With the recent Black Lives Matter protests, I am reminded of an incident that happened to me many years ago in northeast Minneapolis. I’m sure many black people can relate.
Here’s what transpired, to the best of my memory:
It was a winter evening in 2003 or 2004. I was driving home from downtown Minneapolis via Central Avenue into northeast. Just after turning onto E. Hennepin I realized I was being followed.
I was doing the speed limit. I noticed the car behind me was not attempting to pass. It kept up with me but stayed behind. This didn’t strike me as odd, not at first. I just kept driving.
But then car after car passed me on the left, while this car continued to stay with me. I started to panic just as I reached a dark stretch of E. Hennepin.
I didn’t have a cell phone. I didn’t know what to do. So I kept driving.
A few minutes later I looked into my rear-view mirror and saw it was a police car.
This puzzled me. I thought the officer would eventually turn on his lights and pull me over. He did not. (I assumed it was a male officer, but I didn’t know this for a fact.)
So I turned on my indicator, pulled over and stopped. Again, I waited. I fully expected the officer to get out of his car and approach mine, to explain why he was following me. He never did. Instead he pulled over behind me and stopped. He remained in his vehicle the entire time.
I waited for a few minutes — it seemed like an eternity – then I started my engine and pulled away slowly.
The officer did the same. He kept following me.
Now I was really starting to sweat. I thought about stopping again to get out of my car and approach his. But then I thought: What if it’s a rogue cop and he shoots, and plants a weapon on me?
Or worse: What if he grabs and rapes me?
So I kept driving. I prayed I could get someplace safe, with a lot of people, so I could pull over.
I was coming up on Johnson Street when I started to devise my plan: I would drive to the Second Precinct, on Central Avenue. Or I would drive to my friend’s house on Monroe Street NE. I knew the family would be home at this hour.
As I approached the intersection, I turned on my signal to indicate a left turn. Then the light turned red. Suddenly the officer accelerated, tires screeching, and sped around me – on my left. He turned left and sped off.
My heart never stopped racing. I couldn’t get home fast enough. After I pulled into my garage, and got into my house, I went from relief to anger.
The next morning, I called my City Council representative, Paul Ostrow, at his office. I then wrote a letter to the Chief of Police in the NE precinct, detailing exactly what happened. I explained that I didn’t get a car number, but I relayed the time of day and sequence of events, just as I have here. I explained how terrified I was, as a young black woman, driving alone in the dark. I requested a meeting with him and the officer. I don’t recall being accusatory. I simply wanted him and the officer to know how afraid I was.
Then I waited.
A few weeks later, I received a letter from the Chief of Police. Instead of sympathy I got a lecture on how his police officers don’t target black drivers, stating in fact that the officer in question was himself black.
The Chief informed me that I was lucky I hadn’t been ticketed for having a dirty license plate. He didn’t invite me to the precinct for a conversation. He didn’t explain why the officer followed me for blocks.
I was so disgusted I tore the letter into shreds. In hindsight, I regret doing this. I wish I had kept both letters.
My experience ended without incident, but it left me shaken. For many years, I kept looking over my shoulder, especially when driving alone at night. I became nervous every time I spotted a police car behind me. It took me a long time to get over it. Now it’s all coming back, thanks to the increased media coverage of black folks’ deadly encounters with police.
What happened to me was a small thing. I decided to not remain angry. I didn’t follow up again with the police chief. I moved on with my life. But I’m sure that if I — an educated young woman working for a major Minneapolis company — couldn’t get the chief of police to give me the time of day, then there are many others who will get even less respect.
Rosemarie Kelly Ndupuechi is an independent business woman with 20-plus years of corporate and nonprofit management experience. Born in Kingston, Jamaica, and having lived and worked overseas and traveled widely, she calls herself a global citizen who now considers the Twin Cities her home.