“We Are Being Hunted”

Lucy Gellman File PhotoTonisha Dawson was on her way home when she saw the flashing lights behind her, a cop motioning for her to pull over. Her heart began beating a little faster in her chest, throat constricting as she reminded herself: Stay calm. Obey the law. Her uncle was a detective with the New Haven Police Department (NHPD), and she could pick his brain about the incident — and more like it that she had observed — when she got home. If she got home.

The cop stepped out of his vehicle. She took a deep breath.

“Hey, your lights are off,” he said. “Just wanted to make sure they were off before I ...” she recalls him trailing off. “Just stay safe.”

Despite the niceties, Dawson found herself shaken by the event. She drove home to her three young sons; they didn’t talk about her interaction with the police. She kept moving forward.

That was until she heard about the death of Alton Sterling, a father of five in Baton Rouge. And Thursday morning, when she awoke to the news that Philando Castile had been shot four times while reaching for his driver’s license and registration. She found herself watching the aftermath as it played out on the internet and breaking down completely. In her mind: Her boys, and how she was going to keep them safe even when they did everything right. 

“It’s going crazy,” she thought. “You think back to years and years before where we had prices on our head. It seems like it’s almost gone back to that.”

Thursday afternoon, Dawson joined New Haveners Julius Stone, Jr. and host Alisa Bowens for a special episode of Bowens’ weekly “Culture Cocktail” on WNHH radio to discuss the deaths of Sterling and Castile at the hands of law enforcement officers, how New Haven is responding, and where the #BlackLivesMatter movement is almost two years after the events in Ferguson, Missouri. Their conversation also happened before five Dallas, Texas police officers were shot to death and several others wounded Thursday night.

For Dawson, the shootings were especially harrowing in their nature and part of what she sees as an exhausting pattern that has become jarringly familiar. 

“I’m afraid of cops, let’s just that put that out there,” she said. “I don’t like cops. A cop tried to stop me because my headlights weren’t on ... literally my heart was palpating through my stomach almost just so he could tell me that my headlights weren’t on and it was an oversight on my end. I’m so sick and tired of these scaredy-cat cops, because it’s those ones that are shooting. It’s the ones you can tell you probably weren’t that popular in high school, you probably didn’t have any friends, you had no power, you were scrawny you were small and now you have a gun in your hand and you and you use it at every opportunity that you get. I’m going to need you to work behind a desk, dress the mannequins at Macy’s, become a bikini waxer. I don’t care what you need to do, but you need to take off that blue uniform and sit behind somebody’s desk or work in the drive-through, I don’t know. It’s unfortunate that pulling out your firearm is the first thing that you do when you’re dealing with a black life.”

Part of her fear, she added, comes from the fact that she’s a mom — and a co-parent — to three young black men. That’s three lives that she’s not sure she and her husband alone can protect anymore.

“It’s hard,” she said. “You can’t protest, because then we’re inhumane…. And then if you stand back and do nothing it continues to go on. And I’m nervous. I have three boys. I don’t have daughters, I have boys…. I get nervous to send my son to go pick up the Chinese food. Because God forbid they think you’re somebody else, or that you look like somebody else, or like someone that did something. Or he’s black and he has a black hoodie on. I do know the police’s job is to protect and to serve, that is their job. For us and for society.”

Bowens agreed. “We just need to have an open conversation here,” she said at the top of the episode. “It’s sad that we wake up, for the last couple days, and we see a continuing mistreatment and just utter lack of regard for — and I’m going to say it — black lives. It’s not all lives matter anymore. It’s a blatant attack on especially the African American community, especially the African American male community…. I have a father, I have a brother, I have cousins, I have uncles and I have friends who are black males and this has to stop. We are being hunted. We are being killed. We are being basically lynched and destroyed and it has to absolutely stop.”

“What Do We Do?”

Stone pushed for the importance of both having a national conversation, and localizing it.

