I beginning a long time St. Louis resident, I hate the fact I have to catch the bus at night. I dislike the waiting in the dark, the transient nature of the will of on time bus drivers and always, the walking. In losing of my car in March, I have had to go back to mapping and treading the metropolitan area by mass transit and light rail found in Metro and MetroLink. Working in Clayton, commuting from Ferguson requires 90 minutes-each way, each day. And I work the graveyard shift.
In taking the 61 Chambers to the North Hanley station (where that eastbound route ends), I walked to the platform to wait for the first train to take me towards Clayton. I was aware there were police officers on the platform, there is an excess of police officers everywhere in St. Louis City and County it seems. Almost like they are in constant preparation to quell insurrections, and there is a most uneasy peace to this: they must do their jobs, and I must live.
While waiting for my train, I hear laughing behind me; there were three white police officers on the platform. I shuddered. As I steeled myself on the inside from the unseasonal May cool, and the discomfort of the near presence of the STL County PD, I heard one officer tell the other two, “I’ll fuckin(g) kill you.” I have never felt more unsafe in a public place than after that was said. Now, to be clear. The officers were speaking to each other, no one was harmed, and they were “joking” amongst themselves. Yet, I had never felt unsafe. Ever.
I checked my phone, and wanted to make sure I had enough battery life. Those bars and percentage would allow me to make true what would happen, rather than what people would hear over local news. I would upload to Twitter first, I thought. I would call my husband next. I wanted to know exactly where these officers where and where they were going. My Eastbound Metrolink train came, and when it did? These same three officers jumped on that train. I kept looking over my shoulder. I wanted to make sure I could see them, even if I had my back to them. I know they had a job to do, with all the violent outbursts on Metrolink trains and buses lately; I knew that there was a plea from Metro for more security. However, I was not reassured I was safe. Not being able to constantly see them, my back to them, was my armor-my shield. At my Forest Park-Debaliver station transfer point, I got off the train, trying to regain my social equilibrium. The same officers got off the train. My Shrewsberry-I 44 train towards my final destination came, and got on the train. Those same three STL County PD followed. I sat again, my back to the officers and made eye contact with one. I felt the fear in back of my throat, and gripped my phone, in case I had to document and upload evidence. I calmed down, and tried to prepare my mind for the next eight hour shirt at my employer, McKnight Place Extended Care in Clayton.
I heard, “Tickets, transfers, Metro Passes.” My heart fluttered. I wanted to scream and curse. I didn’t want to seem that I was afraid. I dug out my transfer out of my pocket as he approached me, my heart beating in my chest, in this combination of fear and anger. I showed it to the officer in my left hand without looking at him, my utter disrespect shown in my lack of eye contact. He stared at it longer than I thought necessary, and that made me uneasy. My stop came soon after, and I walked through the MetroLink doors and up the Clayton station platform to cross over the bridged overpass which took me over the quiet of I-70 to head to my Number 97 (Delmar) bus. I looked over my shoulder, and looked at the same officers to make sure I knew where they were.
As rolled over the experience in my mind riding the last bus to work, my ninety minute saga almost at an end. I wondered how my foremothers and fathers felt in these situations. Was it this exact, stifling feeling? I felt vulnerable, fearful and angry. I wondered if that same helpless was felt by my ancestors while trying to navigate the identity of being black and American. While being enslaved and stripped of anything that made them human or visible.
My new normal, the new normal subsists on being able to have a voice and evidence of all that could happen to me or others in these instances of fear, racism and perception of threat to be met with the consequence of badge and service weapon.