Cornerstone

“...It’s a difficult feeling to bear when people see you as a problem or threat and that you don’t belong in a specific location based off of what you look like.”

It’s been hard not to think about July 31st or August 8th of 2019. Those days play in my mind over and over again. The experiences I had those days can best be summed up as traumatizing. I’ve cried multiple times, had nightmares, felt scared, felt angry, and have dwelt on those experiences because my mind constantly goes back to them. 

The morning of July 31st, I was in the church’s parking lot on a phone call with my uncle. As I was talking, a police car rolled by on Idaho Ave. They stopped, put their car in reverse, drove inside our gates and pulled up to where I was standing. For almost ten minutes they questioned me: what was I doing there, was I on parole or probation, where do I live, where do I work, what do I do for work, what gang was I in, who was I talking to, what were we talking about on the phone. Some of these questions they asked multiple times, almost like they were trying to trip me up. When I told them I lived and worked at the church, they didn’t believe me as they asked me to recite my address and give specifics on what I did at the church. When one of the officers was done running a check on my ID, he got out, looked at the other officer with a look of “he checks out”, and they handed me back my ID and left. To say I was angry and hurt was an understatement.

Fast-forward a week later to August 8th and I’m with my friend in San Clemente, a suburb in south Orange County. We were doing some work and visiting his in-laws. After finishing work, we headed to meet his family and some friends for dinner. In the short drive over there, I noticed a police car two lanes over from me. As I passed him (2 lanes over), I began to look back in my mirrors nervously wondering if they’d follow me. I saw him switching lanes and by the time I was making a right turn, they were already behind me with their lights on. Once I got pulled over, the first questions I was asked were “what are you doing here” and “are you on probation or parole or have warrants out”. One officer questioned me while the other “searched” my backseats through the windows. The officer never told me why I was pulled over until he was leaving (expired tags on a new car…how he saw that 2 lanes over, I don’t know). This ordeal was different from the church lot but it still brought about feelings of anger and hurt. 

Now you may be reading this wondering why I’d describe it as traumatizing or why was I angry and hurt. I want to acknowledge the fact that others have had far worse situations with law enforcement. I understand the experiences I’ve gone through don’t compare to trauma that is brought on by those type of situations. But I do want to share, as best I can, insight from the perspective of a minority and what this does to one’s heart and mind. You may think “all they did was question you, it’s not that big of a deal”. The difficult thing that sticks with me is I know they see me as different or as a problem that doesn’t belong. When I think through my life and all the stereotypes, profiling or racism that I’ve experienced from majority culture, it builds up in you and you begin to understand that others see you as different or a problem. I can tell you, a life’s worth of experiences like that messes with your heart and mind and it hurts. It’s made it difficult for me to navigate in majority culture spaces because you wonder if they see you in that same light. You also wonder if they’ll care to understand those feelings of hurt when those issues come up.

That day in San Clemente after getting pulled over, I cried on the phone with my mom, I cried in the restaurant with friends, and have cried multiple times since that day. I’ve had nightmares where the same situation at the church played itself out again: cops driving around our campus and me hiding in fear; another dream, the cops question me and it ends with a gun being pointed at me and the fired shot wakes me up. When I drive, I’ve always been nervous when I see cops, not because I was up to no good but because I’ve never had pleasant experiences. I’ve actually had a scenario that was worse than what happened to me at church. But as I drive now, I’m even more nervous and fearful, wondering and asking myself “what would happen to me if I get pulled over this time”. 

There’s a song I listen to by a hip-hop artist and fellow brother in Christ, Derek Minor. It’s called “Free” (I encourage anyone to listen to it) and it details the experience of injustice specifically for black Americans when it comes to police issues. I am not black myself and I can’t begin to fathom all the experiences many of them have gone through when it comes to police. But I fell in love with that song when I heard it and I was listening to it right before I got pulled over. Every time I hear it now, I can’t help but get teary-eyed and re-think all my police experiences that have happened in my lifetime with feelings of sadness, fear, and anger. 

