Enemies Out of Allies

Facing Racism in Muncie, Indiana

An Anonymous Story written by Ari Hurwitz

I would say some things are better in the country. There has been some improvement, but it seems like everything wants to take a step backwards now. When I was in my 20s, I had got a job at US Steel, working basically as a laborer, but I was going to school for electrical, to be an electrician, you know. US Steel is as big as the city of Muncie. So I’m all the way on the other side of the mill one day and this electrical foreman walked up on me as I was sweeping out a tunnel. He was white. We got talking about electricity and he said, “How the hell you know that stuff and you sweepin’ the damn tunnel?” He got my name and badge number.

It was a couple or so months later, my foreman tells me this electrical foreman wants to see me and I was like, “WHAT?” So I went over there and he said, “I’m gonna start you out as a janitor over here, but there’s postings that come up and when one come up, you sign it.” At the time, there was only one other black electrician who I knew of that worked at US Steel, and that’s a big plant.

So I was the janitor, time goes on and a posting comes up and I signed the damn thing, along with other people. They didn’t know I was going to school, see, it’s an all-white department. They all laughed, “Look at this dumb-ass janitor signing.” Nobody could pass the test for the job though. Well, I passed the test. It was a major uproar, “Oh no, this can’t be!” I was still in my 20s. These people, they in their 40s-50s. . .and I’m black. They said, “You gotta retest.”

When they set up this retest they set up a motor controller and you got to this one part where this DC motor would accelerate, and all of a sudden you hear a explosion and the motor would try to reverse itself. Nobody had seen nothing like that before. So I sit down and I’m basically going through wire per wire. It was like a compound motor and they had reversed it by accident, even they had no idea, total freak of nature. I caught it and fixed it and I started it up. Everybody said, “What the hell, this black guy, the damn janitor?”

So they sent me up to the Headquarters. That first electrical foreman apologized to me. He said, “These guys are so upset, they even got the union in, they making me send you up to be re-tested again.” At Headquarters, the guy couldn’t find nothing wrong. It was racism that motivated that, any other guy they would have said, “Fine, fine.”

But I got the job. I guess by me bein’ young and me bein’ black, they did not like that and every day was like a test. I did learn. We had what we called electricians’ helpers and they all older than me. I said to myself, “Fuck, I ain’t telling them what to do, them guys white and in they 40s and 50s.”

So they tolerated me, a couple guys accepted it. There was always the bunch to stay away from, you know, don’t hang around over there ‘cause they’ll do something to ya. The biggest plus that I had there—it was by luck—I enjoyed playing chess. Gary, Indiana had a chess club at that time. I went down to play chess, all white guys. One guy there, he also worked at US Steel and he also was in the electrical part of it and he knew me. We kinda made friends and he had balls, didn’t nobody mess with him. So when we kinda buddied up, they kinda like, ”Well, that’s so and so friend, don’t mess with him.” He kinda had my back, was my bodyguard. So lucky for me I played chess. He knew the places that I needed to be and where not to be. In fact, a lot of times I would let him lead the way even though I was the electrician and he was the helper. He was older. I say, “Who cares, fuck, people think he the electrician and I’m following him.”

So everything, it worked good like that and I didn’t mind it. He would lead the way because he knew the attitude of some of those other folks. He’d play the role. You have some good relationships like that and nowadays, yeah, you still do.

The police though, this is the main problem. The police are killing the good for blacks and whites, makin’ all that counterproductive. Earlier in my life, I had this experience with the police, too, back then. Actually, it was a white guy who wanted to kill me and a white guy who saved my ass. I had a girlfriend and we were driving down the highway, heading toward Michigan City and, all of a sudden, it seemed like my car went airborne. A guy had hit us from the back, white guy. He was an older man, or seemed so at that time to me. He had a truck. He didn’t have his head lights on and he was so drunk he couldn’t even stand up. Man totaled my car, and the police, three squad cars, they came. First, the guy that caused the accident, they carried him home. They got him home quick. Then they began to search my car. I’m standing there and they was going all through my car and whatever and my girlfriend, she hadn’t got out the car. But they were forcing her out and she started screaming. This one police in particular gets my girlfriend and he just slamming her all everywhere. I’m like, “What the hell’s going on, man, what you all doing?”

And then I took a step.

I told you I worked at US Steel and there was a fella that used to work at US Steel and he had quit. So now, as I begin to take a step toward the police, something grabbed me and it was like a vice, another policeman. This guy says, “That guy’ll kill you!” And I’m like, “Wha . . .?”

He whispered to me that he used to work with me at US Steel. It turned out to be the guy who had quit. He restrained me. This other guy was wanting to kill me; he roughed up my girlfriend. But this other cop, from US Steel, was telling me that’s enough for that guy to shoot you, so he was holding me back. Nowadays, with what goes on, I believe it too. You know what I been seeing, he’d a shot me dead.

