How I learned racism is real.
My friend was eighteen years old when a man attacked her outside the home she shared with her mother and her brother. Although it was dark, she saw her attacker clearly before she escaped.
He was white.
The man grabbed my friend on the sidewalk. He stabbed her repeatedly with a small knife or another sharp object. He called her by her name and told her he was going to rape and kill her.
My friend’s attacker reached between her legs and squeezed hard enough to hurt her. “I’m going to **** you hard,” he said. Then he punched her in her privates.
Bravely, she fought him off. She made it back to her car, locked the doors, and drove until she reached my rented apartment.
I heard a frantic knocking on my ground-floor living room window. Frightened, I peeked through the broken window blinds and saw her standing there. In the dim light, I couldn’t see that she was bleeding.
My friend came inside and sat on my tattered and stained secondhand sofa. She was bleeding from multiple shallow stab wounds. Her cuts were superficial.
I wanted to call an ambulance, but she declined even when she went to use the bathroom and discovered she was bleeding from her vagina. Although she declined to seek medical treatment, she agreed to file a police report.
We got into my car, and I drove to the local police station. The police officer on duty was a handsome young white man who couldn’t type.
My friend told him what had happened. She gave him a description of the man who had attacked her, including the information that he was a white man.
Then the police officer brought out the mug shots. There were piles and stacks of books filled with them. He chose a selection to show her, laying a page of serious faces on the table in front of her. “Do any of these men look familiar?” he asked.
“No,” she replied. “The man who attacked me was white. These men are all black.”
“Are you sure?” he asked.
She nodded her head, and the police officer brought out a new selection of mugshots. The men in this second of pictures had darker skin than the first.
“Do any of these men look like the man who attacked you?” he asked.
My friend’s eyes darted to my face and back to the pictures. “No,” she said. Her voice grew louder. “I told you he was white. These men are all black.”
She looked at me again, and I could see the confusion in her eyes. When the police officer left the room, she whispered, “I tell him the guy is white, and he shows me pictures of black guys.”
“I know,” I whispered back.
In the end, the police officer showed my friend a variety of mugshots that were approximately 90% black men and 10% whites and other ethnicities. He seemed surprised every time she reminded him that her attacker wasn’t black.
“Are you sure it wasn’t one of these men?” he asked, again and again, gesturing at the mugshots of black men.
It was not one of those men.
My friend’s assailant was eventually arrested, tried, and found guilty, and my friend testified at his trial. He was indeed white, just as she’d said from the night of the attack.
She never wavered in her testimony, not at the police station and not at the trial. Facts don’t change. Her attacker was white; he was always white. All the mugshots of black men in the world would not change that fact.
This story really happened. It took place pre-Internet, and while I tried to find a record of the crime and subsequent trial and conviction online, I could not.
I’m sure there’s a public record of it somewhere. It was reported in the local newspaper at the time, but I’ve decided not to include identifying information such as the victim’s name, the date of the incident, and the town where it happened to protect my friend’s identity.
It’s been years since I last saw her, and I am sure she wouldn’t want to relive that night.
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