Wilson Business Manager Ajibade DaSilva talked to Beacon editor Claire Parker about his personal experience with racial profiling. In 2006, he was pulled over by a police officer for a broken tail light, and the situation quickly spiraled out of control.
Claire Parker: Can you describe the incident with the broken tail light and racial profiling?
Ajibade DaSilva: Basically, I was at a red light, turning south on Georgia Avenue towards DC, which is like a block from my home. [The officer] turns on his lights. I make the first left at the intersection…he cuts me off and I see metallic flash, and I think he’s holding a gun up to me. So I turn my car off and I just take my hands off the steering wheel. He comes up and rushes to the car, and says, “Get out the car,” and I ask, “For what, I didn’t do anything.” He tries to pull me out of the car, but the door is locked and I have my seatbelt on. So I just asked him what was going on, and told him I was gonna open the door. I opened the door, and he tries to pull me out. So I’m like, “What’s going on?” concerned with the fact that I haven’t done anything. And I’m still talking to him in a calm voice, saying, “Hey, what’s going on? What’s the situation?” and he’s being belligerent, but I’m still cooperating. I have my hands up…I’m like, “Can you just tell me what’s going on? What is all of this for?” And he’s like, “Shut up or I’ll pepper spray you.” So I slowly get out of the car, and rise up, and he pepper sprays me anyways.
You know, there’s a certain degree of respect men give to men. In this situation, here is the law abusing law, and I’m being civil as a person, trying to cooperate the best way I see fit, but yet I’m being abused as a person. So when I’m pepper sprayed, I feel like I’m being violated, so at that point I grab the pepper spray before I went blind and I threw it away, and I separated myself from the officer and moved around the other side of the car, and I just started cursing at him because [the officer] wouldn’t do that if [he] didn’t have a gun, a badge, and these type of things. So why is he doing it to me, and right in front of my house?
Long story short, I got jumped by the police that night. They took me away in front of my mom’s house, in front of my mom and my younger sister while they were in their PJs. They gave me 18 charges — resisting arrest and all types of stuff. All for a broken tail light. I ended up having to pay 12 to 15 thousand dollars in legal fees, money I didn’t have at the time. That was a tremendous impact to us at the time, since I wasn’t really working.
All the charges got dropped except the broken tail light. They dismissed everything, but the officers lied in court…The legal process is funny. Because to drop 18 charges down to just a broken tail light, to remove the 18 charges from my arrest record, I can’t pursue that officer or Montgomery County legally. The only way you can have that record expunged is by alleviating the county and that officer of any civil responsibility. So it’s rigged. Because why is the record important? To get a job, to go to school. I can’t hold them accountable if I want to be employable in this economy.
CP: Just out of curiousity, what race was the officer?
CP: Would you describe your experience as a common occurrence for black males?
AD: Mhm. In the prison-industrial complex…there’s an institutional focus on my description [a black male]. You “fit the description,” meaning typically you are being grouped in with a lot of teenaged black males. It’s another stigma or institutional practice to not be more critical about who [the police] are actually looking for.
CP: Do you believe that racial profiling, accompanied by steep legal fees, could send innocent people to jail?
AD: Yes. There’s a lot of information out there as to how our criminal justice system is flawed. [As a black male] you’re guilty before proven innocent. You have all of these charges, you might be locked up, you have bond; you have all of these things stacked against you, creating an uphill battle that can be overwhelming financially, mentally, and spiritually. But you can’t allow it to create hate within yourself.
CP: Would you say that the way Caucasian policemen and black policemen interact with you is different? Do they approach policing from different cultural standpoints?
AD: In a setting where there’s a group of caucasian officers and maybe one or two black officers, the black officers are mum. They’re quiet. They’re kind of removed from the situation; they don’t really want to participate, and they don’t want to comment to the contrary, because that [the policemen] is their clique. They may empathize with me, or recognize ‘hey, that could have been me or my son,’ but they also have to work with these guys. So it’s kind of frustrating when you look at them [the black officers] and you wonder ‘What do you think? Why aren’t you saying anything? Why aren’t you bridging the gap?’.
CP: What would you suggest in terms of moving forward? How can we more past and try to overcome stereotypes and the tendency to profile?
AD: Profiling is one of those ills in America. It exists. I think we could do things to better educate everybody — the people who commit crimes, and the people who police crimes. [Education] is breaking down the institution of ignorances…That’s what education provides: an opportunity for us to understand each other.
As appeared in the September 27 issue of The Beacon