That’s Our Guy

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Heading out to journey anywhere with my friends is always an adventure. That being said, I didn’t say the adventures are always positive. Due to the fact that there isn’t much to do in my small town, we usually just hang out at the mall. As boisterous and uncontrollable as my friends are, something bad was bound to happen with five carefree teenage boys strolling through the mall with nothing to do. We made a pit stop in the department store, Sears, just to cut through to get tot the food court and even look around. As always, the clerks were on high alert, as the only real danger to their store is a teenage boy. Along the way, one of my acquaintances, who I’ll no longer refer to as my friend, thought it would be hilarious to steal a cheap cologne bottle. The four of us told him to put it back, but I guess he really needed to have this trophy. Just our luck, as we were leaving the food court, three security guards stopped me and asked me to empty my pockets. I had nothing, but in the bush behind where I was sitting was a small blue bottle of cologne. I looked over at my old acquaintance who just stared blankly. Within two hours, I was in the parking lot with my mom, clear of any charges. Fortunately, my friends backed me up and revealed the real culprit. Even though the real thief was caught, and he would’ve been fine with me taking the blame, I had already moved on. The fact that I was chosen out of my four other friends to be the culprit was the real problem.

I was profiled to be the culprit. My four other friends in vineyard vines and sperry’s couldn’t have been involved right? It must’ve been the big kid in sweatpants and a Kiss Alive II shirt that stole it. He’s got a beard and big zip up, ya, that’s our guy.

I definitely saw myself differently after this. In my mind, I was always the real target. I always think about what I wear when I go out, what will people see in me. Are their assumptions about me necessary to do their job? I knew I couldn’t stroll into a Walmart with baggy sweats and a hood over my head, that would be asking to be watched. Obviously, people have a job to do, and make sure people don’t wrong them. But now I can see where people of color come from. They can’t enter a place and leave their skin color at the door. Stereotypes put targets on their backs, and it’s something that they can’t escape. For all of this time I thought I was the real target, but now I can see how sheltered I was from what’s really going on.

From 1997 to 2015, I’ve lived extremely comfortably. Sure, terrorism and gun violence have been frequently used terms during my short lifetime, but it’s never bothered me. Racism has been a carefully used term until fairly recently, when my eyes started to open. It might have something to do that I’m 18 years old and still growing from a kid into an adult. It could be because I’ve been shielded my entire life from the negativity I see today. Or, it can be attributed to the growing public awareness of such things, to bring to light what is really going on in our country.

Amid news reports of police violence and a #blacklivesmatter campaign, I still wasn’t fully convinced that these events warranted a public outbreak. Although, the flow was constant; it seems that every day somebody was killed on the basis of race. I was seeing a country that just needed to calm down a little. The microcosm of my world, Trinity College, forced me to see what I’d forever put in the rear view mirror.

I was convinced of what I know now after a 28 degree five am trash pickup with my brothers on the football team. We’d been assigned stations along campus, splitting us into groups chosen for us. Although we’re all brothers on the team, we tend to separate into little groups. The athletes of color often associate with other athletes of color, and it doesn’t mean that they can’t or won’t associate with us white guys. It’s they way things are. My squad was assigned to a portion of Vernon Street, the main road running through campus. It’s early, still dark with the sun on the rise, and  a group of bundled up football players trudging through leaves grabbing trash. We weren’t making a scene, but we did catch the attention of campus safety officers on duty. As they raced up the street, me and four white students were passed over. But, twenty yards ahead, the three black students on my team were stopped and questioned. I had just witnessed what I had nearly denied the past couple of years in my life.

Nothing came of it, the officer just stopped to ask sternly what they were doing and why. They obviously knew they were targeted, and joked about the instance later about why they were targeted, but this stuck with me. We were actively doing a nice thing for the campus, and the guys were still mistaken for criminals. This young students, at an elite liberal arts school, literally cannot leave their rooms without facing some kind of judgement. How are we not passed that yet?

In our seminar, there has been a lot of discussion on our own issues with campus safety. I absolutely would not have been able to contribute if it wasn’t for my experience on Vernon. During the walk out on campus, students highlighted the mistrust campus safety had for them. Students were unable to enter their own dorms, where they live, unless the presented an ID. Other students were constantly mistaken for a “Hartford Local” because they were a black male.

Shannon described her own feelings in our seminar when she hears the term “Hartford Local.” I’ve never really seen it as a derogatory term until she spoke up. The fact is, Shannon is a Hartford local. A well known Trinity student athlete who has every right to be here is an actual resident of the city of Hartford. This put a face to what me and other people were saying. We see males of color on campus as violent and harmful. Of course there have been incidents that need to be addressed, but it’s a shame that a student who is the same as me and has the same rights to be where I am, maybe even more qualified, is facing this kind of adversity.

Trinity has helped me grow in my first semester because it is a microcosm of what is really going on. Yes, times have changed, and I thought we were done. It’s become extremely evident in recent months that we aren’t done with this racism. If a student of color can’t enter his/ her dorm without a second thought, and the innocent black teenager is shot because he “Fits a profile,” we clearly aren’t done. Although all of this has just recently come to my attention, I truly do now stand for the equal rights of everyone. We have to get rid of the stigma surrounding people of color, or wait until another civil war. It might sound extreme, but for this to go on for as long as it has is pathetic. We can say that America is a free country for everyone, but as we might be farther along than some other countries, it’s still time to shape up.