CW: Intimate partner violence, suicidal ideations, police violence.
Ending a year-long relationship with a mentally unstable guy made all the sense to my then 23-year-old self. He was the jealous kind, the type who made up distorted scenarios and lives them out in his head. Simple conversations with him turned into preposterous debates. On better days, we romanced Hip-Hop, reminisced over genre classics, celebrated and debated our top five. But, one night, out of nowhere, he asked me: “Would you f–k him?”
Just like that, the fanfare I had for my favorite rapper turned into a three-hour argument that ended with me choked out, all because he had convinced himself that I had cheated with said rapper in some random Queens motel. My ex’s fixation—that I could actually appreciate someone besides him—led to a battle I could not win verbally, nor physically.
Agreeing to disagree was not his thing.
He criss-crossed my face with an angry hand: once with his backhand and again with an open palm. I picked myself up off the ground and fought back with a barrage of my own fists and fingernails. He wrestled me to the ground and tried his hardest to subdue me. I lost that fight once his fingers gripped my neck, “You better calm the f–k down or else.” He optioned a far worse circumstance.
I was resolute. That night and that fight were the last I planned on sharing with him. I yielded to the threat of more imminent violence. I stopped fighting back. I silenced myself. I reasoned that it was time to be done, and so it was. I called it quits.
The split was yet another reality he had difficulty processing; he became creepy about putting himself in close proximity with me. If you’ve ever glanced over your shoulder and discovered someone stalking you along a crowded Bedford-Stuyvesant block, you’d know just how unsafe creepy feels.
Not once did I consider calling the police. Not the day I sat in class when a school administrator delivered a note to inform me I had a persistent visitor waiting outside with a bouquet of roses. Not the day I received 37 phone calls in five hours at my workplace. Not even on the day he confronted me at my home, yanked 120 braids from my scalp and beat my 135-pound body bloody. The result of me clinging desperately to the iron railing beneath the bed, where I hid to escape him, were four severed tendons in my left hand. The metal sliced into my fingers as he dragged me from my cover. Still, I never considered calling the cops.
What I did contemplate, though, was jumping out of the window. The only thing I thought would prevent him from killing me was to die by Brooklyn concrete. Dialing 9-1-1 would not keep me safe.
In most dangerous and vulnerable circumstances, many Black people are hesitant to seek police assistance. A 2018 YouGov survey reveals that Black Americans are less likely (49%) to say that they’ve called the police to report something than the total population (59%). Of those who have had the police called on them, nearly half (46%) of Black people say they felt somewhat or very unsafe during the interaction, compared with only 26% of the total population who responded similarly.
These fears are not unfounded. On June 15, Black Lives Matter activist, 19-year-old Oluwatoyin Salau, tweeted details and significant information of a sexual assault made against her. After reporting the incident to Tallahassee police, she went missing and was later found dead. Far too often, when police should be keeping the peace and protecting African Americans, they become the perpetrators of our deaths.
On March 13, 2020, Louisville police forced their way into Breonna Taylor‘s home as she slept. Officers were at the wrong address allegedly searching for suspect; they ended up gunning down the 26-year-old emergency medical technician instead. In October 2019, Atatiana Jefferson, a 28-year-old Black woman, was shot and killed by a Fort Worth police officer who was responding to a non-emergency call—a welfare check at the request of a concerned Black neighbor. In 2018, a Florida jury awarded Gregory Hill’s family $4.04 for his death after police killed him while responding to a noise complaint.
Where I’m from, the South side of Jamaica, Queens, police are not viewed as crime fighters, protectors of the peace, nor saviors but rather disgruntled employees with deadly customer service. My hood remembers that night in 2006 when the New York Police Department fired 50 shots at a Nissan Altima, killing Sean Bell, a 23-year-old groom on the eve of his wedding day. The Black community remembers Abner Louima, a Haitian immigrant detained in an East Flatbush police precinct. Louima was held down by arresting officers, had a stick thrusted up his rectum, and his bowels ruptured by officer Justin Volpe on August 7, 1997. Volpe’s face dominated the local news. Seeing his blank stare on TV and the look of indifference plastered across most NYC news publications flipped my stomach. His dark, moussed hair, his tight jaw line and thin, stony lips remain a menacing profile in my imagination. His stoicism still haunts me.
Until Black lives matter in the blue psyche and Black bodies are no longer dumping grounds for rage and violence … “don’t dial 9-1-1” will continue to be Black creed.
Between the 1973 police killing of 10-year-old Clifford Glover and the more recent police killings of Ahmaud Arbery, George Floyd and Rayshard Brooks, a slew of Black bodies have been victimized by overzealous law enforcement—and that victimization is five times more likely to result in serious injury compared to incidents involving white bodies.
It’s no wonder that high profile police violence drives down 9-1-1 calls and drives up criminality. Frank Jude’s brutal beating by Milwaukee officers in 2005 prompted a study that showed 9-1-1 calls in the region dropped by 22,000 in the year after Jude’s attack. Over half (56 %) of the total loss in calls occurred in Black neighborhoods.
According to the report, Milwaukee experienced 87 homicides “representing a 32 % increase in murders relative to the same six-month period in previous and subsequent years.” Police violence begets community violence. It’s a given.
N.W.A.’s 1988 song “Fuck Tha Police” remains relevant to this day. Until Black lives matter in the blue psyche and Black bodies are no longer dumping grounds for rage and violence, until keys and cell phones no longer shape-shift from harmless objects to egregious alibis pressed into police statements, until law enforcement is no longer a symbol of distrust, and until police forces across the nation are defunded, “Don’t dial 9-1-1” will continue to be Black creed.
On that fateful night in 1997, during my assault, my best friend was present in the apartment. She, too, did not dial 9-1-1. Her inaction was driven by fear and intimidation. She stood frozen, unable to move, watching as I was pummeled with fist after fist. On one hand there was imminent danger to her own physicality; on the other, the threat of retaliation she might very well face for calling the police on the monster who attacked me. “Touch that phone and I’ll break your f–king face,” he menaced. “Don’t think I don’t know where the f–k you live.” Needless to say, it was in her best interest to oblige him—but unfortunately, not mine.
If you’ve ever glanced over your shoulder and discovered someone stalking you along a crowded Bedford-Stuyvesant block, you’d know just how unsafe creepy feels.
A Black couple who lived in the apartment beneath my own were just as hesitant. They heard the banging, the screams, the crash of my body above their heads. They did rush to my aid just as my assailant rushed from the scene. The husband rinsed my wounds. He wrapped towels around my hands in a feverish attempt to control the blood that poured from the open gashes across my fingers and in the palms of my hand. His wife, with her head bowed, whispered, “Should we call the police?”
A great silence filled the room, her husband’s eyes met my friend’s, hers met mine. I shook my head no, and responded: “Just call an ambulance.”