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Charles M. Blow on race and the power held by police

Charles M. Blow: When black men have run-ins with police
Charles M. Blow: When black men have run-ins with police 02:25

Charles M. Blow is an op-ed columnist for The New York Times.

Recently, I reposted a meme on social media: "How old were you when a cop 1st pulled a gun on you?" I captioned it, "I was 18. You?"

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I was 18. You?

A post shared by Charles M. Blow (@charlesmblow) on

In fact, I was a college freshman in Louisiana, president of my class, and an officer had manufactured a reason to pull me and a friend over. When attempting to retrieve my license and registration, a comb fell out of the glove box that the officer mistook as a weapon. 

Out came the gun, and up went my hands.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow. CBS News

When my friend objected to the stop, the officer made clear his power: he told us that he could make us lay down in the middle of the road, shoot us in the head, and no one would say a thing.

Hundreds of people responded to my post, many with equally horrific stories, some saying they were as young as five years old when their incident occurred. One commenter said that he was in his father's arms and the gun was aimed at his father.

Of those whose race seemed clear to me, most of the black responders, mostly men, had experienced such a trauma, and most of the white people hadn't. 

This is not uncommon. A 2019 Pew Research Center survey found that six in 10 black men say that they have been unfairly stopped by police.

These incidents don't make the news. No one dies.

But trust dies. 

Faith in systems dies. 

Innocence dies.

These incidents demonstrate the savagery of the system, and the powerlessness of everyday people. And, when people think that the system is unresponsive and unrestrained, they have little investment in it and little respect for it. That, for a society, is a dangerous condition.

The fact that most black men will join the dubious club of the unfairly stopped, sometimes violently so, makes everyone less safe, not more so.

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Story produced by Robbyn McFadden. Editor: Chad Cardin.

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