Saturday, August 23, 2014

WWB: Walking While Black

Tom Hanks was Sleepless in Seattle.  He could walk around, get together with friends and have a good time while he longed for a new romance to heal his lonely, broken heart.

We knew he'd have a happy movie ending.  Because...he's Tom Hanks.
But I'm not Tom Hanks.  And I wasn't in a movie.  I was just a black man in business attire visiting Seattle for family matters.  My aggravating encounter with Seattle cops happened in October 1996.  The incident got written up in both The New York Post and The Daily News on November 4, 1996.

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:
When I was stopped by Officer Boone and Officer Crosby, I was definitely innocent.  They were  the cops who got out of the first police car to pull up alongside me.  They wanted to know what I was going and what I was doing in town.  I kept my cool, telling them my name and my occupation and that I was guest at the nearby Four Seasons Hotel.  The hotel was within view.  I added that I was in town to visit my father.  With my Fox5 TV employee ID, the passport, the hotel key, the itemized receipt, The New York Times and the airline ticket, they still wanted to question me because....."a black man with a newspaper" had robbed a bank about ten minutes earlier.  The robbery must have occurred while I was having a bagel and reading about Bernadette Peters on Broadway in Annie Get Your Gun.  Here's the report in New York's Daily News.  Click onto it for a better view.

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.

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