“Trying to help the next person is going to get me killed. I’m okay with that.”

Editor’s note: Today’s post is a guest post by Romelle Bradford. I sometimes write about why I feature these guest posts, but today you should read for yourself and not let my words influence you.

By Romelle Bradford

“Who Belongs” Image of two men wearing hats in black and white, back man with his fist up. Art from Amplifier Art by Nicolas Lampert

Many of the Black women in my life taught me generosity and kindness. I also see how society didn’t value them even when they were trying their best and needed kindness back.

Trying to help the next person is going to get me killed, and you know what, I’m okay with that.

On a weekday morning, I decided to shop at the local QFC grocery store. I needed some quick groceries for dinner and decided to run into the store before going to work. While walking into the store, a Black elder was outside stopping people to ask for a handout. Many saw her as a panhandler. When I stopped to listen I heard her asking for food, not money – she was hungry.  

The security guards hired by the store directed shoppers to ignore her. As I walked up to the store, security tried to forcibly remove her by grabbing her arm. Feeling threatened she instantly defended herself with a lighter that she pulled out from her pocket. The situation escalated, and I feared for her safety. I immediately intervened and jumped between her and the security guard.

I asked her what was wrong and how I could help. She told me that she’s 63-years-old and hungry. I asked her what she needed to nourish herself. She asked for bottled water, eggs, bread, chicken, and a donut so that she could quickly address her hunger. I made note of her request and went shopping for the items. The security guard looked at me in anger as I walked past as if I had challenged their authority. During checkout, the look I received from the employees was that of either confusion or abhorrence. 

By the time I secured the elder’s food, four police officers were there. She was in a heightened state as she feared for her well-being. I calmed her down and handed her the food that I bought her. I walked with her away from the store and asked her to please be safe. As I walked back to my car, one of the police officers said by giving her food, I’ll only enable others. I wasn’t even shocked by the response. I simply said, “She’s a person. I empathize with the feeling of being hungry and not being able to afford food. The compassionate thing to do would’ve been to help her,” and I walked away. I shouldn’t have to teach empathy to grown individuals tasked with serving and protecting our community. 

As a child, I felt ashamed that my family couldn’t afford food. Most of my meals were provided by others outside of my home. I remember how I would leave home early to ensure that I would make it to school in time to receive breakfast. At lunchtime, I always made sure my table was clean and cleared in hopes that my class would be the first class to enter the cafeteria. For dinner, my family often relied on the generosity of others. Sometimes my mom brought home the leftover lunch from the daycare she worked at. Other times we used the food that was given to us from local food banks. My experiences struggling with the shame of food insecurity have left a mark that is deeply rooted within me. The woman’s pleas for food were very traumatic for me to hear. I saw her as a hungry person, not a panhandler. I know seeing her in this way put me at risk. The security guard and police saw her as a threat, and they probably saw me as a Black man as a threat even though I was just giving her food and helping her move to safety. 

Unfortunately, my experiences with the police have been less than ideal. I’ve been subjected to racial profiling and unlawful detainment on multiple occasions where I was treated like a guilty animal instead of an innocent American with rights. Twice in my life have I been assaulted and had guns drawn and pointed at me by officers of the law. Both times I believed that I was going to die. Those first-hand experiences have taught me that cops don’t need to be challenged to be hostile. However, those fears do not stop me from doing the right thing, like standing up for someone whose only crime was being hungry and born the wrong color.

The stereotype of the Black people plays into how we’re treated daily. The Black elder needed help, not the police. While some women would be perceived as needing grace, protection, and leniency, these acts of kindness are often not afforded to Black women, especially Black poor women. Black women face a disproportionate amount of adversity in society. Black women have tried to speak up for themselves as they continue to struggle to be humanized – to be seen as people who hurt, cry, and feel. Black women have felt torn down and attacked by those around them instead of supported and uplifted. At what point do we humanize Black women?

Romelle Bradford (he/him) lives in Seattle with his family and adorable dog.

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I am writing from the lands of the 29 federally recognized and non-federally recognized tribes in now Washington State, including the Coast Salish people — Duwamish, Muckleshoot, Suquamish, Snoqualmie, Snohomish, and Native American organizations that have treaty rights and have been here since time immemorial. I give my thanks to the elders, Native and Indigenous colleagues and relations, and the land itself. Fakequity pays “rent” to Native organizations in Washington and Hawaii; a small act to repair and work to be in more justice-based relations.