I never thought I would be writing a letter such as this. Here I am a senior citizen. A black woman just turning 69 years old, taking a Sunday afternoon drive and being panic-stricken.
I was driving in a district in Albany that I thought was safe. It could be described as middle-class white with some African Americans here and there. But what can you expect with a 75% African American population?
As I am driving up this particular street, I noticed a car in my rearview mirror slowly pulling up behind me. I pulled over to let him pass because, like I said, it is a sunny Sunday afternoon. I was not in any hurry. The car pulls on around me and drives ahead.
As I approached the stop sign at the corner and stop, the car pulls up next to me, startling me. I looked at this young white man and, based on the stereotypes I have seen on television, I thought maybe he was a dope dealer. He then leans out of his window and asked me what was I doing driving around in the neighborhood? I replied, “Excuse me?” He said, “I saw you turn off (I won’t name the street) onto my street and some of the neighbors were complaining about you driving slow and looking at their properties.”
I said, “No, that’s not exactly right.” I am considering moving to this area, and I was looking for apartments or rentals. He said, “People are moving out, why do you want to move here?” as if I was lying. I said, “I thought this was the better half of the block, the shootings (based on police reports) are across the river.” He said, “There are shootings over here, too.”
He then said the most bizarre thing to me. He said, “It is dangerous for you to ride around like this. People (in the neighborhood I assumed) are armed, and they do not like people riding around looking.”
He said he was in the military and he looks out for the community and he was armed. Was he threating me? What had I said? I am a 69-year-old slightly overweight grandma; what could I do to him or his neighborhood? But just in that instant, I was back in my college days, marching with Martin, holding up picket signs, and this old lady flat-out lied and said, “I have a weapon, too!”
And he replied with a smirk, “Well, we both have weapons,” and I quickly said, and someone could get hurt. He reminded me that he was experienced because of his military background. We gave each other a look, exchanged first names and drove off. I drove around the corner, hopefully out of his site, and sat for a minute, not wanting my blood sugar to rise.
But, no, it’s not over. A couple of hours later, I get a message on my cellphone from the Albany Police Department with complaints from the neighbors on that particular street that I was up to something. Up to what? Driving 25 miles an hour? There were not any rentals or apartments in that section. I never got out of my car. The police want me to return their call to discuss what I was doing. Oh, my God, I felt totally violated. The most interaction I’ve had with the law is a traffic violation, and now I must explain why I’m driving in a neighborhood.
This one-sided situation has a guilty overtone. What? Did someone run my tag number? And you called my cellphone? Did the police give the information to the young white man? Is anybody going to help me? I did not do anything. Breonna Taylor was in her house, in her bed asleep, wrongly killed by police. Ahmaud Arbery was wrongly killed by citizens for jogging through a neighborhood.
I did not do anything. How many times have those words been echoed by young innocent black male and female youths? I have been in Albany for a little more than 20 years, and I love living here. I am proud to live here. I know we can do better, and this violence in Albany can stop. I also know that I could have been killed. How ridiculous would that have been?
I’ve been trying to follow the articles and the suggestions on how we can stop the crime in Albany, and I have to agree with Dr. (Charles) Ochie (Albany Herald Editorial, Nov. 23): We don’t need anymore policing, we need to start with the mental attitude of the young people before the crime is committed. Poverty, low self-esteem, and lack of hope are toxic. Even the Bible teaches that, without a vision, man will perish. These young people need a giant dose of Vision — the ability to dream, to dream the American dream of opportunity, prosperity, equality. They need to see themselves in a different light.
I want to spend the rest of my life helping them find their vision. I would like to ask that young white man why he felt he had to call the police on me? What was it about me that threatened him? Or is it he (they) didn’t want any more people of color in their neighborhood? Maybe all he really needs is for me to give him a hug and tell him things will be OK. I can do that.
I have lived through the lingering effects of lynching, segregation, police brutality, blatant racism to a black president and a black vice president, Black Lives Matter, Black Voters Matter, a Blue Georgia and a very clear painfully expressed new outrage of a divided America. Our beloved country, our America: 80M us and 73.8M them. People, we have a frightening situation boiling in our midst. I believe some of “them” may live in the neighborhood I was driving in on that Sunday. Are the Albany Police spending too much time just looking at the gangs across the river while there are other gangs and groups formalizing? What did Trump say to the Proud Boys, “Stand back and get ready.”
I want my grandchildren to grow up in a safe America. I pray harder for all the black males in my family that God will put a hedge of protection around each of them every day. Especially for my grandson, who attends college in one of those red states. When I try to remind him of where to put his hands if stopped by a policeman, don’t argue with irrational people, stop wearing his sweatshirt hoody over his head, etc. and his reply is an innocent, “Arrrr Mema, you worry to much.”
I really think love can overrule hate. I really believe God can change things. I really believe that there are enough good people — diverse people who want to live the good life — who just want to be happy and enjoy our multiracial-multicultural community. I genuinely believe in the written law and the correct and fair process of administering policies and procedures, regardless of race, age, creed, or religion.
I enjoy driving around on pretty sunny days. Albany has beautiful neighborhoods and some not as beautiful. I believe most of us can get along. However, I think in the future when looking for a residence to relocate, it may be safer for me to call a realtor.