After hearing on Wednesday that a grand jury decided not to indict the NYPD officer responsible for the chokehold death of Eric Garner, I had so many questions. But the loudest one was this: Am I safe? As a black woman living in New York City, I don't really know.
As a child, I believed full-heartedly in police officers' commitment to "protect and serve." After all, my uncle is a retired Detroit cop, my dad and my older brother are both Minneapolis cops, and because of them, I've met countless police officers from all over the world who use their power with responsibility and humility. For a long time, my idea of a cop looked like my dad, my brother, my uncle, and so many others — black, white, Mexican, Indian, German, Australian people — every single one of whom I trusted and respected. And to this day, I do still trust the police officers in my life.
And in the time I've spent in New York City, I've always thought that I was safe and felt safe as well. I've never been threatened by another person — cop or otherwise. I've never felt like my skin color was a problem for others — cop or otherwise. But as black man after black man — Oscar Grant, Michael Brown, and Eric Garner — has been shot in our country by the very people supposed to protect us, I've realized that my safety in America and New York City may be nothing but a figment of my imagination.
The day after the decision not to indict the officer who killed Eric Garner, I decided to hit the streets of NYC and ask pedestrians whether they feel safe in the city and why. It should be noted that prior to formulating their responses, most people seemed to feel just as frustrated and confused as I do.
"No, because police officers don't treat civilians like people. They treat us like criminals."
"Yes, because I avoid cops at all costs."
"No, because profiling based on race isn't just/Yes, because I've never been approached by the police."
No, because I am human. I deserve to be free and safe."
"No, because I've been subjected to unfair profiling by NYPD."
Amanda, 21, and Nyninikoline, 21 (Visiting From Copenhagen, Denmark)
"Yes, because everybody is nice and helpful."
"No, because they hunt to make a quota."
"No! The police are overstepping their limited authority!"
Sergi, 22, and Eugenia, 54 (Visiting From Barcelona, Spain)
"Yes, because it's full of police!"
"Yes, but safety is an illusion."
"Yes & no, because of stereotyping."
Noel (Originally From Burkina Faso in West Africa)
"Yes and no. I don't know all of the customs and I don't want to do anything wrong."
Cameron, 30 (Visiting From Inverness, Scotland)
"Yes. NYC has been a very friendly city. Very nice people."
"Yes, because anything can happen anywhere. Be aware of your surroundings and you will be safe."
Nyiekie, 19, and Chris, 19
"No, because police are protected when they do harm."
Images: Aja Edwards