Go to content, skip over navigation


More Pages

Go to content, skip over visible header bar
Home News Features Arts & Entertainment Sports OpinionAbout Contact Advertise

Note about Unsupported Devices:

You seem to be browsing on a screen size, browser, or device that this website cannot support. Some things might look and act a little weird.

Thank you for calling the police on me

March 31, 2023

This piece represents the opinion of the author .
Kate Padilla

It was a normal Saturday evening. My mom had just picked me up from a soccer game. Naturally, I seized the opportunity to engage in one of my favorite pastimes: sleeping.

Thirty minutes into my nap, my mother patted me awake to let me know that she was going to take a “quick” stop at the grocery store. I prepared myself for an extra hour or so in the car because as every child knows, a “quick” stop to the grocery is anything but.

That day, uncharacteristically, I decided to stop sleeping. Instead, I partook in my second-favorite hobby: scrolling through my phone pretending I do not want to take a nap. Twenty minutes into mindless scrolling, I heard a knock on the car door.

Knock knock.

I assumed it was my mother wanting to open the trunk, so she could put the groceries in. I opened up the trunk, but the noise persisted.

Knock knock.

“That’s weird,” I thought. “Maybe the trunk door did not open.” I pressed the button again.

Knock knock.

It is important to note that I never looked up from my phone to check to see who was knocking on my door.

All of a sudden, someone opened my car door. When I looked up I was shocked to find that the person was not my mom. Instead, I saw flashing red and blue lights and a shiny gold badge to match.

“What are you doing here?” I often get confused, but that night I finally understood the true meaning of the word “dumbfounded.” For a good ten seconds, I genuinely thought that I had failed to stay awake and that the whole experience was just a dream: all I had to do to escape was wake up. But the officer’s words snapped me right back into reality.

“We received a 911 call,” he said.

“I’m just waiting for my mom to finish up in the grocery store.” I pointed to my soccer uniform.

“We’re coming from my soccer game. I look tired because I played for a really long time,” I said. Technically, this last part was a lie unless you consider cheering from the sidelines playing.

His darting eyes made it clear that he wanted nothing more than to get out of this awkward situation. While he was there only to do this job, whoever called the police had mostly called based on false conclusions regarding my race.

After thirty seconds of uncomfortable eye contact, the officer said: “Tell your mom to park better,” and rolled away in his squad car. I must admit that our car was a bit crooked, but nonetheless, it was in the spot. He just needed a reason to get out of the situation.

I will never forget the helplessness I felt. Someone had really called the cops on me. Someone had seen me, a young black woman sitting in a car, and believed this reason enough to call the police. Looking back on this event four years older, the emotions I felt that day still bring me to tears.

Naively, despite seeing plenty of “#__ingwhileblack” stories on the news, I never thought that it could happen to me. Growing up in predominantly white communities, I have never been stranger to subtle forms of racism, but never anything too egregious. Since I had never been privy to blatant forms of racism, somehow, I believed that I was one of the lucky few, until I wasn’t.

People that know me often call me the least threatening person they know; however, that night reminded me that to many white people in America, because of the color of my skin, I am dangerous. My existence poses a threat.

When I walk by them on the street, unconsciously or consciously, many people feel as if they should clutch their purses a little closer to their bodies.

When I raise my voice, it is not because I have something important to say and want people to hear every word that comes out of my mouth, but because I am just another angry, crazy black girl.

As I prepare to leave Bowdoin, I am genuinely concerned about how others’ perceptions of me will limit my ability to be myself and become the person that I am supposed to be.

On that day, I was confronted with my blackness. Whether they meant to or not, whoever called the police on me living my life reminded me that for black people in America, carrying on with normal life can be a crime. In a twisted way, I am almost grateful to them. As I entered college, I was emotionally prepared for any racism that was thrown my way. Comments that I have heard from white peers about how annoying DEI work is do not bother me because they’re not worse than shaking with fear in front of law enforcement. I was reminded that as a black person in America, I have no control over how people interpret the color of my skin.

Though the realizations this event prompted possess the power to change the way I decide to live my life, I have the power to control whether the effects are positive or negative.

Similarly, now that I have decided to be vulnerable and shed light on an issue that plagues our country, you have the power to do something with the knowledge I have given you.

What steps will you take to end implicit bias and institutional racism? Maybe you’ll speak up the next time you hear one of your buddies say the n-word. Maybe you’ll take a moment to reflect on the ways that you have been complacent to racism. Just a few suggestions.

As Oprah so rightly said, “Now that you know, you can’t pretend that you don’t.”

Thando Khumalo is a member of the Class of 2023.


More from Opinion:

Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Catch up on the latest reports, stories and opinions about Bowdoin and Brunswick in your inbox. Always high-quality. Always free.


Before submitting a comment, please review our comment policy. Some key points from the policy:

  • No hate speech, profanity, disrespectful or threatening comments.
  • No personal attacks on reporters.
  • Comments must be under 200 words.
  • You are strongly encouraged to use a real name or identifier ("Class of '92").
  • Any comments made with an email address that does not belong to you will get removed.

Leave a Reply

Any comments that do not follow the policy will not be published.

0/200 words