What was Terence Cutcher thinking about before those Tulsa, Okla., police killed him?
Every time cops stop me while I’m driving my car in the middle of the night, I begin thinking about how good my funeral will be. I think about a packed funeral home with standing room only. I have lots of friends, and I know they will have lots of really tender and heartwarming things to say about me. There will be people who knew me from my teenage years who’ll probably talk about the days I used to be down with Suspense, the dancehall-reggae group. Somebody will joke about the times I dyed my hair blond and auburn and could “Bruk Up” with the best of them.
People love embarrassing dead folks.
Somebody will talk how we met in prison and how I helped so many folks with their preparation for release. Some people will talk about the college prison program I ran while inside. I hope somebody will boast about how nice I was in basketball early in those prison years. Some of the friends I met in prison will talk about the youth-mentoring program I started and brought with me out of the prison and into schools all over New York City and beyond.
I imagine there will be some words about how my writing was textured and honest—I hope it was as honest as I thought it was. Maybe Brandon Stanton from Humans of New York will say a few words about the time he featured me on his blog. I bet some of my writer buddies will write amazing pieces about me and the work I did while I was here.
I smile thinking about some of the young people I cared so much about going to the front of that funeral hall and saying some kind words about how I impacted their lives. They will probably say words like “lit” and “my nigga,” and some of the older folks in the room will cringe a little, but they will realize that those kids are just letting their hearts leak without filter.
Of course someone will bring up my love of soca parties—which I try to keep to myself—but hey, everyone experienced me differently, and I won’t be upset with them for sharing different corners of my life. I bet some of my family and friends in Trinidad will fly in for the funeral. My funeral after-party is going to be the best mourning party ever. I imagine my nephew burning some potent trees in my memory and everyone else pouring a little something out for me. That’s the hood ritual.
I try not to think about my mother and sister uncontrollably crying and screaming. At least two people will have to contain my sister. I don’t know if my father could survive another tragedy that involves me, especially with his health not being what it was even three years ago. And I feel like my brother, whom I share a complicated relationship with, will react with emotions no one knew he had.
I thought about all of this the last time the cops stopped me for no reason while I was driving my black car in Flatbush in Brooklyn. It was just over a month ago. They said my window tints were too dark, but I had them checked by two different car shops the following day—and guess what? Both of the shops said that I was nowhere near the illegal tint percentage. The cops did not even have a tint meter to test the tints on the car. Hell, I didn’t know a tint meter existed before that incident in Flatbush.
When they stopped me, I wasn’t thinking about tint meters. I was thinking about my funeral.
After I gave the cop my license as requested, he asked me, “How do I know this is you?” I was stuck. Why would he even doubt that I had a false ID if he was only stopping me for illegal tints—without a tint meter to test my window?
I wonder what statements the cops will make in the press conference about how I died. I wonder how early in the news articles and television news segments will they mention that I was a felon—first or second paragraph?
In that moment when those cops stopped me for no reason while I was driving my car in Flatbush, I remember thinking about death—my death more than anything else.
Crutcher did not survive the Tulsa police, but I bet he knew that he wouldn’t. I bet he was filled with fear and resignation because he knew that his time was up—that it was his turn to be a hashtag. And I bet, in his final moments, that he was thinking about his children and how much harder their lives would be without him there. Because black people like Terence and me, we understand that the only clear way to survive a police encounter is not to encounter police at all.
When we see those police lights flash behind us, we prepare for our funerals.
Marlon Peterson is an Ebony magazine “Power 100” honoree from Brooklyn, N.Y. He is a TED resident and is working on his first book. Follow him on Twitter