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Snapshot #1

It’s 7pm and I’m mid-way back home on my way back from one of my best friend’s house to drop off homework for her because she’d missed school that day.

The distance between my house and my best friend’s house is literally two blocks; she lives on Greenland Avenue which is largely white, working-class, and I live on Monticello Ave, slightly more middle-class and mixed with families of different races (though mainly black and white) and classes. These two blocks are separated only by Pennington Road, a major road that runs through Trenton and its suburb, Ewing.

The cruiser, which I’ll later learn was following me, snaps on its sirens and two officers, white males, get out.

As one takes my book-bag, the other has me walk to the hood of the cruiser, first with my hands down (I can feel the idle engine growling at me) and then facedown.

I am a 9th grader at the nearby Ewing High School. I am a small, meek kid that makes honor roll, plays in the marching band kid, has bad acne and is heavily introverted.

I am 14 years old. It is 1993 in Ewing, NJ.

Snapshot #2

I am in the backseat of a new friend’s car, making our way back into the city after a social BBQ nearly an hour outside.

Everything about Texas seems big and monstrously draped in American tropes: McDonald’s and Whataburgers; strip malls and strip joints; car and truck and jeep dealerships; (mega)churches that seem more like coliseums.

At some point we also pass a police cruiser sitting in silent sentry along the highway; moments after our car passes, its lights come on and it snakes onto the highway lane behind us, catching up and pulling us over onto a darkened feeder road where we’re lead to an empty lot.

There are four of us in the car: the driver, Monica, is a fair-skinned Cuban woman. Next to her in the front seat is Tracey, who is a black man. I am in the backseat behind Monica; next to me is Joe, who is white.

The cruiser doors open and two officers exit, walking towards us with flashlights bobbing and dancing in front of them like dogs. I stare ahead peering between the two front seats, peering at the empty, dark lot and the dense black woods in front of us.

I am a college graduate; I am weeks away from becoming an English teacher in Houston, TX. It is my 2nd night in Texas. I am 22 years old. It is 2001 in Houston, TX.

Snapshot #1 (cont.)

Facedown on the hood of the police cruiser, I turn my head to the side. All around me the flanking homes have people in the windows of their houses, on their porches, or standing in their doorways witnessing the ordeal.

In-between the blinking blue-and-red siren lights they ask me the following questions like an incantation:

  • Where do you live?
  • Why are you here?
  • What’s in your bag?
  • Where do you live?
  • Tell us the truth.
  • Why are you here?
  • What’s in your bag?
  • Where are your folks?
  • Tell us the truth.
  • Why are you here?
  • What’s in your bag?
  • Just tell us the truth.

I am tasting my own scared, angry, embarrassed tears as I can barely hear one of the officers relaying my information over dispatch. The other balances his hand on my back. I keep thinking that kids that I know, that I go to school with, their parents, their siblings, live on this street. Jeopardy! is on right now and they’re possibly watching me instead. I try to blink and close my eyes, squeezing them shut. I want to be anywhere else right now but here, where half of my face is hot with the running engine and the other half is hot with anger and fear.

Snapshot #2 (cont.)

As the one officer’s flashlight stays trained on the car, encircling us in a perimeter walk around the car, the other removes Monica from the car, walking her back to the cruiser. As each minute passes by, the dark woods in front of us, I swear, get closer, and the circular glow from the officer’s flashlight feels more and more like the last thing I’ll possibly see. Even when I squeeze my eyes shut there are two white strobes of light seared behind my eyelids. I am counting all the ways this will likely end. It doesn’t matter that there are four of us and two of them; it could be 15 of us and 1 of them and it wouldn’t change the fact that so much of this could make it few, two or no witnesses.

Monica returns to the car and begins driving. We’re quiet, and tense, except Joe who is talking about all the ways this was fucked up, unfair, etc.

At some point, Monica shares that they asked if she was being taken against her will. Did she know the men in the car with her?

She need only to tell the truth.

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