When a black man ‘fits the description’

In the aftermath of Ferguson and Baltimore and New York, Steve Locke's encounter with Boston police last week is the way encounters between the police and innocent people should go. Is it?

Locke, a college professor, was walking in the city's Jamaica Plain section when he was stopped by police because he "fit the description" of a suspect in an attempted break in. The suspect was black, about 160 pounds, wearing a puffy jacket and hat.

In his Friday blog post, he posted this picture of him "fitting the description."

Photo: Steven Locke

Everyone was courteous in the exchange, but Locke knew if he got into a police car so that a white woman could get a look at him -- who doesn't look guilty in the back of a police car? -- his life could change forever, he writes.

It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die. I am not being dramatic when I say this. I was not going to get into a police car. I was not going to present myself to some victim. I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery. I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially. I knew this in my heart. I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal. This meant that I was going to resist arrest. This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.

“We understand that people may feel uncomfortable, and we would encourage them to be patient, and to be respectful — as this individual was,” a Boston Police spokesman told the Boston Globe today. “The outcome can be as good as it was here.”

And yet, the outcome isn't that good. A man feels an overbroad "description" put him at risk.

What if police had insisted he get in the car? What if he had resisted? What if the white woman decided he was the guy when he wasn't the guy?

Locke says his post wasn't trying to vilify anyone; he just wants people to know the helplessness that he felt.

“The struggle to be believed in that moment was very, very disheartening,” he told the Globe. “You can prove who you are, where you came from, and still that may not be enough.”

"I'm so grateful you were there," he said to a black woman who watched the incident. "I kept thinking to myself, 'Don't leave, sister.' May I give you a hug?""Yes," she said. She held me as I shook. "Are you sure you are ok?""No I'm not. I'm going to have a good cry in my car. I have to go teach."