My Experience with Chicago Police Racism While Posing as Black in Chicago
My experiences posing as a black man in Chicago in 1999 completely support the findings of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force report, “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve” of widespread targeting of minorities and police officers who are willing to lie in official documents. I can personally attest to the dramatic differences in the way that police treated black and Indians (I’m Indian-American.). For instance, there are actually two speed limits in Chicago, one for blacks and one for everyone else. I will detail those differences in my upcoming book Almost Black.
After the shooting of a black teenager, Laquan McDonald, by a white Chicago police officer, Jason Van Dyke, in 2016, the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force produced a report, “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve” claiming that Chicago PD had “Stopped without justification, verbally and physically abused, and in some instances arrested, and then detained without counsel” people of color. The task force produced a host of statistical evidence, such as the fact that Black people who made up only about a third of the population were the subjects in 72% of the investigative street stops not leading to arrests during the summer of 2014, to support their claim that the police disproportionately targeted blacks. The report also concluded that Chicago police union contracts “make it easy for officers to lie in official reports.”
My response to all of this was well duh; it’s been like that for decades. I learned all of this, while posing as a black man. I always thought that my experiences posing as black to get into med school were unique. However, after reading this report, I concluded that my experiences, at least when it come to the Chicago Police, were representative of the general experiences of a black man living in Chicago.
In 1999, I shaved my head and trimmed my eyelashes so I could pose as black while applying to medical school to take advantage of affirmative action preferences in admissions. I was fortunate enough to drive a nice car (my father’s Red Toyota 4Runner Truck), which I frequently drove down Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. When I posed as black, I got pulled over for speeding for the first time in Chicago. Previously, I had not gotten pulled over for speeding in the 3 years that I lived in Chicago as an Indian. I changed my appearance, not my driving habits, so I was surprised to get pulled over.
What happened next really surprised me. Officer McNamara of the Chicago Police Department asked me “Do you know how expensive this car is? How did you get such an expensive car?”
My response was, “Yes, I know exactly how expensive this car is, because I was with my father when he bought it.”
So I pulled out my registration and my driver license, and I showed that the car was in fact mine. Officer McNamara did a double take when he saw the photo of me with a full head of hair on my driver license. His suspicions were assuaged when he realized I was Indian. He said “ Oh, you must be an University of Chicago student.” The overly inquisitive Chicago police officer eventually gave me a speeding ticket.
On the suggestion of a friend, I decided to contest the ticket, hoping that the Police Officer would not go to court to contest it, meaning that the ticket would be dropped. Unfortunately, Officer McNamara came to court. At that time, I decided to confront him about the inappropriate question he had asked me.
In response, I expected Officer McNamara to say that he was curious about how I got the car or that he normally asked questions of that nature. Perhaps he thought I was a criminal or had some legitimate reason to be suspicious of me. What actually happened shocked me. Officer McNamara denied the whole thing.
“I didn’t do anything like that, it never happened.”
I spent my entire life believing in the integrity of the police. And for that reason, I was astounded to watch Officer McNamara of the Chicago Police Department commit perjury in a court of law.
I wasn’t Al Capone, some diabolical mobster, who might get away on a technicality if Officer McNamara didn’t perjure himself. I was cocky, overly smug frat boy who might get out of a $75 speeding ticket if Officer McNamara admitted he asked an inappropriate question. And in order to ensure that I got a speeding ticket, Officer McNamara commited perjury in a court of law. It occurred to me that if Officer McNamara was willing to lie to ensure that I got a $75 speeding ticket, what wasn’t he willing to lie about? What is the point of having a trial if the officer is just going to lie in order to convict? How many people had gone to jail based on the words of this lying police officer and how many other officers were like him?
I discovered that there were actually two speed limits in Chicago, one for blacks and one for whites and Asians. If you’re not black you can go 10 miles over the speed limit. If you’re black you have to go the posted speed limit or get pulled over by the police, who are profiling blacks. Henceforward, I always drove the black speed limit, 10 miles slower.
In other words, the conclusions of the Chicago Police Accountability Task Force report, “Recommendations for Reform: Restoring Trust between the Chicago Police and the Communities they Serve” concerning police targeting of minorities and lack of police integrity are completely consistent with my experiences posing as black. My only concern was in fact that this important report by Chicago Police Accountability Task Force has come at least 17 years too late.
Chicago Police Dept. Plagued by Systemic Racism, Task Force Finds
Recommendations for Reform