Search changed thoughts on race and barriers between cops and community, reader says

Letter to the editor: 

My first experience with the police happened when I was about 13 years old. I was walking home from work with four other kids. We were pin-boys at the Armory Bowling Alley, in Chester, Pa. Before automation, we pin boys reset the pins after the bowling balls knocked them down.

It was about 11 p.m. All of a sudden, a police car pulled along side us, then in front of us, blocking the walk. We stopped in our tracks and watched wide eyed while the two cops got out of their car, nightsticks in hand and approached us.

“Where you boys going? Where you coming from? What you got in your pockets?” We each answered their questions and they questioned our answers. “What time did you get off? How much did you make? Where do you live?”  While one cop stood guard, the other one frisked each of us; hands moving up and down our bodies and inside every pocket.

Neither cop was nasty or forceful. In fact, the whole thing was happening in a light-hearted manner. I even remember laughing, nervously, at something that was said during my search.

In a few minutes, they let us go.  But our mood had changed. We were silent and sullen. None of us complained about it or ever mentioned it again, but I remember feeling violated. I remember asking myself why they stopped us. We weren’t doing anything wrong. We weren’t loud or destructive. We weren’t criminals. We were simply five black kids, walking in a white area of town, at night. Today, that “stop” offends me to the core — much more so than when it actually happened.

That incident, and several others that I’ve experienced or witnessed since, is the filter through which I view all police officers.

I see them as people who see me as…