The life of Dante Parker came to an end on August 12, 2014. He was a 37-year-old father of five. The circumstances of his death remain uncertain but the police have held tightly to the narrative that they were responding to a suspected robbery and saw Dante leaving the area on a bike. They approached him and he resisted arrest, causing a female officer to taser him multiple times. Shortly after, the officer and her partner handcuffed him and placed him in the squad car, where they noticed that he was sweating and breathing heavily. They transported him to the hospital and he died two days later. Months later, the San Bernardino Police Department released autopsy findings that revealed that Dante was under the influence of PCP and this contributed to his death.
These are the facts as we know them and yet only a handful of them seem particularly relevant to me.
What is relevant to me is that Dante died at 37 years old, just 9 days after I turned 32 years old. He died as a father of five, just four days after I became a father of one. He died under circumstances all too familiar to me, the same kind of circumstances that I thought would prevent me from living long enough to vote, living long enough to graduate college, living long enough to drink legally. Circumstances I thought would prevent me from reaching 25, the age that all social statistics and indicators said would be my end.
You see, to me the most relevant fact of this case is that but for dumb luck, this could have been and still could be me.
My senior year of high school, the vocational school I attended got rid of the early busses that gave students without a full class load a way to get home after their final class. For me, the practical effect of this, since I had already taken enough classes to graduate, was that I had to hide out in my teacher's room all day in order to have a ride back to my house, 30 minutes away. When the school found me lingering, they informed my mother that if they found me on campus after my last class I would be arrested. It didn't matter to them that they were responsible for my transportation to school and should therefore be responsible for my transportation away from school. They were not interested in discussing any other options -- either I was off campus or I was headed to jail.
That same year, my friends and I left a school dance and went to dinner. While eating, another group of kids left the restaurant without paying. So that we wouldn't be suspected of being collaborators, we paid extra for our food. Nevertheless, the restaurant still called the police and we were considered suspects. Upon exiting the restaurant, we were stopped by the police, and one policeman put his hand on my chest to stop me from going any further. I shouldn't have, but out of surprise and frustration, I slapped his hand away. Was I resisting? Sure, because I already felt violated; I paid my tab plus extra, and yet I was still treated as a suspect.
A year later, as freshmen in college, my friends and I ordered and picked up some pizza from Pizza Hut. After we left, we went to 7-11 to pick up something to drink. As we were leaving, we noticed lights and sirens behind us, and we were led into a dark alley, where several gang unit officers shined infrared beams from their automatic rifles into our car. As I stared at the infrared dots on my friends' heads, we were told to get out of the car slowly, making no sudden movements, or we would be dead. After forcing us to throw out the pizza and to answer questions about any tattoos we may have, and after they disparaged us with remarks of disbelief that we were in college, the officers threatened to beat us up because they didn't like how we were questioning our detainment. By some stroke of luck, a random group of spectators came along and the officers got back in their cars and sped off without giving us the badge numbers we requested.
Years later, as I was teaching middle school, I was stopped and cuffed in front of my house for suspicion of armed robbery. Luckily, the witness thought I looked "a little young" and I was released.
Now, I am a rarity where I come from, or so I'm told. I am a lawyer. I made it to 25 with no kids and no criminal justice involvement.
Yet my supposed respectability doesn't soothe me.
Suits aren't prophylactic.
I am not comfortable here.
I know my credentials don't insulate me any more now than my college enrollment insulated me the night my friends and I wanted pizza.
So long as proximity + complexion = suspicion, we must stay woke.
Righteous anger is deadly.
Silence is deadly.
Living is exhausting but Dante demands we do.
This post is part of the "28 Black Lives That Matter" series produced by The Huffington Post for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will shine a spotlight on one African-American individual who made headlines in 2014 -- mostly in circumstances we all wished had not taken place. This series will pay tribute to these individuals and address the underlying circumstances that led to their unfortunate outcomes. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #28BlackLives -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.