This Black Professor Who ‘Fit The Description’ Tells A Story We ALL Need To Hear

Massachusetts College of Art and Design Professor Steve Locke was walking to grab some lunch before teaching a class recently, wearing a brown blazer over his hooded sweatshirt and a knit cap made especially for him by a friend. Complete with his college ID lanyard around his neck, Locke was minding his own business when he was stopped by a police officer.

Stunned, Locke immediately removed his hands from his pockets to show that he wasn’t a threat. This is how he described the situation on his personal blog, which is typically reserved for “art and other stuff”:

“Hey my man,” he said.

He unsnapped the holster of his gun.

I took my hands out of my pockets.

“Yes?”  I said.

“Where you coming from?”


Where’s home?”


How’d you get here?”

“I drove.”

He was next to me now.  Two other police cars pulled up.  I was standing in from of the bank across the street from the burrito place.  I was going to get lunch before I taught my 1:30 class.  There were cops all around me.

I said nothing.  I looked at the officer who addressed me.  He was white, stocky, bearded.

“You weren’t over there, were you?” He pointed down Centre Street toward Hyde Square.

“No. I came from Dedham.”

“What’s your address?”

I told him.

“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”

A second police officer stood next to me; white, tall, bearded.  Two police cruisers passed and would continue to circle the block for the 35 minutes I was standing across the street from the burrito place.

“You fit the description,” the officer said. “Black male, knit hat, puffy coat.  Do you have identification.”

He fit the description. His brown blazer was now a puffy coat. The knit cap, which was hand-made of bright colors and looks like no other was suddenly an identifier. Black male they got right. They always get that one right. After explaining that he was a college professor and pointing out the ID hanging around his neck, he gave the officer his ID. At this point he was surrounded by police on foot with two cruisers circling the area as well. Locke was so nervous he had to clasp his hands in front of him to stop them from shaking.

The police informed him that they had the victim and they were going to have her “take a look” at him to see if he was the suspect. That’s when being stopped for walking while black got very real for art professor Steve Locke. This extremely powerful account of the next few minutes of his life isn’t something that will be easily forgotten:

It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die.  I am not being dramatic when I say this.  I was not going to get into a police car.  I was not going to present myself to some victim.  I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery.  I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially.  I knew this in my heart.  I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal.  This meant that I was going to resist arrest.  This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

If you are wondering why people don’t go with the police, I hope this explains it for you.

It explains it very well. Locke did nothing wrong. The only thing about him that fit the description was “black.” You can be sure that had he been a white man he would have been apologized to and let go in about 12 seconds when the police saw his college ID. For Locke, standing in the community meant nothing.

Standing uncomfortably and silent while waiting for the victim of a crime he had nothing to do with to decide his fate, Locke took notice of some of the onlookers:

An older white woman walked behind me and up to the second cop.  She turned and looked at me and then back at him.  “You guys sure are busy today.”

I noticed a black woman further down the block.  She was small and concerned.  She was watching what was going on.  I focused on her red coat.  I slowed my breathing.  I looked at her from time to time.

I thought: Don’t leave, sister. Please don’t leave.

A detective brought the victim, questioned Locke a bit more and then let him go. One of the cops apologized for ruining his lunch break. After the incident, Locke had a moment with the concerned woman in the red dress:

“Thank you,” I said to her.  “Thank you for staying.”

“Are you ok?”  She said.  Her small beautiful face was lined with concern.

“Not really.  I’m really shook up.  And I have to get to work.”

“I knew something was wrong.  I was watching the whole thing.  The way they are treating us now, you have to watch them. ”

“I’m so grateful you were there.  I kept thinking to myself, ‘Don’t leave, sister.’  May I give you a hug?”

“Yes,” she said. She held me as I shook.  “Are you sure you are ok?”

“No I’m not.  I’m going to have a good cry in my car.  I have to go teach.”

The tragic nature of this entire situation goes beyond words. You can read Professor Locke’s entire story in his own words HERE. You’ll never forget it.

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