79 lapd officers came to shut my party down at usc. meanwhile, the party across the street was told to stay in the house and be safe. The MINORITY students at my party were treated like criminals. i was handcuffed and detained that night. This was not the first time somebody had told my story for me. But this incident sparked a movement that would inspire me to challenge our GENERATION to have the courage to tell their story before someone else does. That's our mission. We will keep updating the story. blessings.
It’s not normal for one to be proud of a crime – but I am. My crime stems from a history of uncertainty, a questioning of authority, and a call for my freedom. It’s through the struggle of those who came before me that I am able to tell you my story today. Years later, my story is not too different from my ancestors. Racism continues to prevail within the system of this country. To those who are not aware, it may seem we are moving into a post-racial society. Those with the privilege to see our country through this lens have mistakenly concluded what our nation has been attempting to cover up. We need to bring into light the insidious unjust laws and discrimination that affect individuals who look like me time and time again.
Looking back on my story, I’m now on the quest to answer one simple question, “Why?”
On the evening of May 23, 2014 I was asked to give a commencement speech at the San Jose State University’s Black Graduation. This was a joyous moment for me - at 22 years old, I was giving my first college address. Shortly after, I was invited to attend the graduation party with a friend in downtown San Jose. Once the party ended, we step outside to leave and my friend had to use the bathroom. With no entrance back into the club, he decided to find a private place to urinate, which he did behind a vacant building.
When officers noticed my friend behind the building, they grabbed him and escorted him to their police car.
I immediately became concerned. I approached the situation and asked the officers why they were imposing aggressive action upon my friend. No answer. I wasn’t trying to justify what my friend did – but given the situation I believe the officers could have dealt with it in a better way.
Instead of an answer, I was beaten for my questioning. Ferociously, I was thrown to the ground and hit multiple times with a baton to my arm and leg. I filed a report questioning the officer’s actions. Again, I received no answer. What I did receive a few months later was a warrant for my arrest, being charged with a 148; resisting arrest.
Why did I question the officers about the way they were treating my friend? Why do young black males feel like their interactions with police are escalated? Was I vying for some type of privilege to show that my friend and I weren’t stereotypical black ‘thugs’?
These questions I’m still trying to understand. I wonder if my disassociation with stereotypical labels of black males comes from rejecting my own perceived identity in hopes of security under the educated, respected, privileged few. I had a USC degree, just gave a commencement speech, and have future aspirations to create positive social change. That didn’t seem to matter much, simply because of the color of my skin.
So here I am on trial a year later, staring directly at the officer who struck me with the baton. He cannot look me in the eye. In his testimony, he explains how he was afraid of me, how he didn’t know if I had a gun or knife. The officer claimed that I said to him, “I was going to f**k him up.” Still with his testimony to the jury, he dares not to face me. He knows he is not telling the truth.
Nine hours a day I was drained with what I like to call, “judicial filibuster.” I knew the truth, and the DA was trying every way to justify the reasoning of my beating. Imagine sitting silent nine hours a day having someone else tell your story, creating bizarre illusions of who you are and what happened that night.
When selecting the jury of witnesses testifying on the stand, the decisions are based on how the jury will judge an individual. It’s their “truth” against yours. Correct or incorrect judgment will ultimately decide your fate. Leave emotions and reason behind - this is the law. Whoever can play it well will win. So may the odds forever be in your favor.
The question, “why?” is the only thing that makes sense. Why am I here? Why have I been charged with this crime? Why is our system backwards and in so much denial of it? It's unfortunate; it’s hard to deal with it. Do I laugh at the blatant lies that are being said about me because they’re so farfetched? Or do I cry knowing that these “truths’ could potentially determine my fate? These are the mixed emotions I’m feeling. For the moment, all I know is to stay strong and stay true to my story.
I learned firsthand why so many people who are poor get lost in the criminal system. Our courts are deliberate. This is not restorative. This is capitalizing on every individual who does not know their rights, and who do not have the resources to get the information to learn them. I had an excellent lawyer but, rightfully so; his defense was based in his expertise on how to play the game.
When the verdict came back that they found me guilty, I was shocked but not broken. I had already known my truth. I had already seen how the court worked. Though it came as a surprise, I had to accept that this was a bigger calling. I came to that realization immediately. I knew my truth. I understood the power of my story.
I was reminded more of this calling when a juror came during my sentencing. She explained how she couldn't sleep knowing she found me guilty. She was an older white lady and easily classified as someone who was worlds apart from my struggle. But she understood my story and acknowledged it in a five-minute speech that brought me to uncontrollable tears. I was not expecting to cry. I was not expecting to get emotional on this trial - because emotion didn't work. Reason didn't work. It was all based on law! But that night I was arrested, I knew I was doing the right thing standing up for my friend, and now somebody finally had the courage to stand up for me. Unknowingly, she became my ally in this struggle.
With her testimony and the countless letters I received from different organizations to the judge, I was given a fine and 30 hours of community service. This was victory compared to what was supposed to be days in jail. So, punish me with community service because I would like to tell my experiences. I would like to share with the youth what I have learned, because it’s rarely taught in school. The questions the youth continue to ask go unanswered. Their curious minds that are only told to comply, I now challenge them to find answers.
My community service is doing work with Movement BE. I have partnered with a social justice lawyer to create curriculum on teaching students to know their rights. Here’s to speaking for the voiceless! Here’s to fighting for the poor! Here’s to knowing I was never questioning police. I was questioning myself. I’m proud of my crime - and I now know why
-Nate Howard, Founder.