Trevor Baptiste: 'What Does Black Mean to You?'

PHOTO BY DEVIN MANKY


Trevor Baptiste is a professional lacrosse player for the PLL's Atlas LC and a U.S. men's national team gold medalist. The former Denver faceoff man is one of the most recognizable players in our sport. In the wake of the death of George Floyd, he told Rob Pannell during his “Monday MeetUp” series that he was assaulted by a police officer when he was 17. This is his full story, as told to US Lacrosse Magazine’​s Matt Hamilton.

I was 17. I was at this park, and I was with four of my friends, three girls and one guy. I was the only black person there.

We get to the park as the sun was setting. It was still light outside, but it was a really nice sunset. We were sitting on the jungle gym, the part that was done. Half of the jungle gym had caution tape around it. We weren’t doing anything wrong, we were just hanging out.

We see a light shine on us from really far away, behind the trees. We were like, “Oh, maybe we should get off the jungle gym.” The way it happened was very sudden and someone was trying to get our attention.

We get off the jungle gym and a policeman comes on his loudspeaker, and I couldn’t really tell it was a police officer in his car. He goes on and says, “If I were you guys, I’d come back.” I’m like, “Alright, let’s go back.” The way the park was set up, our cars were in between him and the jungle gym. We started walking back toward the officer, and he might have thought we were trying to walk to our car and get away — trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

We’re not running, we’re not evading him or anything. He’s like ripping his car over to our cars, and then we met at the parking lot. It’s me and a friend to my right and left, and then he sees me and grabs his gun and he’s like, “Freeze.” I’m like, “Alright.” I froze and put my hands up. We’re all surprised and taken aback wondering why he was getting so hot. We were walking over to you. We just wanted to talk.

He throws me up against the car and throws me around a little bit and then he’s like, “You got anything you can stab me with?” I said, “No.” Before I could answer, he’s ruffling around my pockets and taking my keys and wallet and phone out of my pocket, frisking me hard. He keeps saying, “Don’t move.” I wasn’t moving. I was pissed because I was getting thrown around and I wasn’t moving. He kept telling to not move and then he says, “If you move one more time you’re going to hit the f------ pavement.” I’m like, “Oh my God, this cop is going to throw me on the pavement and I’m going to bust my face.”

Once he said that, I closed my eyes and took a huge breath in bracing myself, because I know he’s going to flip me. He’s going to take me down. He realizes halfway that I was trying really hard not to move, but my whole body was silent. He threw cuffs on me pretty tight and put me in the back of his police car. Right before he closes the door, I said, “Am I allowed to ask you a question?” He goes, “Hold on,” and closes the door.

Meanwhile, one of my friends is yelling at him the whole time, and he ignores her. The other girl just starts crying. I’m in the back of the police car, and he’s talking to the two girls. He’s trying to get a story or something, but there is no story. He realizes that pretty quickly. It seemed like he was telling them to call their parents and they could go home now. The one girl was really mad and yelling at him, but he doesn’t say anything to her. He doesn’t touch her at all. I was confused why I was in the back of the car because I was the calm one.







He comes back in the car and says, “You still want to be stupid and ask me a question?” I was like, “Yes. Can I call my parents?” He was like, “Why would you want to do that?” I said I was 17, and I was pretty sure you could do that. Then he goes, “Oh. OK.” I really surprised him that I was 17. Once he heard that, he was like “Oh s---.” He took me out of the car, and his whole mood changed.

I took every precaution I could. He took the cuffs off me, and I was like, “Hey man, I’m going to keep my hands on the car.” I’m shaking, and he’s all of sudden trying to calm me down saying he had my best interest. He didn’t have my best interest 20 minutes ago when he threw me in the car.

I was fortunate that nothing really bad happened to me. I am lucky that was the case. He’s saying that I’m going to hit the pavement if I’m going to move. What if I move my ankle a little bit or took a side step? Then my arm could be broken or my face could have been scraped up. What I felt like, because of how I looked, I was guilty to him until I was proven innocent. The only thing that got me out of it was, “Can I call my parents?”

When I’m 17, and I’m sure a lot of African-American men can relate, I had been through stuff before that. Never to that degree, but my parents taught me since I was younger that some people are just not going to like me and that racism does exist. “If you get pulled over, call us and put the volume down so we can hear what’s going on.” All different types of things. I have to almost calculate my every move just to be OK. “When you’re walking alone outside, don’t wear a hood.”  I’m like, “All my friends do.”  You get to learn it as you get older.

It’s just sad seeing what’s happening with George Floyd. I feel hurt. I feel so much for him and his family, but one thing that I don’t want to lie about how I feel is, how many times are we going to let this happen? That’s how I really felt more so than any other time. How many more times can this happen?

Everyone needs to look at themselves and figure out how they can help with this issue, and that includes me. I was talking to my friend in high school who is black, and there are a lot of things that I could have done better. In some ways, I was intimidated and wasn’t ready to lead in that way and have those conversations. I could have been a voice back then, and I didn’t really know that.

Everyone’s afraid of things being a little awkward. When something like this happens, it becomes so visible as a topic, it just opens up the door for me to explain myself and the things I’ve gone through. Being a big name in lacrosse, I kind of have to. There is a little of that pressure to say something. I have a platform and it’s important that I’m using it.

When the video was published, everyone said it was horrible and condemned it. They were like, “This is just terrible.”  What the big issue is — yes, there are some racist people out there that do terrible things — but the bigger issue is the systemic issue and how people are conditioned to feel about black people. What does black mean to you? Whatever that answer is, why did you come up with that? There is this picture of blackness that America has that they didn’t think of on their own.

That’s where the oppression starts. That’s the issue.

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