It was 6:30 a.m. on an August morning in the dying days of summer, and I was driving to Runyon Canyon to go hiking. Someone had just run a red light and I was hit on the passenger side of my Audi A5. The car was spinning, and all I could think was: I hope I don’t die. The airbags were going off; everything was happening all at once. I was just praying to God that nothing would, well, happen.
And then, the police came.
First, it was just two officers—an older white man and a younger Black man, who left soon after. Second, another round of police officers arrived, a Hispanic woman and an Asian man. They didn’t do very much to begin with; they were mostly there to watch us exchange information. I gave the other driver my insurance details and driver’s license, which was pretty much the end of it.
Then, the Asian officer said to me, “You know, we don’t have the budget to really help you today because of Defund The Police, so we’re unable to write a report.” I was in a position of vulnerability. My car was totaled. It had to go to the scrap yard. I was completely traumatized, and all I wanted in that situation was to feel like I was being taken care of. Instead, I felt like I didn’t matter. Like my voice didn’t matter. My safety didn’t matter. And the gut punch felt especially deep because it was so obvious that this comment would only be directed to a Black person. Suddenly, I was the face of Defund The Police? It was devastating.
A month after the accident, I went to the Wilshire Division of the LAPD, my local station, to complain about what happened. I was told the officer’s comment about Defund the Police had never been said, and that what I was relaying to them was a lie. Essentially, I was told that my entire experience was invalid.
After looking at the bodycam footage, it was proven that the officer did make that statement, and eventually, I was able to have a conversation with him. A meeting was arranged in which I told him I was particularly devastated because I might expect a white person—someone in a position of power—to have treated me that way. But when you’re disregarded by another person of color, it stings double. Of course, you know that it’s the structure of our society that made that happen—that the officer felt it was more important to uphold a structure based on white supremacy instead of being there for another person of color. He did finally apologize, even if it felt disingenuous. In truth, I still feel conflicted.
My parents met in Germany in the early 1970s, where my dad was an American G.I. He was stationed in Berlin. It was a very typical soldier-abroad love story. He fell in love with a local lady, got married, and had a kid. My mom is white and German. My dad is a Black man from Detroit. They moved to Akron, Ohio, where they had me in 1973, before divorcing when I was five years old. I had some contact with my dad, who was in law enforcement, but I didn’t really get a lot of interaction with him—between the age of four and going to college, we would only see each other on major holidays. I think the pressures of being an interracial couple in America were too much for them—it was really challenging. People looking at them, people saying things to them, and ultimately it just destroyed the relationship. It destroyed the marriage.
I don’t think I ever was really honest with myself about how painful it is to see someone that looks like me not be treated well. I think that I really tried to separate myself as much as I could from the violence and the terror of being Black in America, as a coping mechanism to protect myself. But when George Floyd was murdered, there was no opportunity for me to not see anymore. I had to open my eyes and see it all, and take it all in, and really grieve—not only for Black men, but grieve for everybody. Today, I can finally embrace all the various parts of myself I contain: my Jewish identity, my gay identity, and my Black identity. And now that I’ve embraced each and every one of them, I can love myself in a way I never was able to before.