My first run-in with the cops was when I was fourteen. I was in a parking lot across the street from Del Amo Mall in Torrance after football practice, waiting for a ride home. I wasn’t used to taking the bus to the new school I was going to, several miles away from my home in Gardena. I kept boarding the wrong bus so finally I gave up and called my sister to pick me up. As I was waiting, I watched the cops make a u-turn across the street. I remember thinking that they probably got a call for a crime and were heading for it, but I was wrong. They pulled right in front of me, jumped out off the car and had me put my hands in the air. I dropped my backpack full of my sweaty clothes on the ground. The cops asked me why I was standing here as they frisked me. I told them that I was coming back from football practice and I was waiting for my sister to pick me up. I then asked what I was doing wrong, because I was just leaning against a brick wall waiting for my sister. They didn’t answer me. I watched as the passengers in the cars slowly passing me by gave their slow judgment. I was embarrassed and I was scared that that they were going to find something to bust me for, even though I had nothing on me to get busted with. In short, I felt like a criminal. After the frisking and looking through my backpack full of sweaty clothes, they let me go and said, “Stay away from the parking lot-- it looks like you’re checking out the cars,” and they left.
My fourteen-year-old brain was confused, “Checking out the cars?” I guess they thought I was going to break into one.
When I got home I looked in the mirror and saw for the first time what they saw. I was nearly six feet, wearing a white t-shirt with my head shaved down to a number two guard and, I was dark. As dark as the dirt on the ground, as dark as the cochinto pan dulce that sat on the dinner table, as dark as all the criminals I’d seen on the news. Until then I felt like every other kid. But now I knew better. I knew that from now on I would have to be careful of what I said and what I did. I knew I just couldn't go anywhere. Others could get away with more but because of the way I look I couldn’t. I couldn’t stand on a corner, I couldn’t dress different, I couldn’t even check out cars in a parking lot. On that day the cops let me know how different I was, and I hated them for it. For the first time in my young life, I felt powerless.