I share this not to paint law enforcement in a terrible light. There are definitely good cops out there who are performing their job uprightly. I have a few friends in law enforcement as well and I’m grateful for them and the work they do. It’s been hard for me because while I recognize the good officers out there, I’ve never really had a pleasant experience myself. I also have family and friends who’ve been stereotyped, roughed up by cops, dropped off in rival gang neighborhoods, and even shot at by cops. Knowing that others have gone through far worse has constantly been on my mind, even before my incidents this past summer. My heart breaks when I hear about the injustices that’ve happened and continue to happen with law enforcement, specifically for black and brown people. 

Here is what I want us as believers to understand: these scenarios for black/brown individuals can be difficult for them to bear. To be in a place where you live and work, to be in a wealthy neighborhood which is more “white”, to be out with family or friends going to a movie or dinner, and then to be pulled over and asked “what are you doing here”, “why are you here”, “are you on probation or have warrants”, and to be drilled with many other questions afterward is tough. It’s also difficult to sit in fear wondering what might happen if you make a wrong move or say something that might be seen as problematic. 

I can’t speak for others, but it’s a difficult feeling to bear when people see you as a problem or threat and that you don’t belong in a specific location based off of what you look like. You see your skin and your appearance and feel like something is wrong with you. There are feelings of shame because you wonder what others may think of you, too. You look in the mirror and wonder why are you seen in this way. The thing is, I know that day in the church lot if it was any of my co-workers, the cops would not have stopped. They saw me, saw my appearance and drove in. You get into a comparison game, not because you want majority culture to go through the same experience, but you simply wonder, Why me? What am I doing wrong where they see me as a problem who doesn’t belong?

For majority culture, these type of experiences may be something you never have to think about on a day-to-day basis. Maybe it only comes your way when you hear of someone else’s story. But I want all of us to know, there are people (black/brown) who are sitting in our pews every Sunday who have to struggle with these thoughts and hurts constantly. It’s on our minds when we drive or when we see a cop car roll by. When we hear of someone getting shot and killed by police, the thoughts cross our minds of “that could be me”. There’s pain and trauma that are experienced because you are constantly perceived as “different” and not belonging. As a church, we need to understand these things and a host of other issues minority culture faces. We can sit there week after week with pain and emotion bottled up inside and not know how to share or express it in the context of a majority culture church because we don’t know if it's a safe space or if we’re able to. 

I got a tattoo on my arm with a sad/smiling face with Romans 12:15 written out: “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep”. With experiences like these, you just want the church to weep alongside you, not lessen your experience, not get political, not disregard and forget about you. You just want them to weep alongside and know these can be daily hurts, frustrations, fears, and thoughts that fellow brothers and sisters deal with. We should also be moved more with compassion to those in our communities who experience injustices as well and be praying for them. And we should also be praying for law enforcement, too, because they also deal with and see a lot that can traumatize them as they put their lives at risk. 

Part of the lyrics in that Derek Minor song say, “And I don't have no explanation, I'm just hurt, And I know that it's complicated, but it still hurts”. That’s the thing I hope we as a church can understand for many of our black/brown fellow believers. There are hurts. There doesn’t need to be explanations all the time. We don’t want answers or perspectives given to us and then there’s no real care. When you are seen as “different”, that does something hurtful to your heart and mind. I hope the church can come alongside, be a safe place to have these discussions, pray for these hurts, weep with those hurting, and remind one another we are unified in Christ. He doesn’t see us as different since we are covered by His blood. Rather, He knows our burdens and bears them. I hope the church can do the same. 

Even though I couldn’t dive into all the emotions, feelings, and details, I do hope this shed some light into what people are having to deal with, often times in much worse scenarios, unfortunately. It's dealing with the actual experience itself and also the feelings of hurt and frustration that come along afterward and stay with you.

I’ve had much of this bottled up for months and I’m grateful our church provides platforms like this to allow this hurt to pour out. I’m also grateful for how our church has tried to walk through some of these issues, even mine specifically. There is no good guy vs. bad guy in this. We are all image bearers who need compassion and understanding. We all have value in the eyes of our Creator. Take time to listen, take time to weep.

Danny Neiditch

Danny is the founder and CEO of Prodigal Sons, Inc, a non-profit ministry serving gang members and their families on the Westside. Danny also serves Cornerstone as a Family Ministries Assistant.

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