Philando Castile, Alton Sterling, and most recently, Jordan Edwards, are names added to a long list of men who have been killed because of run-ins with the police. To many, conflicts such as these are nothing more than a victim’s head shot accompanied by a news story where there are protests on one side and accusations on the other. My husband’s story is one that can be added to the conversation of black males and their engagement with the police.
My husband, Ishbah, has a gentle spirit. While I am the gregarious, in your face, openly opinionated member of the Cox household, he is the solid, sensible, steady member. He constantly reminds me to remain professional and state the facts. He is more likely to follow rules than break those rules, and as such, he is the last person to engage in a conflict with the police. All of this changed on June 13, 2016. With his permission, I am sharing his story, because he no longer wants to keep quiet about this experience as a black male with a doctorate.
Photo courtesy of Luis Llerana, Unsplash
Ishbah’s Story (in his own words)
“I guess I was naive when I thought the clothes you wear, the education you have, the neighborhood you’re from, and other social factors exempt you from being treated disrespectfully by trigger-happy law enforcement.
I was on a Midwest university campus interviewing for a faculty position in June 2016. I arrived a day before the interview so that I could become familiar with the campus. After some time on this beautiful campus, I noticed that I was being followed by a university police officer. It was broad daylight. I had been walking by myself as I was listening to a podcast in which my wife, Monica, was featured. I was wearing a polo shirt, jeans with a belt, and casual footwear. I saw this officer walking behind me at the first building I stopped in, which happened to be the same building that my meetings were in the following day. This building also served as headquarters for the campus police department.
During earlier phases of my walk, I had spoken to this officer when he was in his car and was stopped at a traffic light. He responded to me in a neutral way. I’m not thinking that anything unusual had occurred at this point, especially since I am always cordial to law enforcement. I continued to walk to the inner-parts of campus, and there he is again. I recall thinking to myself, “Okay, he’s making his rounds.” I walked for another 5-10 minutes, and I saw the same officer AGAIN. Now he had my attention. I continued to walk, and there he was again. At this point, I was getting upset. In fact, I recognized that this was the same officer, and this time I threw my hands up in the air in a gesture of “Why are you following me?” We finally met each other at another point on campus, he got out of the car, and we approached each other. After several questions, he ultimately accused me of being suspicious.
I asked him what I did for him to make this assessment of me, and I asked him why wasn’t he following all of the other people on campus. He said that he’d never seen me before. I pointed to other people on campus and asked him if he knew them, and of course, he said no. He then asked to see my Photo ID (I’m glad I had it). By this time, I was angry. I had to catch myself because I could see how this situation could get out of control very quickly. I remained silent for a little while. While I was standing patiently, he called dispatch to see if there had any former or current criminal activity from me. I mentioned to him that he was wasting his time. This back and forth went on for approximately another ten minutes, and I made him aware that I knew what he was about and why he was doing this. I told him that he was wrong. He got offended by my accusations, and I told him that made the two of us being offended.
My reason for sharing this post publicly is to let others know that such profiling needs to stop. I was able to walk away from this situation. There have been many who have not lived to tell their stories, although they were just as innocent as I was. I don’t have the answers to potential conflicts like this, but I feel I need to share my story and the frustrations that lingered with me long after that day.
People, wake up! Being highly educated does not prevent a person from being profiled by law enforcement. This is a problem. I have plenty of friends in law enforcement who would agree with me. It’s time to stand and to use our voices. I don’t have the answers to this problem, but I cannot ignore that profiling does exist, even if we want to deny that it does.
No one is exempt.”
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