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Late Night writer Amber Ruffin is opening up about her experiences with the police.
Throughout the week, Ruffin shared stories about her experiences with police officers in light of the outrage after the death of George Floyd.
On Monday, Ruffin began her first story by explaining that it happened when she was a new driver as a teenager. After dropping her friend off at work, Ruffin was caught in morning rush-hour traffic. “Everybody is going over the speed limit,” she explained. “When I slow down, it disrupts traffic, so I speed up to 45. That’s 5 miles over the speed limit. That’s as fast as I’m willing to go.”
As cars continued to drive past her, Ruffin turned on Busta Rhymes to help her calm down. “I get to a good pace, and I start feeling normal. And just then I encounter a speed trap, and no one is slowing down. We are all speeding, me least of all,” she said. “There is an old, white cop standing on the side of the road and out of these tens of cars, he sees a young, black person driving a purple car blasting rap music. And he chooses me, and he’s screaming at me. He is shouting as if I murdered someone.”
“He goes, ‘Pull the car over! Pull the goddamn car over right now, motherfucker!’ That is what this cop is screaming at me and I think, ‘This is how I die. This man is going to kill me,'” she recalled. “I am bawling because I am 100 percent sure that this man is going to drag me out of my car, beat me to death and tomorrow on the news everyone will be like, ‘She didn’t seem angry, but who knows?'”
The cop continued to shout at Ruffin as she pulled over. “He sees a teenage girl whose face is wet with tears and I’m just braced, trying to think of all the good things that have happened in my life so that I get to heaven thankful instead of angry,” she said.
When the cop saw that Ruffin was crying, he calmed down and asked to see her ID. “He’s taken aback,” she said. “His whole demeanor changes, and it’s as if he wasn’t the guy who was just screaming at me.”
The office then let her go without a warning “because once he saw a teenage girl, shouting was no longer fun.”
“I have a thousand stories like this. The cops have pulled a gun on me. The cops have followed me to my own home,” she said. “Every black person I know has a few stories like that. Many have more than a few. Black people leave the house every day knowing that at any time we could get murdered by the police.”
While she wanted to end the segment with a hopeful message, Ruffin said, “Maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable.”
On Tuesday, Ruffin shared a story about visiting her friends in Chicago. After her friend Jeff picked her up at the airport, they went to go pick up another friend who lived next to an alley behind the police station.
While heading down the alley to pick up her friend, Ruffin skipped to make Jeff laugh. “Little did I know skipping down a police station alley is a big no-no, because I end up skipping toward a cop car that’s driving at me,” she said. “The sirens go off, a cop gets out and his gun is drawn, and he goes, ‘Put your hands on the hood of the car!”‘
Noting that the cop was “furious,” Ruffin said she complied as his partner patted her down. “His anger level toward me is insane. I am a young, adorable delight literally skipping down the street and I’ve infuriated him,” she said.
The cop asked where she was coming from and she explained that she had just gotten off of a flight from Amsterdam. He asked her why she was running down the alley, though she explained that she was skipping because she was happy to be visiting her friends.
Ruffin then gestured to Jeff, who was waiting nearby. “The cop sees that Jeff, a white man, has seen all of this, and he changes his attitude with the quickness,” she said. “He’s suddenly professional instead of antagonistic, and he tells me that I was wrong for running. And it takes everything in me not tell him that if I wanted to run down the alley, that would be perfectly legal.”
“That man could have shot me in a second,” she said. “People who know me would be running around talking about, ‘Attacking an officer doesn’t seem like something Amber would do, but the officer said she did, so that has to be what happened.'”
Despite the run-in with the officer, Ruffin enjoyed the rest of her night. “It’s kind of my duty to have fun because at any time I could get murdered by the police,” she said.
Ruffin said that these anecdotes, while common, are not often shared because there’s “this unspoken rule that black people are supposed to take it in stride.” She continued, “Can you imagine having someone pull a gun on you and being expected to take it in stride?”
