Good Cop, Bad Cop

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In the past year, I have been approached twice by police officers in the state of California.

I’m a robust African-American woman, and I’m a cosplayer. Lately, I’ve been cosplaying — dressing up as a character — as Michonne from The Walking Dead. If you’re unfamiliar with Michonne, she wears a leather vest, and her signature weapon is a katana, a Japanese samurai sword. I have a plastic sword as well as a direct replica.

The first time someone called the cops on me, I was leaving a cosplay event. I was in full costume with the plastic version of the sword, sheathed and strapped to my back. I decided to spend the early evening with a cupcake and a movie at The Grove in Los Angeles. I strolled toward Sprinkles Cupcakes, chatting with my mother on the phone. When I arrived at Sprinkles, the attendant knew exactly who I was dressed as.

“Nice costume,” she said. We chatted about The Walking Dead, just two girls discussing who we thought got batted down by the villainous Negan, and then I walked away, cupcake in hand.

At the end of that cupcake line was a Grove security officer with two police officers. I hadn’t noticed them until the security officer said, “Oh, it’s a toy.” I frowned and stopped as I realized they were talking about my sword.

“Hey, sorry to bother you,” the officer said. “But we got a few reports about a woman running around with a sword.”

“Someone told you I was running around with a sword?” I asked, taken aback.

“Several someones,” he clarified.

I looked behind him to see an old white man in a wheelchair, who I guessed was probably one of the someones, watching and waiting to make sure I was apprehended.

I told the officer I was glad he could tell it was a toy, and that I was just on my way to see a movie. He told me it was fine and to have a nice day. Even so, I was disturbed that people had called the police to report that I was running around with a sword. I realized what trouble I could have been in had the officer been — well, let’s just say hasty.

The second incident involved my boyfriend, who happens to be white. We’ve been known to cosplay together as Michonne and Rick Grimes — The Walking Dead’s central protagonist — and we were invited to an event in El Cajon, Calif., to help with a raffle for Comic Convoy. I was sick, but I was also determined to do the gig. We both arrived at the event in costume — my boyfriend in his blood-splattered shirt and convincing replica of a Colt Python revolver and holster, me in my Michonne garb — but I felt many an eye on me. The event organizers had requested that I bring my real sword for photos, and since I was part of the show, I agreed. But something about the crowd made me increasingly uneasy.

Still feeling under the weather, I was moving slowly, with my sheathed sword strapped to my back. My boyfriend and I headed toward the stage for our appearance when I was stopped by the off-duty cop who was running security.

“Hey,” he said. “You’re fine, but I just wanted you to know that people were coming up to me complaining about your sword. ‘That black gal’s running around with a sword,’ and, ‘What are you gonna do about that black gal?’ ”

I was once again accused of running around with a sword, even though I was sick and could barely move at a normal pace. My boyfriend wondered why he, walking with a realistic-looking gun in his holster, hadn’t been singled out.

Sadly, I wasn’t surprised. I knew why.

“I told them that what you’re doing isn’t illegal,” he continued. “You’re allowed to carry a blade of that length as long as it’s sheathed and not concealed. And Jesus, don’t any of them watch TV? I know exactly who you are.”

Annoyed, tired and disheartened, I lightened up a little at the officer’s words. Were those who complained about me afraid that I was going to cause harm? Or did they simply want to see me, a black woman, punished for daring to have any type of weapon — or really, any type of power? Did my boyfriend’s whiteness protect him from being singled out for his weapon? Again, I knew the answer.

I recently came across a Facebook meme reading, “There are only two kinds of cops: bad cops and silent cops.” While I do believe that silence makes a person complicit, I don’t believe there are no good cops. But I do think more police officers need to come forward and denounce their brothers and sisters in blue who do not protect and serve or uphold the law for all people.

When it comes to my own personal run-ins with police outside of the cosplay world, it involves minor traffic offenses like speeding, and it’s been a mixed bag. There were times I was made to feel like a criminal, like the time I was approached by two cops, hands on their guns, seemingly prepared to draw. But there were other times when I was met with a smile and given a warning for something inconsequential. Reflecting on these encounters in different cities and different states, I know for a fact that not all cops are bad. But our police forces must acknowledge the need for improvement and cast out the bad apples that cause rot throughout the entire system.

The rest of us can help by acknowledging those who do good, and demanding better from those who don’t. Only together can we rebuild trust.


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