It was early evening and my friend Karen and I were waiting in the drive-through line at a McDonald’s somewhere in Natick. College students — bored by dorm food —- we were unusually excited about the offerings of the fast-food menu. Apparently, a lot of other people were also looking forward to a Big Mac that night as we joined a long car line. Oblivious to our surroundings, we were chatting while we moved closer to the order window. That’s how we missed the police car pulling up, and that’s why we were startled by the cop’s sharp rap on the driver’s side window.

I recently had flashbacks of this long-ago moment after watching the multi-angled footage of Rayshard Brooks’ and Atlanta police officers near a drive-through food line. They responded to a call from the window server at Wendy’s reporting that a sleeping Brooks was holding up the line. What started as a calm exchange between him and the officers quickly devolved. As the cops wrestled with handcuffs, Brooks broke away grabbing one of the cop’s tasers. Seconds later he was dead from two of three shots fired in his back by officer Garrett Rolfe. Rolfe has been charged with murder, and his partner Devin Brosnan faces three charges, including aggravated assault.

I get a chill looking at that footage. Not just because a Black man lost his life in a situation where I believe or feel strongly, were he white he would still be alive. But also, because all those years ago, we two African-American 18-year-olds found ourselves suddenly subject to police questioning. There were no cell phones back then, so there was no immediate way for us to tell anyone what was happening.

The stone-faced officer asked, "Who are you?" Odd because he had our IDs at that point.

"Why are you here? Uh, to get food.

"Where did you come from? Wellesley College.”

No response to our questions about why he was interrogating us.

Then more inspecting of our identification while he leaned into our car window scrutinizing our faces. We watched as he conferred with his partner back in his patrol car. Finally, after about 10 or 15 minutes, he gave us back our IDs. At this point, we were fairly insistent that he tell us why we were singled out. He explained that two Black women inmates had escaped from Framingham State Prison. Karen asked for the inmates’ descriptions — which didn’t match us in any way — except that they were Black women and so were we.

Even now, I wonder why the cops thought two women on the run would have risked sitting in a long food drive-thru line.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms says Rayshard Brooks’ killing is “personal to people of color” perhaps because many of us fear having a run of the mill experience escalate into something dangerous or fatal. I’ll never forget what it felt like to be targeted by those cops and not know why.

It’s obscene that Rayshard Brooks’ killing at the hands of police would come in the middle of a worldwide public protest and debate spurred by the shocking police killing of George Floyd. How many more names will be added to the long list of African Americans who’ve lost their lives while trying to live their lives? And what will it take before there is a universal acceptance that this is not about one or two bad apples, but about a system that has empowered a war trained security force? One which overwhelmingly sees African-Americans as a threat, even when they are simply in search of a burger and fries.