They took me and her to jail, but they didn’t put us in the same car. This guy, the dangerous one, he puts the handcuffs on me and he puts them on so tight, it just cuts off my circulation. Police station is way up in the woods and I just said, “Oh fuck, I’m dead.”

For me, that was it. They drove us to the police station. Both cars got there around the same time and I heard my girlfriend screaming. To this day this hurts me too. They decided she needed to be strip searched, you know how they finger you, cavity searched I guess they call it. That just broke her heart.

Luckily, I had enough money to bail us out and then we had to go to court. I hired a lawyer and he knew folks in high places and all this kind of shit. And my girlfriend worked in Crown Point at the Justice Center, as a secretary. Her bosses was all judges and lawyers and shit, so they told the police to leave us the fuck alone. That’s how she got out. She had to write some apology letter for hollering and screaming and raising hell. Later on, our friends told us the cops knew they was wrong but what they was trying to do was try to find probable cause for what they had done. And the man who caused the accident, never heard or seen him since. The guy that saved me, he was a white guy and he definitely saved me, so I’m not a complete extremist because I know he saved me. I seen the good and bad in both races, but this bad stuff really pisses me off cause it ain’t necessary.

Nowadays, I’m witnessin’ all these murders on TV. I’m hearing about all these police that shootin’ people down that’s unarmed basically for no reason and they mostly black. The cops actually tried to murder my son over in Anderson, 2-3 years ago. My son, he wasn’t a perfect American citizen. He had these tendencies to get hisself in trouble, but he’s non-violent. He’s never been in a fight in his life; violence is not in his nature, as a rule. Well, he had warrants out for his arrest; he got his ass in trouble for check fraud. I don’t know if he went to make a turn or didn’t put his signals on or if he just looked suspicious. It was at night and him and his wife was in the car. Whatever it was, police stopped him. According to him, everything was going along pretty good until this one policeman showed up. And then all of a sudden everything changed.

They demanded his wife get out the car. She was having an asthma attack and he was trying to comfort her, but they snatched her out the car. They told my son to get out the car but he couldn’t, he had his seatbelt on. One officer started spraying him in the face with that mace while he was still in the car and the other one, the one that caused all the trouble, tased him. I guess it all happened real fast and before he could get the seatbelt off, one of them started gassin’ him and the other one, when he was openin’ the door, put the taser on him. So they had him in a situation where he couldn’t breathe cause he was gassin’ to death and they electrocutin’ him all at the same time and they wonderin’ why he ain’t responding, see. He had passed out and his wife said they was still taserin’ him, even though he had already fainted. She started screamin’, “what are y’all tryin’ to do, kill my husband?”

People started comin’ out they houses and stuff, so they carryin’ him to the hospital. He said when he came to, they had him strapped.   He heard the nurse saying something like, “you tasered him 5 times?” So they tried to kill my own son. As you can imagine, with my experience, plus all this stuff goin’ on now, that really pissed me off. I don’t understand why police are not obligated to police other policeman. If I got a partner riding with me and I see he’s got craziness in him, I should have the right to say, “hey, I got a buddy and I think he needs to be evaluated or whatever.”

I had an experience with the police here like five years ago that made me mad enough that I wanted to do something to them but I couldn’t. My son had a warrant out for his arrest and one morning I was getting ready to go to work; this is like seven in the morning. They hittin’ the door like, ‘BOOM, BOOM, BOOM.’ I’m like, ‘what the fuck?’ Then you know, “POLICE, POLICE, OPEN UP!” Like fuck, I’m getting ready to go to work. I opened the door and they shoved me aside, knocked me down. This one guy says, “SHUT UP, SIT DOWN, DON’T MOVE!” And I’m like, “what the fuck’s going on? You’re in my house, I let you in.” He just tell me again, “SIT DOWN, SHUT UP, DON’T MOVE!”

They runnin’ all through in the bedroom, under the couch and I’m like, ‘what the fuck’s going on?’ “Don’t you say nothing!” they say. Then he had this picture and he said, “this ain’t you, is it?” I said, “no, this ain’t me.” I swear it seemed like that could a been handled better. He dared me to move in my own fuckin house. They should a treated me, they should treat people accordin’ to the situation. For instance, if my son was a mass murderer or some kinda well known terrorist, then I could see why they tough. All he did was wrote a damn check, they call it fraud, not violent at all, so why all this drama and force and waking up all the damn people in the apartment and commandin’ me. For what? To me, that was just too much for too little. If I’d had a weapon, they mighta killed me. That kinda stuff just angers me to death and for this country it’s a big mistake cause what they doin’ is makin’ enemies out of allies.

This story originally appeared in Facing Racism in Muncie, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by R.A.C.E. Muncie in Muncie, Indiana.

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