weak and arms were heavy!
After about a minute or so the officer came back, but this time there was another officer. The other officer asked me the same questions as the previous officer. I responded with the same answers. Then the first officer asked me a new question, “Where did you get this car from?”
I replied, “I purchased it from the dealership about a year or so ago.” I then mustered enough courage and boldness to ask them, “Is there a problem, officers?” I was terrified!
They looked at each other and said, “Yes, you match the description of a kidnapper in this area.” I assured them I was not a kidnapper, then they asked me again, “What are you doing here?” I gave them the same answer as before. He continued to talk into his walkie talkie, making statements like, “Yes” and “Okay.” He gave me the same response, “I’ll be back, don’t move!” This time the other officer stayed by my car while the first officer went to his cop car.
At this time, I’m wondering, “What is taking Celeste so long?!” Maybe if she comes out of the store, they will recognize that I’m telling the truth and let me go watch our Redbox movie. To my surprise, I looked at the entrance of the Walgreens and I saw another cop car entering in and they parked right next to mine. My heart dropped to my stomach. I’m really unsure what is happening at this point, but I’m uneasy to say the least and as his car door slams, I breathe a “breath prayer,” “Lord help me!” All three of the officers are right outside of my car asking the same questions. I reply with the same answers. We are at a standstill. They assured me that I, in fact, matched the description of a kidnapper because of the way that I look.
The officers looked at each other, then looked at me. It was at that moment I recognized race. The way that God made me from some people’s perspective has implications that I can be mistaken for a kidnapper. Some will try to rationalize and explain that there was nothing “racial” about this encounter. But I don’t think it was a coincidence that all of the officers were white and I was black. I found out later from several sources this town had a history of racial profiling. In addition, was their posture, disgusted looks, and the tone they were speaking to me with were not professional. I mean, I was just parking while black!
Thankfully, they gave me my license and registration back and told me, “Here, and make sure you go home!”
I said, “Yesir!” They left. As they pulled away, I began praising the Lord! And out of the corner of my eye. I see my beautiful wife walking out of the store with the movie. My reply to her as she entered our car was, “Babe, what took you so long?!”
Reflections from When I Recognized Race: John Talley III
In my lifetime, I’ve had several instances where I recognized my race. This interaction always comes to mind because of what could have happened to me. What if the police officers arrested me? What would have happened to my wife? Even worse, what if I was killed? As a black man, some of these thoughts run through my mind. Consider the many tragic encounters in our culture such as Rodney King, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, and the list goes on and on. Simply put, that could have been me. This a reality that every black person I know thinks about when we see tragedies on the news. It is not abstract or theory for us. We literally think, “Wow, that could have been me, my brother, uncle, or cousin.” It hits close to home.
Despite being in this predicament, I had some time to reflect. First, God did not make a mistake when he created me. He created me in his image and likeness (Gen. 1:26). Therefore, I have dignity and value. Second, I struggle trusting law enforcement. I know there are godly male and female police officers. In fact, I have relationships with a couple of police officers. So, I know some are seeking to protect and serve. But I know that no profession is immune from racism, and with law enforcement, the stakes are high. Third, the power of prayer works. When I sat in that car and breathed that “breath prayer.” I felt like I was literally praying for my life. But it in a way prayer is like breathing. We need it to sustain us, even in the most difficult of situations.
- Pray for the image of God to be recognized by all people.
- Pray for law enforcement who have a huge responsibility to protect and serve communities.
- Pray for those who have anxiety when pulled over (or with their cars parked) by police officers.
- Pray for the gospel of grace to penetrate the hearts of men and women, tearing down any prejudice, bigotry, and racist ideas.