I had taken some vacation time from my TV job on Fox5/WNYW's weekday morning news program, Good Day New York. I made my first ever trip to Seattle. I flew there for two days of a deeply emotional and important event for me. I was reuniting with my divorced father whom I'd not seen in a little over 20 years. Our relationship had been fractured and frayed for such a long time that I was taking this giant step forward to initiate reconciliation.
Our first day together after two decades apart was awkward but there were also some laughs and surprising discoveries.
Then came Officer Boone and Officer Crosby of the Seattle police department.
On the weekday morning I was scheduled to fly back to New York, I got up early. dressed well and left Seattle's Four Seasons Hotel, where I was staying, to get coffee and a bagel. I found a nice coffee shop in the vicinity. I chatted with the friendly clerk who accidentally burned my bagel, toasted me another one, and gave me me a second coffee free of charge. The shop carried The New York Times. I bought a copy, had my unburnt bagel, drank my coffee and my had free refill while leisurely reading the paper.
With me, I had my passport, my Channel 5/WNYW employee ID with a photo and my return flight ticket. A Continental Airlines office was near the hotel, so I was going to see if I could get my seat assignment before heading for the airport.
When I left the coffee shop to walk back to the hotel, I had an itemized receipt with the time and date. And I had a witness that I was there because I'd chatted with the clerk who accidentally burned my bagel. I also had the key to my room at The Four Seasons Hotel. And I was dressed sort of like this:
The article took a light approach to the story but, when the cops came up to my hotel room, I was pissed. I was one angry black man who had to say to himself "Jesus, keep me sweet." No matter how much I validated myself, it wasn't enough.
Of the three plain clothes policemen who came up to my hotel room to question me, one looked really embarrassed about the whole thing. One wanted to search my small gym bag.
I looked at the embarrassed cop and said, "Are you familiar with a TV reporter here in town named John Sharify?" He said that he was. John was an multi-award winning reporter at a network affiliate in Seattle. I said, "John is a longtime friend of mine. We used to work together at the same station in New York City. He's driving me to the airport after I check out. If I was a bank robber, why would I have a TV news reporter as my getaway man?" I followed that with "If bank robbers give you ID and tell you where they're staying, y'all got some stupid ass bank robbers in Seattle."
He apologized for the inconvenience. The other cop who wanted to search my gym bag found exactly what I told him he'd find -- sweaty gym clothing and a subscription copy of Entertainment Weekly magazine that I read while on the treadmill. No big bundles of cash ripped off from two banks.
They soon left and didn't bother me anymore. I called Dad and told him what happened. Seattle TV news reporter John Sharify drove me to the airport. All things considered, the experience with all those Caucasian cops could've been worse.
And that's the story of how I got stopped in Seattle for WWB -- Walking While Black.