On Sept. 6, I locked myself out of my apartment in Santa Monica, Calif. I was in a rush to get to my weekly soccer game, so I decided to go enjoy the game and deal with the lock afterward.
A few hours and a visit from a locksmith later, I was inside my apartment and slipping off my shoes when I heard a man’s voice and what sounded like a small dog whimpering outside, near my front window. I imagined a loiterer and opened the door to move him along. I was surprised to see a large dog halfway up the staircase to my door. I stepped back inside, closed the door and locked it.
I heard barking. I approached my front window and loudly asked what was going on. Peering through my blinds, I saw a gun. A man stood at the bottom of the stairs, pointing it at me. I stepped back and heard: “Come outside with your hands up.” I thought: This man has a gun and will kill me if I don’t come outside. At the same time, I thought: I’ve heard this line from policemen in movies. Although he didn’t identify himself, perhaps he’s an officer.
I left my apartment in my socks, shorts and a light jacket, my hands in the air. “What’s going on?” I asked again. Two police officers had guns trained on me. They shouted: “Who’s in there with you? How many of you are there?”
I said it was only me and, hands still raised, slowly descended the stairs, focused on one officer’s eyes and on his pistol. I had never looked down the barrel of a gun or at the face of a man with a loaded weapon pointed at me. In his eyes, I saw fear and anger. I had no idea what was happening, but I saw how it would end: I would be dead in the stairwell outside my apartment, because something about me — a 5-foot-7, 125-pound black woman — frightened this man with a gun. I sat down, trying to look even less threatening, trying to de-escalate. I again asked what was going on. I confirmed there were no pets or people inside.
I told the officers I didn’t want them in my apartment. I said they had no right to be there. They entered anyway. One pulled me, hands behind my back, out to the street. The neighbors were watching. Only then did I notice the ocean of officers. I counted 16. They still hadn’t told me why they’d come.
Later, I learned that the Santa Monica Police Department had dispatched 19 officers after one of my neighbors reported a burglary at my apartment. It didn’t matter that I told the cops I’d lived there for seven months, told them about the locksmith, offered to show a receipt for his services and my ID. It didn’t matter that I went to Duke, that I have an MBA from Dartmouth, that I’m a vice president of strategy at a multinational corporation. It didn’t matter that I’ve never had so much as a speeding ticket. It didn’t matter that I calmly, continually asked them what was happening. It also didn’t matter that I didn’t match the description of the person they were looking for — my neighbor described me as Hispanic when he called 911. What mattered was that I was a woman of color trying to get into her apartment — in an almost entirely white apartment complex in a mostly white city — and a white man who lived in another building called the cops because he’d never seen me before.
I'm desperately tired of this, and there but for the grace of God this hasn't happened to me yet in my apartment building where I live in a 92% white state.
It doesn't matter if you're "one of the good ones", educated, a pillar of society, not wearing baggy pants or tattoos or not flashing gang signs. If you're a person of color, you are an assumed criminal in your own home if a white person decides so.
So bone-weary of stories like this, because it's only a matter of time. And if one of those officers had decided Fay Wells was a threat, she'd be dead, and these officers would have told us she was a threat that had to be dealt with, and they would not have been charged with her murder, much less convicted.
I am tired of only being alive because a white person hasn't decided I am a threat yet.