As most Black families in the United States know, growing up as a Black person is seen as a great threat in and of itself.
In a country where the rate of fatal police shootings among Black Americans is higher than that for any other ethnicity, it’s no wonder that this is true. Or, why learning to handle the police while Black is a lesson taught so prominently beneath the roofs of Black households.
In a recent episode of her podcast, Michelle Obama revealed that she and her brother Craig Robinson learned this lesson years ago in a confrontation with the police.
Speaking with her brother in her podcast, Obama recalled the day Robinson was accused of stealing his own bike.
Speaking with her brother, a former basketball coach, and her mother Marian Robinson about childhood and parenting, Obama brought up a moment in which Craig was stopped by a couple of police officers while riding his bike.
At the time, Robinson was about 10 or 11 years old and had been gifted the yellow ten-speed Goldblatt by his parents. While riding the bike, a police officer grabbed hold of it and refused to let go despite Craig’s pleas and protests that the bike was his.
“I was like ‘Oh, you got this all wrong, this is my bike. Don’t worry, this isn’t a stolen bike,’ and [the cop] would not believe me, and I was absolutely heartbroken. And I finally said to him, ‘Listen, you can take me to my house, and I will prove to you, this is my bike,” Robinson recalled.
Fortunately, Obama’s mother was home at the time and ushered Craig inside of the house, while she dealt with the police. As her son recalls, “she had that tight lip” as she confronted the officers who had accused her son of stealing his own bike.
Robinson revealed that she discovered the officers were friends with the people who had made the complaint about Craig stealing the bicycle and demanded they come to her house so that they could “admit [they] made a serious mistake.”
Robinson described the experience as a “heartbreaking” one at various times throughout the interview.
“I could tell [the cops] were trying to ask me questions that would trip me up,” he recalled. “If I wasn’t so sure that that bike was mine and showed any kind of reticence, I could see them taking me off to the police station, not calling mom until after I’ve been, you know, booked or whatever they do.”
At one point, Obama remarked that the story is particularly familiar with ones being experienced across the country, even today. “Nobody thinks about, you know, the fact that we all come from good families that are trying to teach values, but when you leave the safety of your home and go out into the street, where being Black is, is a crime in and of itself, we have all had to learn how to operate outside of our homes with a level of caution, and fear, because you never know,” she recalled
Obama’s mother also described the experience as being “part of a culture” among police.
“Because those two policemen were Black. And they were acting exactly the same as any other policeman,” her mother remarked. “It’s almost like, this is what they thought they were, how they were thought they were supposed to act.”
All three family members noted how the incident is so familiar today. Despite the fact that decades have passed. “That’s the perfect example of what all of these young, Black people are dealing with now, because this was, almost fifty years ago?” Craig Robinson said.
Listen to the clip from the podcast here.
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