“The Attitude Test”

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Staring at camera with my bass

I’ve passed the “attitude test” several times in my life, most notably in 2010. I was at La Garanacha, an outdoor patio taqueria. I was sitting on a bench and waiting for my burrito, when a police officer came from around the corner and pulled a gun on me.

She told me to freeze, put my hands behind my head, and patted me down. Because my Dad taught me at a young age to pass the “attitude test”, I didn’t ask her what this was about. I remained quiet, let her question me, and softly answered every question she asked with a simple yes or no.

She handcuffed me and put me in the back of her police car. For the next 20 minutes she checked her computer for anything she could find about me, still giving me no clue as to why this was happening. After a few minutes I asked her why this was happening, going against a quiet voice in me that was whispering to stay quiet, and simply feel relief when she found out it “wasn’t me”.

She eventually told me that I fit the description of a man who had just stolen a refrigerator. I chuckled on the inside and thought to myself, “does it look like I have a refrigerator in my pocket?” I knew way better than to say that out loud, I just let the silence in the air speak loudly.

After another few minutes, she finally discovered she was mistaken. She uncuffed me with no apology, got back in her car and drove away. I looked at the La Garanacha employee who had put my burrito in the window 20 minutes prior, and we both just shook our heads.

Some anger, a bruised ego, a cold burrito and a lot of appreciation for still being alive was the only side effect of my police encounter in 2010. Because at a very young age my Dad taught me to pass “the attitude test” when talking with police, I survived that encounter plus a handful of other weird ones.

I’ve also had some really positive encounters with law enforcement, like the time in Utah when a cop helped us get on a Greyhound bus that was being seemingly hidden from the majority of other passengers, on a snowy night at 2:30 AM. That felt like royal treatment, pretty magical. Or the time I was clearly speeding and the cop who pulled me over almost seemed like a great friend in a past life or something~ asked me why I was speeding and I told him it was because I was excited to be listening to a new recording my band had just made. He said with a gleam, “awe yeah, what kind of music?” After I answered he said with a smile, “cool, just watch the speeding”. Seems that passing the attitude test helped me in those two situations as well.

I guess I’m writing this post to thank my Dad for the life saving advice… But I’m also wondering if there is anyone out there who hasn’t even heard of the “attitude test”? I’ve been in the car with more than one White friend who’d actually been argumentative or impatient with an officer who pulled us over, which made me highly uncomfortable (and a little inspired) because that’s unheard of in my world. Are too many Black parents having to teach “the attitude test” to their children, at way too young of an age?

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