“A four-year-old was in the car,” he said. “Who is going to be traumatized for the rest of her life…. That’s the thing that boggles my brain. That there are these children who are being traumatized and they’re not going to get their dads back. You know, they’re not going to get back that innocence that was taken away from them. You know, that young man who was bawling, who lost his dad in Baton Rouge, crying, he probably lost his best friend. I think about it and I’m like: I don’t even know how I’d be able to react, you know, if that happened to me or happened to my father or my brother. It’s one of those things where it’s just like, what do you do? What do we do?”

“Let’s talk about the fact that when the standoff in Oregon happened and all those men had shotguns and rifles and not a single person got stopped or killed,” he added. “It’s just such a double standard in the country that is just … you get Jesse Williams who speaks out and you get 10,000 white folks who are angry about the fact that Jesse Williams spoke some truth and what baffles my brain is if you sat and you listened to what he was saying he wasn’t spewing hate speech he was spewing truth. It wasn’t like he was going off on a tangent or going off on some random made-up facts, the man was talking truth.”

He also had some advice for those hoping to be allies in what is already, to him, very much a political battle.

“If you’re an ally, listen, listen and listen again,” he said. “Stop telling us what and how you feel about and start listening to how we feel about it. We get that you’re in it with us on the struggle, but you don’t live the lives we live. You don’t live in the skin we live in so I’m going to need you to listen to us, pay attention to what’s going on, we’re not just talking just to be talking, this stuff is happening for real.”

A Mayor’s Message

The episode came as Mayor Toni Harp announced that she stood with the families of the victims, and would be working with the New Haven Police Department to maintain a good relationship with the city’s residents. 

“I join the entire New Haven community in shock and sadness after the recent, deadly violence – so graphically documented – in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and suburban St. Paul, Minnesota. Heartsick only begins to describe how I feel: this is every mother’s worst fear and I grieve for the loved ones of these men,” she said.

“Every mayor in the nation dreads a comparable incident. New Haven is fortunate to have well-trained, highly disciplined police personnel on duty, greatly reducing the risk of a similar circumstance here.”


To listen to the full episode of Alisa’s Culture Cocktail, click on or download the audio above or subscribe to “WNHH Community Radio” or “Elm City Lowdown” on Soundcloud or iTunes.

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posted by: AliceB on July 8, 2016  10:31am

Maybe I’m missing something but when you got pulled over you stated that your heart was palpitating and you were really nervous and scared. Well, I’m not black but when I was pulled over that is exactly how I felt. Everyone feels that way. The officer was telling you your lights were not on??  Aren’t they suppose to do that??  It isn’t just your safety but the safety of others.
Looks to me like you are just looking for some reason to portray yourself as a victim.
When we get pulled over we know we probably did something wrong and that is what gives us anxiety
Maybe the blame for the negative perception of the police is the fault of the press. Every time a police officer Is killed during a routine stop (and they happen often throughout the country)  it does not make the headline. The race of the shooter is not plastered over the front page. But when what happened in Minnesota or Louisiana occurs there if is !!  Now we have Dallas.

posted by: markcbm on July 8, 2016  11:14am


“When we get pulled over we know we probably did something wrong and that is what gives us anxiety
Maybe the blame for the negative perception of the police is the fault of the press.”

You must have your head in the sand. There are abundant examples of folks being pulled over for no good reason, especially folks of color.  And sometimes these stops have seriously negative and even deadly consequences for those in the car, despite their lawful behavior.

Are all the videos that have been released that show exactly this really not enough evidence to you of a very real, tragic problem?

Blindness such as yours, as well as the dismissiveness that follows, is what makes folks want to grab rifles and target police officers for revenge.  Also, for what it’s worth, when cops are killed in the line of duty, it absolutely does make the news.

I support the police and think they have a tremendously difficult job to do.  And I think that the overwhelming majority of police are not racist, and that most of the rest aren’t intentionally racist, but that racism has ingrained harmful prejudices that cause them to view black people as more threatening than other groups.

When you write, “Looks to me like you are just looking for some reason to portray yourself as a victim,” it looks to me like you are doing everything in your power to overlook the basis for other people’s experiences and views.

Blacks have been suffering injustice at the hands of police everyday in this country and have been since slavery - it’s just that finally people can document and disseminate the injustice so that it can become news… so that folks who don’t get it can, when confronted with the evidence, wake up, open their eyes, and pull their heads out of the sand. 

