Two Local StoriesBy Lora Harrington-Pride
Here are two more stories by our Villager about her experience in our local community. These stories are from some time ago now, but they are lived experiences of someone we all know, and there is reason to believe that they described things that are still happening today.
DWB: Driving While Black, 1966
I never believed my husband’s stories about the things policemen did to Black people because they were so outrageous. I thought he was exaggerating and blowing out of proportion isolated things that he had heard or read about, way back when, as something that happened in the deep south where there was known to be racism. Those things didn’t happen up here, in the north. Then, I experienced it.
My life had been sheltered. My mother was a teacher. My father was a parole officer while I was in high school. I knew policemen on a social level.
My husband grew up on the streets and he was a blue collar worker. I learned what he knew, at my age of 26.
My husband and his friend and I were going to our home in Pasadena after having visited a friend in Altadena. It was about 11 p.m.
We were going South on Raymond Avenue when a police car pulled us over with a quick siren blast.
Two officers approached the car. One came to the driver’s side, while the other, holding a shotgun, finger on the trigger went to the passenger side.
My husband, the driver, and his friend, each, rolled down their windows. I was sitting between them in the front seat.
The officer without the drawn gun, started questioning my husband as to where we were going and where we had come from. The other officer stood with his shotgun aimed at us through the passenger side-finger on the trigger.
I leaned forward trying to see the officer’s face. When I made that move the shotgun came up, in line with my head. I wanted to see what kind of an expression a person wore on his face as he pointed a loaded weapon at another human being – unprovoked.
After all licenses and ID’s had been checked and cleared, we were sent on our way.
When we got home, my husband exploded on me. He said, “Don’t you ever move, when a police officer is pointing a weapon at you!” I told him why I had moved, and he said I could have gotten my head blown off, and the officer would have been justified because he didn’t know whether or not I was reaching for a weapon to use on him. He felt his life was in danger
There had been no infraction of any kind, and there was no explanation or apology given for having stopped us. I, along with my husband and his friend, knew why we were stopped, and questioned at gunpoint; “we were Black,” and that was reason enough.
WWB: Walking While Black, 1969-1972
I had been living in my CalTech house for one week, the night I was driving home from a visit in North West Pasadena.
It was close to midnight and I was going south on Lake Avenue. I noticed that after I had crossed Colorado St., a police car was following me.
It continued to follow me when I turned left onto Del Mar, and when I turned right onto Wilson Avenue, they pulled me over.
Lake Avenue was a street with businesses, all closed.
Del Mar was lined with apartment buildings, and Wilson was lined with houses. All of these dwellings were inhabited by white families. What was a Black woman doing entering this area at night? Surely, some kind of “mischief” was afoot!
The officer approached my car and asked me where I was going. I told him I was going home.
He asked me with a smirk, “where is home?”
I said, “on Lura Street”, which was the next street, on my next left turn.
He said, “Fine. We’ll escort you there.”
Lura was a shot east/west street, bounded on the West by Wilson and on the East by Michigan. You could stand on my front porch and throw a stone onto the doorway of Beckman Auditorium on CalTech’s campus.
The officers watched me turn the door key, enter and turn on the lights before they drove away. All was well, though very surprising.
I, and my 5 children became well known, by the police department that served the CalTech area.
My 12 year old daughter, (when we moved there) was stopped by the police. At age 14, when she was walking home one winter night at 6:30 p.m., she had turned off Colorado, onto Michigan Avenue, when the police pulled over to the curb, and ordered her to the car. They had thought she was a young prostitute.
When she identified herself, one of the officers said, “Oh, you’re the sister to the 4 boys that belong to that queenly Black woman on Lura Street.”
They hadn’t expected her to grow up. I at least got a compliment of sorts.
My daughter was frightened when the police stopped her. It had to be because she had done something wrong and she had no idea what she was suspected of. When they let her go, she was not told why she had been stopped.
I told her that she was probably thought to be a prostitute, walking alone in a White neighborhood at night, off of a main street.
She burst into tears, saying, “Mom, do I look like a prostitute?” I told her that prostitutes nowadays try to look like the general public, and that, no, she did not look like a prostitute. Her crying quieted. But she was beginning to experience the first of the ugliness that lay in store for her, as “non-White.”
The police had kept safe another white neighborhood.