If I wanted to get with black girls, Washington University in St. Louis in 1982 was not the right place. But St. Louis was home, I had connections and old girlfriends all around town, and I got to go tuition free, because of my father.
The thing about college is that it is an all-encompassing experience for an 18-year-old on campus. You better redirect yourself, and get into the flow, rather than try to hold on to what came before. It could be very exciting, but it was also daunting.
Steve Sisco was still my friend at this point, which was looking more and more like a bad idea as time wore on, but he had introduced me to several black guys in Webster Groves who went to his church in Rock Hill. They had all gone to Webster Groves High School.
I am changing the name of the first guy for reasons I will not disclose, (and I will write about him later), but I clicked with “Teddy Keepsberry”, Don Brown, and Milbert Bazemore. Also, I had played Legion ball with Hugh Stanfield, from Webster. Hugh and I were extremely tight in 1982. He went to Kansas to play center field, and still owns some records there. We tooled around in his late ’60’s Mustang in the summer of ’82, before and after games, listening to Roger Troutman and the Zapp Band, or Shalamar. We all loved the same music, and bonded over it.
Don and “Teddy” could play several instruments well, and we spent a lot of time imagining we were gonna be the next Prince…or get sex like Prince…or live like Prince…or…We made music and stayed current.
One Saturday night in the fall of 1983, when I was 19, Don used his mom’s van to pick up Hugh, Bert, and me. It was party time. We had beer and weed, but nowhere to go. (Hugh did not smoke; he’d probably want me to get that in there. He’s gonna see this on Facebook).
Don thought he knew a place where we could park for say, a half hour, to give us a chance to catch up, blow a spliff, and figure out where to go next. He drove to an alley on the south side of Manchester Road a little west of Rock Hill Road, in Rock Hill. Rock Hill is a little municipality, struggling financially forever as an inner ring suburb, north of Webster Groves.
He stopped the van. We started laughing and poking each other. Of course, we were on the lookout. Regarding law enforcement, Rock Hill was known for two things: it was a speed trap, and it was racist.
Before we could do anything the cops rolled up. “What are you doing? Get out of there! Let’s go! We’re taking you all to the station.” They grabbed each of us by the elbows and jammed us into squad cars for the very short trip to the station, which was virtually next door to where we were hanging out. (We were trying to hide in plain sight. Don had sat there before without incident).
This was a party of four that consisted of three black guys and one white guy. All of the cops were white. When we got to the station, they sequestered my three black friends and pulled me aside. This white man who appeared to be about 60, with a badge, and a gun, held me by my elbow and said, “What’re you doin’ with them niggers?” I said, “They’re my friends. We were just hanging out.” He didn’t like that, so he said something like, “Watch ’em! See if they’ve got contraband.” I retorted, “Right, I’ve got cocaine, and I’m gonna flush it as soon as I can.” I decided to be as disagreeable as I could with this guy. I didn’t care if he was inflamed. (Probably my privilege showing; I could almost see Bert waving his arms to get me to shut up).
That was it. We were in trouble, but thank goodness nothing tragic. We all escaped anything onerous, penalty-wise. I’m betting we would be in more trouble today, even though we seem to be figuring some things out along these lines.
This was the first time in my life that I had heard the word “nigger” come out of the mouth of an adult, and it was a Rock Hill policeman. I’m telling you, it was a seminal moment for me. From that very instant, I saw the police in a new light, a very bad one. It was a shock to the system.
Cops treated me with the utmost dignity and respect as a white boy from Berkeley Manor. Growing up, I saw cops as trusted friends who were willing to do anything for you, if you called.
I determined then and there, at the Rock Hill Police Station, in 1983, that I was on the right path in my thinking. I wasn’t paranoid. I was not mistaken about what I saw in the world. I wasn’t overdoing it, or overdramatizing it. It was real, and toxic.
I was Bobby Mack, in full.