I was driving behind our bandleader, Hosea, en route to the after party. He was in his candy-apple-red Toyota; I was in my taxi-yellow Ford. We had just played an awesome gig at Ruby Tuesday and were driving to the sax player’s house to celebrate. It was around 2:30 am and we were still pumped from the show. The gig was a packed house: we played well and the crowd loved us. Hosea did an extended bass solo that night and nailed every note. He was especially jazzed after the show; people were clapping and hollering during his solo and everyone had a magical night.
We were driving south on Cleveland Avenue—our adrenaline still racing from the gig. He was going a little fast—about 10 miles over the speed limit—and I wasn’t sure if he was showing off or just excited to get to Vinny’s house. I kept my pace with him, but he was ahead of me by a quarter mile or so. Unfortunately a cop spotted him and pulled him over. I wasn’t sure what to do—I’d never been to Vinny’s before—so I pulled over, too. My car was directly behind the cop’s—about twenty feet or so.
The cop quickly assessed the situation: black man driving fast in a nice sports car. He didn’t get out of the squad car; instead he flashed a spotlight on Hosea. My heart began to race. Then the cop called for backup. Within a few minutes another cop car came screaming to the scene. The spotlight was kept on Hosea the entire time; I thought it was an overreaction since he was only going 10 miles over the limit. The second cop car pulled up; I rolled down my window and got the cop’s attention to let him know that Hosea was my friend, we just finished a gig and were headed to a party. The cop told me to shut up.
Both cops exited their vehicles and approached Hosea, their guns drawn. They pulled open the driver-side door and told him to get out of the car. I screamed out but he couldn’t hear me—the cops were giving him a verbal lashing. “Is this your car?! Why are you driving so fast?!?! Where are you going? Where’s your license? Where’s your registration?!” I kept shouting: “He did nothing wrong! We’re going to a party!” but they ignored me. Had I been more courageous I would’ve left my car, approached the cops and told them what happened. But I was frozen with fear.
Through the side-view mirror I could see Hosea’s face: he had an expression of calm resignation. I could tell this wasn’t his first rodeo: he had an almost zen-like quality to him, even though two guns were pointed at his head. The wave he’d been riding since the show had completely ebbed to frustration and gloom. An hour before he was a rock star—now he was treated like a thief or a thug. And all for one reason: a black man was driving fast in a nice sports car.
One of the cops kept his gun fixed on Hosea while the other retrieved his license and returned to his squad car to run his credentials. My heart was beating so hard I could feel it throbbing in my temples. The spotlight was firmly on him—two blue flashes of police lightbars creating ominous shadows throughout the deserted street. Hosea stood there in quiet solemnity as he waited for the cop to determine his fate. I called out to him: “Hosea! Are you okay?”
He responded nonchalantly: “Yeah…it’s cool, man.”
Even though Hosea and I are situated five-feet apart onstage, we actually live in different universes. I didn’t realize that until now. His treatment by the cops opened my eyes to the injustice of his heritage. I thought I knew him well, but after witnessing this I realized how little I knew or understood. My Italian/German heritage provided me great privileges that I took for granted; his Negro heritage made him the target of constant judgment and fear, probably dating back to adolescence. His facial expression said it all—it was a look I will never forget. During the interrogation, as my eyes searched his, I could almost read his thoughts: “This is what it means to be a black man in America. And now you know.” It was a secret I now understood.
I will never forget that night, nor will I ever forget the expression on his face. I look at every minority a little different now, knowing there are many things that white people will never understand about the burdens they bear in silence. They have my sympathy, my respect and my prayers. Peace.
Hosea L. Hooks III is the bandleader of State of Mind, a jazz/funk group that plays throughout Columbus. Pete Vogel is a former member of the band.