Please, wake up!

posted by: NHLifer0411 on July 8, 2016  11:49am

I have to agree with Alice B. Most folks get nervous when a police officer pulls them over. The difference is that most times when whites get pulled over the worst that happens is that they get a ticket. When blacks, particularly men, get pulled over they have to make sure they aren’t killed.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson on July 8, 2016  11:53am

Please. Let’s get real here - nobody likes to get stopped by cops, nobody.

But we should all be even more afraid of racist snipers.


posted by: Morgan Leah on July 8, 2016  2:41pm

You are so worried about the cops, yet african american men are killing each other at 1000 times the rate the cops kill african americans.  What was it 69 in Chicago over 3 days.

You should be more nervous about being shot by a black man then the cops.

posted by: NHLifer0411 on July 8, 2016  5:04pm

@ DrHunterSThompson .

“But we should all be even more afraid of racist snipers.”

Yup, like the Sniper in the SC church, and the sniper in the CT school, or Columbine, or the several dozen other mass killings in this country. I ask you though, what do they all have in common, besides the Dallas massacre?

@Morgan Leah

“You are so worried about the cops, yet african american men are killing each other at 1000 times the rate the cops kill african americans.  What was it 69 in Chicago over 3 days. You should be more nervous about being shot by a black man then the cops.”

And what has that have to do with folks getting assassinated by law enforcement officers? The difference between the Chicago murders and the the cop killings is that the murderers in Chicago are brought to justice when caught. The cop killers never pay for their crimes.

posted by: Lyfesworth on July 8, 2016  6:19pm

@Morgan Leah
It’s the on going excuse “look at black on black crime”. If you pull your head out you butt you would see most crimes are committed by people of the same race. White on white crime is at 85% but you won’t read about that cause it doesn’t sell! The real issue is WE pay the police to protect and serve, not to control and condemn. It’s a tragedy what has happened on all fronts. These senseless killings of both civilians and law need to stop! But having a badge doesn’t give you a pass to violate another person’s constitutional rights!

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 8, 2016  7:17pm

From the mouth of a good Cop.

The Police Are Still Out of Control

I should know.

By Frank Serpico
  | October 23, 2014


Even police officers of color are afraid of being stop by the fellow white officers.

Off duty, black cops in New York feel threat from fellow police .

Reuters interviewed 25 African American male officers on the NYPD, 15 of whom are retired and 10 of whom are still serving. All but one said that, when off duty and out of uniform, they had been victims of racial profiling, which refers to using race or ethnicity as grounds for suspecting someone of having committed a crime. The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them.


They even pulled over a Black Off-Duty NYPD Police Chief.

Cop Harasses Off-Duty NYPD Police Chief Who He Didn’t Recognize

Zeigler is the highest-ranking African American officer in the NYPD. He says point blank that he was the victim of racial profiling He explains that he was parked in a department-issued SUV, but was wearing plainclothes. That’s when two lower-ranking NYPD officers approached him,After they ordered him to get out, one officer did not believe the NYPD identification Zeigler gave him.”


So give me a break with this When we get pulled over we know we probably did something wrong and that is what gives us anxiety.

posted by: MyTwoCents on July 8, 2016  11:24pm

On the news this evening was a story about a white Branford man pointing a gun at an off-duty police officer during a road rage incident.  He didn’t just have a gun on his person, he actually POINTED it at the officer.  The man was not executed on the spot, instead he was subsequently arrested, and rightfully so.

Contrast that with a road rage incident that happened a couple of weeks ago involving a black motorist and white off-duty cop.  The motorist started punching the cop through the car window and had no weapon other than his fist.  He wasn’t given the luxury of being arrested, he was just shot dead.

I wholeheartedly condemn the killing of police officers.  I believe the preponderance of them are fair minded people who do the best they can in a very difficult profession.  But I also know there are some who have no business wearing that uniform, brandishing weapons, knowing they can get away with whatever, by using that old police card “I feared for my life”. 

Justice has to be administered equally, or else it’s not justice.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson on July 9, 2016  9:28am

NHLifer - you forgot Tennessee, yesterday.