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Two Days Ago, I Feared for My Life

He had a gun—and a nightstick, and a badge

Photo: living_images/E+/Getty Images

WWe’ve all found ourselves a dark street in an unfamiliar place and wondered if the stranger approaching us had a gun. I had been through it before. Except this time the street wasn’t dark, the place wasn’t unfamiliar, and I knew the stranger approaching me had a gun.

And a nightstick. And a badge.

Two days ago, I feared for my life. Really.

I was leaving court, where I feel invincible, impervious to guns and nightsticks and badges. I cross-examine officers mercilessly when they lie or exaggerate or embellish, as they so often do. I humiliate them. I leave them seething with rage because they are helpless. As long as they are on the witness stand, they are alone and they are mine. And that tends not to be fun — for them, at least. But two days ago, I sat in my car—a twisted version of the witness stand—and I was alone and I was his.

As he called me to the stand by turning on his blue lights, my mind began to race. Was it Spacey, the officer I mocked for being inept, obtuse, or a liar during a recent possession-with-intent acquittal? Was it Kelby, the officer I mocked for being inept, obtuse, or a liar during a recent trafficking acquittal? Was it Fender, the officer I mocked for being inept, obtuse, or a liar during a recent murder acquittal?

He was none of them. Yet still my mind raced.

He said he had stopped me because I had been talking on my phone. I hadn’t been talking on my phone.

I had no toy gun, like Tamir Rice in the park when he was shot, or John Crawford in Wal-Mart when he was shot. I had no loaded cell phone, like Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard when he was shot. I had no real gun, like security guard Jemel Roberson (who was apprehending a gunman) when he was shot. I had nothing shiny or sugary, like Trayvon Martin’s Skittles when he was shot.

Yet still my mind raced.

Photo: Arnold Mays Ragas

I looked like Botham Jean, who sat on his couch when he was shot. I looked like Philando Castille, who sat in his car when he was shot. I looked like Samuel DuBose, who sat in his car when he was shot.

While my mind was racing, the officer eventually approached my window and demanded my license. Trying to appear calm, I told him it was in my red gym bag under my black work bag. I awaited his permission before retrieving it. He said he had stopped me because I had been talking on my phone. I hadn’t been talking on my phone. He was inept, obtuse, or a liar. He demanded I show him my call history. I did. He took my license to his car. When he returned, he told me I had convinced him he was wrong.

I was never on my phone. He knew that. He wanted to look at me, cross-examine me, peer and sniff around my car. He thought he might get lucky. But instead, I got lucky. He let me go. He let me live. That day, he was not threatened by my black life. My black life didn’t matter.

I wasn’t Tamir, whose black life mattered; or John, whose black life mattered; or Stephon, whose black life mattered; or Jemel, whose black life mattered; or Trayvon, whose black life mattered; or Botham, whose black life mattered; or Philando, whose black life mattered; or Samuel, whose black life mattered; or the countless others, whose black lives are the reason they are dead.

I was Arnold. I was alive. I was thankful.

Because two days ago, I feared for my life. Really.

A husband. A father. A former member of the Georgia House of Representatives. A former judge. Now, an indigent defense attorney winning unwinnable trials.

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