Pokémon GO has exploded all over my life. My friends are playing it at work, others are boasting finds in my Facebook feed– this morning I watched a young family catch something outside my gate on their way to the farmer’s market. But I can’t stop thinking about this essay I read: Pokémon GO is a Death Sentence if you are a Black Man..
I have never been as aware of my white-based public safety as the time we were playing an Amazing Race-style game that required us to stop strangers in downtown Los Angeles and ask them if they had something for us. At one point we were even running toward Union Station, one of us yelling, “We have to do it now, we’re running out of time!”
My brain kept whispering, “Nobody is even batting an eye, while you’re running past people who would be detained, if not flat-out shot for doing what you’re doing.”
My friend was sure she’d found one of the “informants” who had our next clue. She called me over and told me she’d asked him if he had something, and he said that depended on if she could tell him what train you take to Hollywood. “This is how we get our next clue! Tell him, tell him!” The only problem was he was now being questioned by two bike cops who assumed he was harassing us.
This is where I mention he was black.
“I’m just going to give him directions,” I said.
“Ma’am, you don’t have to do that,” the officers said as they talked in code over the receivers near their shoulders.
“I want to,” I said. I was pretty sure he was the informant, but my friend was getting nervous, and it was getting tense around us. What am I supposed to say to the officers— “We’re okay here?” I didn’t summon them, they were already bothering him when I walked up, and I was frustrated that they thought they were interrupting either a drug deal or a panhandler — both of which were entirely race-based assumptions.
As officers again told us we should just walk away, I instead told the informant how to get to Hollywood. He opened up a folder from his messenger bag, and handed me my next clue.
He then turned to the bike cops. “It’s a GAME,” he said. After the officers left, I was feeling so shitty.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “All of that sucked.”
“You guys are the only ones with the clue, by the way,” he said. “None of these other people have even once come up to me.”
I would never play Pokémon GO — especially at night — because it sounds like the perfect way to get hit by a car, followed, or mugged. The things I have to think about when I walk alone out there are for who/what I am and what has happened to me. But it’s an entirely different thing to realize you can’t play a kid game because it makes you behave in a way that gets racists and profilers feeling antsy. Or maybe it isn’t different at all. Whatever it is, it’s definitely not a game.