Following the death of George Floyd and the nationwide and local Black Lives Matter protests, we asked several members of our Harrisburg community if they would like to share their personal stories.
Growing up in central PA, I was raised by a single mom after my dad passed away.
During my childhood, I had positive interactions with our local police department through their focused community policing efforts. I believe their efforts helped shaped my young view of policing. I did have to counter that, however, with a culture that spoke of doubts in trusting the police. I had “the talk” with my mother and uncles about how to “act” around police and white people. I was told multiple times about implicit bias and how that might shape my interactions with people, but especially those who are white. I may encounter things my friends may not just because of something I could not control, my skin color. The stark reality is that not all men are treated equal in a land where it is proclaimed that all are created equal.
When I attended a midstate college as a student, I had another experience. I was driving back to campus on a Sunday night around 9 p.m. I noticed, in my side mirror, red and blue lights. I wasn’t speeding, so I kept driving, thinking that the car was going around me. I realized quickly that I was being pulled over. The officer approached my window and asked for information. I gave it to him and asked him why I was being stopped tonight. He didn’t answer but instead began questioning me.
“Where are you coming from?” “It’s late, what brings you to the area?”
He then asked where was I going. When I answered that I was going back to college, he gave me a look that said he didn’t believe me. The next few words he spoke cemented my thoughts that I was trying to keep back. When I told him what college I attended, he sarcastically said, “Oh yeah, really?”
In my mind, everything my family and culture had ever told me about driving while black became real in that moment. I was scared. I thought, “How I can get out of here?”
I quickly blurted out, “Can I give you my student ID?” With my hands shaking, I found my school ID and handed it to the officer. He looked at the ID, looked at me, went back to his car, ran my information, came back and returned it back to me and told me to have a good night. He went to his car, turned off his lights and pulled off. I sat there confused and wondered, “What just happened?” I have shared this story with people over the years, including several in law enforcement. No one could provide a reason other than what I originally thought. I had never been so scared in my life.
As I recall that story, it’s amazing how God will use one part of your life to potentially set a course and use your experience to help others. I’ve now worked with law enforcement for more than two years. I have watched members of the Harrisburg police department run towards dangerous calls for help, observed them de-escalate very tense situations, work long hours to solve cases for grieving families, serve food to needy families and play basketball with kids. Many in law enforcement know there is more work to do to make our community a better place to live, work and raise a family in a welcoming community that we all want to see. I am blessed to now be able to help be a bridge and be a part of the change I want to see for our region. Everyone wants to live in a community where we all can feel safe, valued and respected.
Blake Lynch is the community policing coordinator for the Harrisburg Police Bureau.