University of Iowa defensive lineman Faith Ekakitie, who is black, has penned a thoughtful essay on deconstructing stereotypes and unlearning prejudices after being stopped by police, guns drawn, in a tense situation exacerbated by viral game sensation "Pokemon Go."
In a Rashomon-esque note posted last week to his Facebook account, Ekakitie describes the tense encounter first from his point of view, then from that of the police officers.
"Today I was surrounded and searched by approximately five Iowa City Police Officers," Ekakitie begins. "My pockets were checked, my backpack was opened up and searched carefully, and I was asked to lift up my shirt while they searched my waistband. Not once did they identify themselves to me as Iowa City Police officers, but with four gun barrels staring me in the face, I wouldn’t dare question the authority of the men and woman in front of me."
"From the police officers point of view," Ekakitie continues, "all they knew was that a bank had just been robbed less than ten minutes ago." He goes on to explain that the suspect for the robbery is both armed, and matches his description, down to the clothes he was wearing. In this version of the story, police drew their weapons only after he ignored their demands that he stop and put his hands in the air.
After telling both his and the officer's versions of the story, Ekakitie backtracks once again, this time describing the encounter with certain key details filled in—details, he explains "the media would fail to let people know." Details like the fact that he was in the neighborhood because he was on the hunt for new Pokemon to capture. Details like the fact that he couldn't hear the officers orders, because his headphones were in his ears. The stop, the armed officers, the body pat down—they were all a case of mistaken identity, one which has left Ekakitie with newfound sense of perspective when it comes to law enforcement. He writes:
I am thankful to be alive, and I do now realize, that it very well could have been me, a friend of mine, my brother, your cousin, your nephew etc. Misunderstandings happen all the time and just like that things can go south very quickly. It is extremely sad that our society has brainwashed us all to the point where we can’t feel safe being approached by the police officers in our respective communities. Not all police officers are out to get you, but at the same time, not all people who fit a criminal profile are criminals.
An official with the University of Iowa confirmed to ESPN.com the account given by Ekakitie, and a representative from the Iowa City police department told the website that Ekakitie was indeed stopped for matching the description of a bank robbery suspect in the area. That representative also claims the officers were in full uniform.
Speaking with The Des Moines Register, Sgt. Jorey Bailey dismissed any accusations that Ekakitie was stopped for the color of his skin, telling the paper, "I don't think race played a factor in this, nor does it in circumstances like this because of the detailed description, the location given by the person and the short time span in which this all occurred."
Since writing about his experience, Ekakitie's story has garnered nearly 1,800 likes and almost 1,500 shares. Readers have flooded the note with messages of thanks and support. Writes one commenter:
Thank God that this situation ended the way that it did. Very well handled and I can only imagine the fear, adrenaline, and confusion that you were feeling. [B]ut you handled yourself perfectly and your [sic] right this all could have had a very different outcome! I think about this as well my son is out there with you and that could have very easily been him instead of you.
Ekakitie, for his part, is surprisingly open-minded about the experience, thanking the ICPD for their professionalism, and urging the public to be more aware of their surroundings, lest they find themselves in similarly fraught circumstance.
"Lastly," he writes, "I would urge us all to at least to attempt to unlearn some of the prejudices that we have learned about each other and now plague our minds and our society. I am convinced that in the same way that we learned these prejudices, we can also unlearn them."