“Now imagine a bunch of incidents like that over one lifetime. Multiply that by 43 million African Americans, and that is why things are like this right now,” she concluded. “That is why people are angry. And if you’re not angry, why not?”
Ruffin began Wednesday’s episode by sharing a story that took place at her home in Chicago.
After her friend Anthony left her house, Ruffin realized that he forgot his wallet. She called him and he came back to get it. “I step out onto the porch with no shoes, in my pajamas, and instead of walking to the end of the porch and down the stairs, I just reach over the side of the porch to give him his wallet back,” she explained.
“He rides up on his bicycle and just lets his bicycle fall and then reaches up to get his wallet,” she continued. “A cop car pulls up, flashes its lights. The cop gets out and she’s like, ‘Hold it right there! We gotcha!'”
“Everything she says to us, she says with her hand on her gun,” Ruffin recalled of the police officer, noting that she was “terrified” because both she and Anthony are black.
After the cop asked why they “were running from the police,” Ruffin said, “I’m not running anywhere. I live here.” She added, “I say, ‘I’m in my pajamas with no shoes on,’ and she goes, ‘Let me see both of your IDs.'”
Ruffin went back into her house for her ID while the cop asked Anthony “a million questions.” When she returned, the cop questioned why Ruffin didn’t have a Chicago ID. The officer then told Ruffin to go back into the house to get mail to prove she lived in the house.
“She has now unsnapped that thing that holds your gun in place and is holding onto her gun tighter,” recalled Ruffin. “So I go inside, and I’m freaking out because she’s gonna shoot my friend Anthony for just being bigger than her.”
Returning with the mail, Ruffin noticed that the cop had calmed down. “She looks at the mail and she looks at us and she goes, ‘OK, well from now on, when I tell you to stop, you stop,'” she said. “Now remember, she’s never told us to stop anything. And I look at Anthony like, ‘Oh my God, how are you gonna handle this cop lying on us?’ And he looks at me and he looks at the cop and he goes, ‘OK.’ I look at him and I go, ‘OK!'”
“And we live to get harassed another day. Because that’s the kind of thing you have to do to stay alive when you’re black,” she concluded. “You have to let the police lie to you at your own house.”
On Thursday, Ruffin recalled driving in a car with a white friend who was dressed in a suit.
“It was not that late at night. So we’re at a truck stop seeing if my friend’s dad, who is a truck driver, is there,” she said. The pair drove slowly by the semi-trucks looking for the correct truck.
After noting that she understood why they “seemed suspicious,” Ruffin recalled that a police officer came up to them.
“My friend rolls down the window and the cop is super nice,” she said, adding that the cop was very respectful toward her friend. “This cop wants to know what in the world we are doing, and he asked politely. And we tell him, and he is unsatisfied. He goes, ‘I stopped you because there’s been a lot of prostitution.’ And I go, ‘Oh, I’m not a prostitute.’ And this cop has never believed anything less.”
As the cop continued to question Ruffin, her friend became annoyed. “My friend says to the cop, he goes, ‘You have nothing. You have to let us go.’ And I’m like, ‘You just got me killed!'” she said. The cop responded, “Okay, but you have to leave.”
“The respect this cop just automatically had for my friend, I’ll never forget seeing it,” said Ruffin.
Following the story, Ruffin spoke about the protests across the country. “People took to the streets because they believe that black people deserve better treatment than we have been getting,” she said. The writer noted that she knows racism is not over, though she admitted she was “shocked that so many people showed up for black people.”
“We’ve been being discriminated against for fun for years and I didn’t think people cared or saw or they knew and were fine with it,” she continued. “For whatever reason, everyone is fed up.”
While Barack Obama shared a comprehensive plan to start saving lives, Ruffin reminded viewers to not forget that Floyd and 11 protestors died in the fight against police brutality and racism.
“Don’t let it cost more lives,” she said through tears. “Vote. Call your representatives. Unfriend racists. And most importantly, when you see something, say something.”
June 4, 8:30 a.m. This article has been updated with Ruffin’s Wednesday night story.
June 5, 9:12 a.m. This article has been updated with Ruffin’s Thursday night story.
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