My child has a good set of lungs. At two weeks old, as I walked her through Fort Greene, I was convinced that her colicky screams would prompt someone to call the cops, and I’d be arrested for child abuse. Fast forward five years, kid gets a blister at the playground, and during her bath, as I tried to clean it, she let it fly. Hadn’t heard her this loud in five years. I thought, man, someone might call the cops on me. And in Austin effin Texas no less.
Ten minutes pass, she’s calmed down. Then a knock. Wife must have left her key. Who is it? Austin PD. Oh, HELL no! My hands are covered in shampoo. Washing this halo of curled wool takes some time, so I invite the cop in, a look of disbelief I’m sure, but I just want to get back to the tangle of brilliance I’ve just lathered up. He asks me what’s the problem. What? You came here, I think. I assumed someone called because my child was screaming, and she can really scream. I try to explain that she had a blister, and when I cleaned it she screamed, and she can scream. Really scream. He asks my child, still in the tub, a couple questions, but she don’t know him, and this generally loquacious jokester goes silent, refuses to speak. Perfect timing.
Another cop arrives. Now both have their hands on their revolvers, in the house. The second one actually runs into the house, wearing a pair of beat-yo-ass-without-getting-blood-on-my-hands gloves. They sit me on the sofa and ask my kid more questions (at least they have the common sense to ask her questions from the hall and not enter the bathroom). A half-hour passes. Third cop shows up looking like hambone pork chop, hand on revolver, walking around the house. Have we been here before? This is when I think it goes southern sundown town. No, not since I’ve lived here. I give my information. He asks for my license, but I can’t find my wallet. You have a Texas driver’s license? No, New York. Why do you still have a New York license? Hasn’t yet expired. What are you doing here in Austin? I work at UT. What do you do? I teach. You’re a professor? Yes. What do you teach? African Diaspora Studies. (I feel a slight, luscious pleasure as he struggles to spell diaspora, moving his lips with each syllable. I want to just say black studies, but niggas been stomped out for less than trying to make things easier for a cop who don’t know something. And working on that black power studies thug stuff. Let him struggle.) Are you a Jets fan? (The Fuck?! Fuck you! Fuck the Jets! Fuck this shit!). Yes. (This motherfucker trying to ease the tension? He thinks it’s that light of a situation we should compare fantasy teams?) I’m a Patriots fan myself.
A neighbor heard my child screaming as I cleaned her hand. I’m thankful that I have the kind of neighbors who will call if they hear a child screaming like she’s in mortal danger. But also I must…. No! I’m required, by the sheer insanity that is America, to be thankful that this white neighbor’s account of what she heard more or less aligned with my account of what she heard. They left, I breathed, returned to my child’s hair; unscathed, I’d imagine they’d say. And I really do appreciate having neighbors who will do something in this type of situation, but I understand why black people prefer more local forms of interventions, however imperfect, over the state’s help. I’m glad that I have neighbors who take upon themselves such civic responsibility, whatever their motivation. And I’m angry that for over forty minutes, in my house, I had to consider my every movement, measure my cadence and tone to make sure they didn’t betray whatever they might need them to betray, that when I fished my wallet from under a book, I pulled it out with forefinger and thumb so as not to appear furtive, and could only move normally when I removed my license from its sleeve. Then I remembered, niggas been shot for holding their wallet. Fuck was I thinking.