Why My Youthful Prank Is No Longer Funny in Light of #McKinney

In light of #McKinney (not to mention all of the other ongoing events), I’ve been considering an experience I once had. This was a story that, until now, I told with amusement. I’m not sure I’ll be doing that any longer.

I carried out my share of pranks and legally gray antics while in my teenage and early twenty years. More than once, police were involved.

These antics were all harmless, their consequences minimal, their existence in record only in stories told to friends of “those crazy adventures” I once had.

One night, I was gathered with a small group of friends. It was summer and we were drinking and carousing in the side yard of the home of one of the friends. We tried to be respectful of the neighbors, though I’m sure we got loud from time to time.

At some point in the evening, boredom and whimsy led myself and a friend, a man of color, to the sidewalk and around the corner for an “adventure” through the neighborhood. On this journey, we encountered a recently resurfaced parking lot and a collection of orange traffic cones blocking it off. Recalling tales of foolishness with another friend, I told the friend present that we should take the cones.

To do what?

Who knows. It was just for thrill, for fun, for the fulfillment that comes from minor infractions against authority.

It was only a moment after grabbing the cones that the police appeared, an SUV speeding down the road out of seemingly nowhere and catching us as “red-handed” as could be.

We were busted, but it was still, to me, fun.

As I stated, this wasn’t my first prank. This wasn’t my first adversarial encounter with police. I’ve been in the back of police cars. I’ve sat across a desk from a police officer. The consequences were always: “You’re busted. Don’t do that. Go home.” All spoken with a “you crazy kids” undertone.

As we were blinded by the police spotlight, our prized cones now dropped by our feet, I glanced to the bushes next to us, ready to dash through with my friend at my side, getting to the safety of home, and laughing about our crazy adventure.

It was at this moment I realized the energy had stilled. My friend had stopped with no intention to proceed. I couldn’t abandon him, so I too surrendered. We took our punishment, an order to end the nonsense, to return the cones, and to get back home and stay there.

When I’ve told the story over the years, it’s always included a ribbing to my friend for “surrendering” when we clearly could have gotten away without consequence.

He’s never said much about it, other than joking that “they had us” and commenting that you don’t run from the police.

The second part is logical and advisable, so I always left it at that. But until today, I never considered just why I still felt free to shirk such advice while my friend, a black man, of the same age and growing up in a similar town, would disagree.

How privileged am I that, at age 33, as someone who considers himself relatively enlightened, I only now realize the difference between the experience for him and the experience for me?