MassArt professor’s account of police stop resonates online
Steve Locke acknowledged that the police officers were doing their jobs when they stopped him on the street and questioned him in an attempted break-in Friday in Jamaica Plain. But that didn’t ease his nerves. His hands were shaking so much he had to clasp them together to stay still.
The interaction with Boston police had such a profound effect on him that Locke felt he should share an account of the fear that ran through his mind as a black man dealing with law enforcement.
Since Friday, his blog post, entitled, “I fit the description,” has been shared thousands of times on Facebook and circulated widely on Twitter. It received more than 700 comments — both supportive and hostile — before Locke disabled the feature.
What surprised Locke most was the number of people who seemed shocked by the account’s depiction of the officers’ initial reluctance to take Locke at his word.
He said he showed police his Massachusetts College of Art and Design faculty ID and explained that he had not been in the area at the time of the crime. Still, he had to wait for a detective to arrive before he was allowed to leave.
“There was a tremendous amount of surprise from people that this could happen,” Locke said in an interview. “But this happens all the time.”
Locke, a Dedham resident and assistant professor at the college, had just gotten lunch when officers approached him on Centre Street near Hyde Square. They told Locke that he matched the description of a suspect in the nearby incident — 5 foot 11, black male, 160 pounds, wearing a knit hat and a puffy coat.
Locke’s account of the tension and fear he felt comes at a time when the relationships between African-Americans and police are a topic of intense discussion.
Lieutenant Detective Michael McCarthy, a Boston police spokesman, said Monday afternoon that Police Commissioner William B. Evans reached out to Locke to discuss the incident, but the two had not yet spoken.
McCarthy complimented both the officers and Locke on their conduct during the investigation, noting that in some situations “it’s just as important for us to rule people out of an incident as it is to rule people in.”
He said Locke’s account depicts an interaction in which all parties treated each other with courtesy. He said police “don’t focus on race,” and in this case were working on the details they had about the suspect.
“We understand that people may feel uncomfortable, and we would encourage them to be patient, and to be respectful — as this individual was,” McCarthy added. “The outcome can be as good as it was here.”
Locke said he hopes his account will provide some insight to readers.
“I wrote not to vilify anyone or be negative about anyone,” Locke said. “I just have read very few first-person accounts of what it feels like to be in that situation. It wasn’t a policy piece or a think piece. It was an emotional response to that situation.”
Locke said he hopes the post conveys the helplessness that he felt.
“The struggle to be believed in that moment was very, very disheartening,” he said. “You can prove who you are, where you came from, and still that may not be enough.”
After the stop, Locke was shaken up.
“Nothing I am, nothing I do, nothing I have means anything because I fit the description,” Locke wrote in the post.
Police are still investigating the reported break-in attempt and have not made any arrests, McCarthy said.