John Edwards was right about the two Americas.
There is a dark and evil underbelly to this nation that manifests in these violent confrontations by white police officers with peaceable Black men. My scariest stop ever was in Bel Air near Beverly Hills by a white police officer, who was acting alone, when I was a television news anchor in Los Angeles.
For what was not even an infraction, I was pulled over on a quiet street away from the crowds and subjected to an extremely hostile interview and background check. I got the feeling that one wrong move on my part would have landed me in the hospital or worse.
The policeman who pulled me over was all by himself and there were no witnesses. The background check and my (finally) being able to show him my Los Angeles Police Department issued Press Pass finally calmed him down; the background check also showed I was a member of the news media. The cop particularly resented that I was driving a Jaguar at the time of the stop AND that I was driving in Bel Air where I had friends.
Raising my sons, I often repeated this story to remind them to keep their cool when stopped, especially when they have done nothing wrong. My eldest experienced this just two weeks ago after a day on Sauvie Island. Coming home, he and his fiancé were stopped for nothing and harassed by an idiot in a uniform.
Black parents have to teach their children to be obedient, cool and not at all provocative, even when they are stopped for no legitimate reason.
Straight Outta Compton captures this tense interplay brilliantly in the film, where the group is menaced and harassed by police while taking a break from their recording session. Only the intervention of their producer, who was white, kept them from going to jail.
I made up my mind as a young Black man to live my life as a free man in America. In many ways, I have been a FreedomFyter my whole life. This fight for freedom informs my music, especially my emerging hit, Look Out My Window–Freedom’s Song, which is catching fire with good folks around the world.
This theme also recurs in my Memoir, Color Me Free, which records what it was like for me to grow up with this attitude of being a free person, in Portland, Oregon, at a time when it was very racially segregated and opportunities for folks like me were few and far between.
My parents taught me that I was first and foremost an American, born here, with the same rights of every other American, rights under law, protected by our Constitution.
When I had grown into adulthood, I found my convictions were reinforced and confirmed by Muhammad Ali
- who refused to be stereotyped or categorized
- who refused to be defined by white America
- who chose his own path and his own destiny.
Painful as it was for him at times, he chose. That he emerged as a hero is proof that his fight was not in vain.