Shortly after the George Zimmerman "not guilty" verdict came down a few weeks ago, C.J. Morrison--a young man who host Melissa Harris-Perry had on her show in 2012, shortly after Trayvon Martin's death to talk about his experiences growing up black and profiled--shared with us a new story of his experience with a New Britain, CT., police officer during his first year of college. His story upset many in our audience--and on our staff--and I took time recently to speak with him in greater depth.
First things first, C.J.--tell me, just kind of state what you’re doing, what college are you at, what year are you?
I’m a Central Connecticut State University student. I am on a full scholarship there to play football. I’m studying Communications. I enjoy doing that; it’s something I was interested in but you never know where things will take you.
You described an incident to Melissa when you were on the show recently; can you tell me in detail what happened? I know there are two incidents to speak of. First, the incident with the police officer and the gun.
Yeah, so basically what happened was we were leaving the club and as you know there are a lot of people leaving and it was predominantly Central students..
Where and when did this happen?
It was actually an "after a football game" type of party. A couple of my teammates were leaving and uh..I don’t know if people would know what happens after parties--sometimes it's confrontation between people, things like that, so cops are always going to be around. But it wasn’t as bad that night. I guess somewhere where we weren’t, there must’ve been a confrontation between two groups of people and we were walking to our car. As we were turning the corner down this side street--because the club was on a main street so we were going down the side street because that’s where we parked--we were walking and there was a parking lot to our right and the street was to our left and we were walking, talking, laughing, talking about the party and things like that and no one saw any of these police officers, any of these police cars roll up. It came so fast like they were pulling up to a robbery scene like in a movie. It was crazy.
They came up car brakes, loud, popped out the car. There were canine units, one of my friends, he saw the dogs and immediately started to run and they sent them chasing him down---next thing you know, they’re down a little alley, face down you know because they started to run. And me, growing up in areas where conversations with cops, you just be respectful and you talk the least that you can and you just try to get out of the situation as fast as possible. You definitely do not run.
But you know they didn’t know that, and they came out, the cops came out full-fledged, guns out, dogs out and barking and asked us to put our hands up and we’re like, "What happened?" We’re completely confused like, what did we do--we’re just trying to walk to our car. And they wanted to pat us down and they’re asking us if we had anything to do with the shooting and we’re like, no we didn’t, we’re just walking to our car.
And the woman, a white lady, she was probably a little bit shorter than I am. She walks up to me to do my pat down, I guess, and she pulls her gun out. I’m in a t-shirt, some shorts and some sneakers--if I had any type of concealed weapon on me you’d probably be able to see it. And the fact that we complied so easily with them and were speaking with them and trying to get them to calm down and stop frightening us so much, I feel like there was no reason for her to have the gun at me the way she did. She put it right to my face and was patting me down while another officer walked up to me, and I’m starting to get a little frustrated and I’m like, "Excuse me, ma’am--can you please take the gun out of my face? I don’t feel comfortable at all." And they told me, "You need to stop talking right now." And I’m just like, "Are you serious?"
Is anyone reading you Miranda rights or is anyone informing you of your rights at this point?
No, nope. I guess we weren’t under arrest. They didn’t read us any Miranda rights or anything like that, they didn’t put any of us in handcuffs or anything like that, they just simply I guess wanted to check us out for whatever reason. Like where we were, it wasn’t like we were the only people there, you know what I’m saying, there were a lot of people there. It was busy, the club just got out and there were a lot of people around. And the fact that our group of young men, yes we were bigger than the average young man--you know we’re football players. Some dudes 6’2", 6’3", 250 pounds--yes, we’re bigger guys, but like out of everyone in the whole crowd, why us? Is it because we’re a group of young men? Is it because we were walking down a street that probably...a street that has homes and things like that? Was that it? But at the same time it's like a lot of people parked in that area and we were really just walking to our car.
And everyone in your group is black?
Yeah, everybody in the group is black.
So what eventually did they tell you was the reason why she stopped you?
No reason. They wouldn’t answer any of our questions. Like I asked her straight, why are we getting stopped? And they said there’s a shooting or something like that. And I’m like, well, we weren’t shooting, you know? And I’m the type of person-- I kind of said it sarcastically because I was already kind of aggravated and frightened myself. I’m not going to lie: I was actually very scared because I’ve never been in a situation that serious. Like I’ve been stopped in cars by cops and things like that, simple things like just being black in a car. I’ve been asked by a cop while me and my friends were playing basketball if we had any drugs. Things like that, but nothing that serious to the point that I’m actually about to pee on myself because I’m that scared. And I’m not a big fan of big ol' dogs, so when you have them barking and you’re asking us to stay calm and not freak out it’s kind of hard when you got guns out and dogs barking.
Where are you from originally? Where did you have these previous experiences with the police?
I was born in Hartford, I was raised in East Hartford--which is, I would say, a nicer area. Not as bad as you would say Hartford, Connecticut, is. Hartford is more of a hood type of thing. I wasn’t exactly raised in that area, I went to school in that area but where I lived there was a lot of drug selling and things like that. Some of my friends were doing bad things, fighting and things like that. And some of the stuff I was even involved in being young and stupid--you know, I’ve gotten into a couple fights in the park, things like that. You know, being a young kid, but as you grow up you learn that a lot of those aren’t what you should do. I went to Capitol Prep which is in Hartford--which is ironic that I went to a school in the hood but learned exactly how not to be hood.
I need to clarify: was it New Britain police that stopped you?
