Staring down the barrel of racism

Updated: Oct 30, 2020

"In My America, you gotta pick your struggle."

In a way, Brandon Palmore is thankful he was held at a gunpoint when he was 18. It showed him how easily police in California could profile him for nothing other than being black.

To rebel against that reality, he made up his mind to go to college to get away as far as possible.

Now, at 25, Palmore is working toward his Ed.D. in higher education leadership, coordinates The University of Louisiana at Lafayette fraternal community, and understands that talking about racist encounters is something America needs to do to move forward. He hadn’t talked much about his experience staring down the barrel of a police gun because he was black. He had never even told his mother, because he thought the experience was too shameful.

Palmore grew up in a two-parent household in Tujunga, CA. In most ways, his life was average. Their family wasn’t poor, but they did struggle occasionally. Palmore said they all worked together to contribute to the happiness of the household. That said, Palmore didn’t feel he was any different from the rest of the kids until one incident when he was about 7.

Palmore and his older brother were riding their bikes by the road when a truck with a Nazi flag drove by.

“N****rs!” yelled someone from the truck. “Go home, N****rs!”

Palmore did go home to ask his mother what a “n****r” was. He didn’t know the word, and as any child, he repeated it to his mother hoping to understand it better. His mother started crying. They had a long conversation that day about the meaning of the word, the history behind it and why he should never call anybody that. It was the first time Palmore experienced being treated differently for something that was out of his control.

Later, Palmore and his family moved from a white neighborhood of Tujunga to a black neighborhood in Pasadena, CA. School experience was excitingly different from what he knew before. There, he wasn’t everybody’s black friend anymore. He was just Brandon.

“It was humbling, empowering and good to be not the only black person,” said Palmore.

“I got to explore what it meant to be Brandon instead of being what everybody thought Brandon should be because of his skin color,” said Palmore. “It really makes a difference when you can find a space with people you can identify with. That allows you to truly become yourself.”

The gunpoint experience came after Palmore graduated high school. Palmore was driving his brother-in-law to pick up his little sister from the elementary school. They stopped by a police officer and asked for directions because his brother-in-law didn’t know how to get there.

There was nothing unusual about the communication, said Palmore. The policeman explained to them how to get to the school, they thanked him and drove away. Or that’s what they thought of it.

Driving away, they saw the same policeman getting in the car and following them. They made a couple of turns just to be sure, and, indeed, the police car was still on their tail. No lights, no sirens, just following. They decided to drive home. When Palmore pulled to his home’s driveway, the two police officers turned their lights on and ran to Palmore’s car. The next thing Palmore knew, the gun barrel was pointed at his face.

He reportedly matched the description for a murder suspect from the previous night, one policeman explained. Palmore was 18, and he was wearing a t-shirt and jeans, nothing unusual about him. He recalled asking not to do this in front of his mother’s house.

Survival became more important than anything else. Palmore remembered sitting on the curb in front his mother’s house, his brother-in-law still in the car with a gun to his face. The policeman, who looked Hispanic, asked Palmore questions. “Why are you here? Where were you yesterday this time? Show me some ID, right now!” Nothing specific was about the questions, they were just going to arrest him. He was keenly aware that if he did something wrong, he would be shot.

“Staring at a gun barrel is a very humbling and surreal experience. It is not one of those things you look at and think ‘Oh, it’s gonna be fine.’ No. This person has the power of life and death in his hands right now. And if I do something that scares him…all he has to do is to pull the trigger, and I am dead.”

To this day, Palmore doesn’t know if his mother saw what was happening. She was in the house when it was happening. He never asked because it was too embarrassing. What if they would have shot him and his body was lying there in front of his house?

“I wouldn’t want my mom to see me like that,” said Palmore.

The policeman cuffed Palmore and put him in the back of the police car. Meanwhile, his brother-in-law was taken out of Palmore’s car and sat down on his knees. The police woman checked his documents.

“The only reason we got out of this because he had his military ID on him,” said Palmore.

“Oh, well, someone in the military wouldn’t do this,” said the police officers and Immediately released both Palmore and his brother-in-law. They apologized, told them to have a good day and drove away, just like that.

“I am glad we made it through that,” said his brother-in-law, after sitting in silence in the car to go pick up his little sister.

“I am glad you had your military ID on you. They thought we killed somebody,” said Palmore, started the car and drove to the school.

He believes the police officers lied about him fitting the description of the robbery suspect.

“They just saw two black men in the car. Let’s call it for what it is.”

He never checked if there was an actual murder a day before or reported the accident. He was just happy to survive.

The incident made Palmore leave California to study in Oklahoma.

“I applied to one college, and one college only,” said Palmore.

A couple of years earlier he and his brother went to a black colleges expo in Los Angeles and met a recruiter for Langston University.

“In America, you gotta pick your struggle,” the recruiter told Palmore. “You can’t afford being black and uneducated.”

The words stuck with Palmore, and he did apply for the Langston University when the time came. After staring into the gun barrel, Palmore cleared his mind of doubts and went. Since then, he learned that studying was what he was good at and made it all the way to Texas to get his master’s and now to Louisiana for his doctorate degree.

During his college life, Palmore didn’t talk a lot about being held at a gunpoint. Now, he has become conscious that in today’s current political environment, people need to talk about this kind of experiences. Realizing that profiling exists and that there are some systems in place in America that put minorities at a disadvantage is the first step to making things better.

At his current job at The University of Louisiana at Lafayette, students often come to Palmore to tell him about instances of being treated unfairly. When he is asked to share his story, he never edits it. He wants it to be real.