A few months ago, I was visiting Los Angeles and I was walking out of Hollywood to go back to the apartment where I was staying. I came upon a car idling near a curb — a man was sitting in the passenger seat yelling at the male driver. A woman got out of the back seat and stormed off down the sidewalk. All parties were brown.
Initially, I thought that this was similar to an interaction I’d seen while in San Diego the week earlier — some conflict between a rideshare driver and their fares led to heightened emotions and then a fist fight, in the car and then out of the car, all while cops were able to see everything go down and get involved accordingly. But it turned out to be more complicated.
The woman, it seemed, was frustrated with the two guys in the car, both of whom she seemed to know. The passenger was yelling at the driver, and the driver — and maybe this was the ultimate faux pas that set her off — was chugging a bottle of champagne. She was furious with these guys and leaving, or at least suggesting she was going to leave, and the passenger had since gotten out of the car to scream at the driver through his window.
I had just passed a handful of cops a few blocks earlier and so I announced loudly, “Hey, everybody! Just so you know, there are a bunch of cops right down the street and you should probably go!” Not only because I don’t want these people on the road, but also because there are these two guys yelling at each other in a car and it looks a little wild and, from everything we’ve seen by way of cellphone video that has confirmed what communities of color have been reporting all along, these stops don’t tend to end well for people of color. And while these guys seem to be acting dumb, if the cops show up, I don’t want them to end up dead.
So I say it again because my initial interjection left them unfazed. Again, nothing. I say it loudly, so there is no mistake that I am saying these things to them, but once again, nothing.
So I walk down the block a bit, and I see the woman walking my way and the passenger is telling her not to leave. He comes after her a bit and she yells at him. By this time I am across the street watching this go down. The passenger is coming after her and now he’s grabbing her. The car comes around the block and the passenger opens the trunk and is pulling on the woman.
Now I have to call 911 because this woman appears to be under threat and nobody listened when I hinted that the cops were coming. I call 911 and the police come. The men get on their knees at the police command, and one announces that he has a gun. As the police are engaging these guys, I begin to feel at ease that the situation has not become another travesty. A man pushing a shopping cart full of his possessions walks up and says, “Hey, man, you better record all of this just in case one of those guys gets shot.”
And I do. Fortunately nobody gets shot.
A few weeks ago, I had to call a friend of mine, a police officer, to find out what I should do by way of a friend who is in a domestic abuse situation. The whole time I am thinking about how easy I have it by way of being able to pick up the phone, call the cops without suspicion, and not worry about something terrible happening at the end of all of it.
It can be hard to see for many Mainers, who never, ever find themselves in a situation where living in that privilege seems outside any norm. But this is what we mean when we say white privilege.
Alex Steed has written about and engaged in politics since he was a teenager. He’s an owner-partner of a Portland-based content production company and lives with his family, dogs and garden in Westbrook.