And did you do any follow up to see if there actually was a shooting in the area?
I actually didn’t. I kind of just let it go. We didn’t talk much about it. Amongst ourselves we talked about it but we didn’t tell anyone about it, you know, because if coaches know they freak out and they’ll be like, "Okay you can’t go there anymore"--so you know we didn’t say anything much about it. Most of us are used to being stopped. It’s a problem being black, sometimes it really is. People judge you, even other black people judge you. Like, people think it’s just other races that judge you but if you walk into a store owned by a black man he’s going to think something, too.
It's something that us youth, black men, that they have against us. They think that we’re all criminals, and we’re always up to something, we’re always about to do something. Me and my friends don’t walk into stores as a group anymore because we’re going to get followed, we’ll get asked to leave and they’ll be like, oh, you gotta come in two at a time or something like that. And we’re all just like really, we can’t walk into the store? It’s just something you get used to and in school you learn about something called white privilege, and we realized we don’t have that. It’s kind of like you’re born black so you’re born like five steps behind everyone else.
When you heard the president say what he did how did that resonate with you?
It really touched me. I’m glad he did it and I’m really glad he did it at the time he did because I feel like he waited, he even said it, he waited to see how the country was going to react to the verdict. And I feel exactly the same as the rest of the country about the verdict and the fact that he said he could’ve been Trayvon Martin is very true. It’s so true. I wear hoodies all the time, all the time. I wear my hood up all the time. High school, you couldn’t wear hats and stuff and hoods, but I never really liked getting haircuts ‘cuz I don’t like paying for it so I’m always going to have something on my head. So the fact that Trayvon Martin was walking home from the store which I always do, me and my brothers we always walk down to the corner store, the fact that he was shot and killed, he looked suspect because he had a hoodie on and I wear that all the time--so who’s to say what’ll happen if I’m walking in the area..I live pretty close to a predominantly white area. It’s very nice, and who’s to say I’m not there with some of my friends or whatever and we go to the corner store and I’m walking home and someone thinks of me that way and I get shot.
People say "I am Trayvon Martin," but I seriously could’ve been Trayvon Martin at any point in my life.
I'm sure you've heard a lot about "stop-and-frisk" here in New York City. I want to get your take. Do you feel like that's racial profiling essentially being codified into law or at least practice?
Yeah, that's exactly what it is. At the end of the day, we all know why "stop-and-frisk" is the law. They simply are looking for black men that have narcotics on them. I know a lot of black men--some of my friends smoke weed all the time, have weed, things like that. You can get arrested for having that. That's exactly why the law's in. Most of the men who are in jail are in jail because of drugs not because of murder or robbery or crimes like that; it's simple things like drugs. You know what I'm saying? That's exactly why they have it. There's no other reason. And most of the people that get stopped and frisked are black or minority race. Black and Hispanics are the most racially profiled people in America.
And I don't care about statistics; I know it's true because I've seen it, I've dealt with it, and I hear about it all the time. I just feel like it's a law they said, "You know what, we need to keep these people off the streets cause they think we're not gonna make it past 25 anyway. So let's keep them off the streets from creating any harm, keep them not educated"--because that's a problem with black schools too, bad education--"keep them not educated, put them in jail, and spend taxpayer's money." Basically.
You mentioned white privilege earlier. Do you feel like exposing that helps solve this problem?
Yeah, definitely. If more of the majority race understood the privileges they had and understand that what we go through...telling my story, I think, was a really good idea, a good thing, so people could actually hear what I go through and what people like me go through all the time and understand what white privilege is. You don't get stopped, you don't get asked questions. In school, if you get into a fight, your suspension will probably be two days, rather than my suspension will be ten days. A lot of white kids really don't see it. Like some of my friends at school, they really do not see it.
I had a conversation with one of my friends and he was like, "Hey, CJ, come down to this party." And I'm like, "Yeah, what kind of party is it?" I always ask what kind of party because there's the black parties where you're dancing and blasting Trinidad James and things like that, and then there's the white people's party where there's mostly beer and socializing and just hanging out type of party, playing beer pong type of party. And I asked straight up, "What kind of party is it?" He said, "OK, it's more of like a white party." We do that with each other, say that all the time, "white party." And then be like, "Alright, whose party is it?" If they're not an athlete or someone I know, then I'm not walking in there by myself at all.
I never really go out by myself anyway--but unless I'm with someone I don't go to those parties by myself because once you walk in, all eyes are on you. That's number one. Two, you might just get kicked out, you might just get beat up. Believe it or not, black guys get beat up.
There's a lot of dudes on my team that I know for a fact they're kind of racist. I know they are. Certain things they say and certain things they do and how they act are racist. And especially when you're intoxicated, that's when the truth comes out.
So sometimes I keep my distance from some of those parties unless I'm with people I really trust. I'm not going to bring a group of my black friends from home to a white party like that.
Well, just stay in touch with us and let us know obviously if things develop. Hopefully nothing else happens like this.
Yeah, I learned so much. I don't go out as much. I kind of just stay in my lane, just do my thing, and hang out with my same group of friends. Now most of them live off campus and they have their own parties so I don't worry about bad stuff like that. So when I want to go out, I just hang with them and go to class and stay focused more on school now. Because freshman year, everyone's like, "Oh! No parents, just go out and party anytime you want, eat whatever time you want, an unlimited amount of food." So now it's like time to grow up and chill.
(Melissa Harris-Perry reached out to the New Britain Police Department for comment on the incident described. We have not yet received a response.)