By Kendra James
Missed Connection (NYC, 2 Train): African American female searching for African American male she met while the NYPD went through her underwear…
Hey, so, I don’t know if you’re going to remember me–
Actually, scratch that. You have to remember me given what happened yesterday. And that’s ironic because I left my apartment specifically dressed to attract zero attention. The fact that I was wearing my brother’s old clothing– mens cargo shorts, a blue mens henley, and black chucks? That was a strategic move made by a twenty-something female looking to attract as little street harassment attention as possible.
Really, I was just trying to get to Bed Bath and Beyond in peace.
It worked too. I got from Harlem to 66th street without incident, trekked up to Urban Outfitters, and then jumped back on the 2 train at 72nd. That’s where we met. We stood next to each other, because open seats are a thing of myth and legend on the 2. I was wearing a backwards Cubs cap and reading my Kindle by that point. I was presenting as fairly masculine, I guess, but that was the point.
As subway etiquette dictates, I ignored you and you ignored me, and I assume we were both totally cool with that arrangement until we got to 125th street.
By the time we pulled in at 125th I was debating a side trip to H&M, if only to escape the panhandler who’d been on with us and shouting since 96th. I had a strange amount of extra time to make that decision too, because when the train pulled into the station it just sat there, doors open and waiting.
Mutual expressions of exasperation at the delay was the first time we made eye contact. Along with other passengers we stuck our heads out, trying to figure out the source of the delay in the station. It was obvious fairly quickly that something was going on when we saw a team of NYPD officers walking in and out of each car.
H&M was looking better and better at this point and I was this close to making myself scarce by the time they finally approached us.
The cop ignored me at first and turned to you asking, “What are you up to today?”
“Errands.” Your answer isn’t particularly confidence inspiring, but to be fair I can see the confusion on your face about why, out of everyone else on the train, he’s asking you.
“We’re looking for a Black male wearing a blue shirt who got on here with a gun,” the cop continues. I look up briefly, noticing for the first time that we’re both wearing blue henleys. Clearly this is a fated meeting. “Do you have a gun on you?”
“No, I don’t,” you say.
And this is where I start to feel bad, because you’re not particularly good at hiding the range of emotion on your face. Confusion has changed to embarrassment at being called out in front of an entire train for no reason. I can’t say I blame you, so –with the sensibilities of someone who’s never had to deal with a cop outside of suburbia– I pipe up, “Oh, it’s cool, he’s been riding since 72nd.”
Having stupidly drawn the spotlight on myself, you’re probably only half as surprised as I am when the cop turns to me and asks, “What about you son? Do you have a gun on you?”
“Nope,” I answer easily. I figure the mistaken gender would correct itself once he looked at me closely.
“Then let’s have a look inside your bag,” he says, before taking my recyclable Urban Outfitters bag from me.
Now, personally, I suspect the only gun that’s ever been found inside an UO bag is antique, bronzed, and mounted on a wood placard, soon to be placed on the wall of some hipster Williamsburg apartment. But what do I know? I’m not an esteemed officer of the NYPD.
I’m guessing you knew there was no gun in my bag, but I’m also guessing you weren’t prepared for the fistful of women’s underwear the officer pulled out either.
If we were actually going out, you and I, please note that I wouldn’t have let you see my underwear until at least the 3rd date. To your credit you did a very valiant job at averting your eyes from my purchases, which I really appreciate since my new undies were on display for everyone in our corner of the train to see. The cop, on the other hand, held up a pair decorated with green weed leaves and asked, with a positively Holmesian investigative instinct, “Do you have any marijuana on you?”
Ladies and gentlemen, the New York City Police Department.
Shocked out of your gallant attempts not to look at my undergarments, you come to my defense before he could start searching me for the drugs I didn’t (and have literally never) possess. “Hey, you said you’re looking for a Black male in a blue shirt. She’s obviously not a male.”
I wonder if we were both expecting the cop to look embarrassed, or if that was just me in my naivete. Spoiler alert: he doesn’t do anything of the sort as he hands me back the bag and stares at us. “You both fit the description. Watch your steps,” he says before stepping off our car.
The doors shut soon after and I’m still 99.9% sure they didn’t find anyone with a gun on the 2 train.
You and I make eye contact again once the doors close, giving each other what I think were meant to be mutually apologetic looks. I’m not sure exactly what we were apologising for since neither of us had done anything to the other aside from try to help. Somehow I don’t think that cop would have appreciated any apologies on his behalf. Despite the fact that there was someone that they supposedly considered armed and dangerous running around on our train, he’d seemed content and confident in his decision to waste time harassing us.
I got off at 135th street and headed home to vent about the encounter on twitter. You continued into the Bronx. I hope that you had someone to talk to when you got to where ever you were going if you needed it. I hope you were as angry and frustrated as I was. I hope that you still can get angry about it, and that that kind of harassment isn’t something you’ve just accepted as par for course in your life as a Black male in NYC. I wonder if you can take any pleasure in knowing that yesterday was just further proof that unwarranted searches by the NYPD are a waste of time. Or in the ridiculous realisation that to the NYPD, efficiency is searching a Black male for no reason other than being a black male despite the fact that I’m, well, not. I tried that tactic; but knowing I’m one of those 89% of innocently searched people only made me feel marginally better.
So anyway, if you’re out there reading this know that I probably owe you a drink. Thanks for pointedly not looking while a cop pawed around in my underwear and for coming to my defense before I got searched. I hope you’re on your way to getting over it… as much as one can move on from being questioned without cause in front of a group of strangers.