Loitering in Harvard Square

For some, the irrational explanation for a police stop can’t be left behind

BRATTLEBORO — It was 1968. My high-school boyfriend John and I were hanging out in Harvard Square, talking. We were standing on a street corner saying our goodbyes for the day when a police car pulled up next to us.

The officer got out of his car and walked toward us.

“We have a report that you're loitering,” the officer said.

“Funny,” I thought. “Everyone loiters in Harvard Square. In fact, Harvard Square is all about loitering!”

Then, much to my surprise, the officer asked me to roll up my sleeves. He proceeded to check my arms for needle marks.

This request was so strange to me because I had never taken drugs - I had not even consumed a glass of wine or beer - and I looked like the healthy 17-year-old that I was. There was no rational explanation.

The only irrational explanation was that my boyfriend was black.

* * *

Although I didn't have a word for it at the time, this event was my introduction to racial profiling. I wasn't exactly naive, but if you had asked me before this time, I would have thought such things happened only in the Deep South.

Unfortunately, I had a number of related experiences over the next few years.

John and I split up a couple of years later. Unlike John, I have had the luxury of being able to leave that harassment behind.

But those experiences, like a tattoo, live with me forever.

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