Grammy-winning musician and DJ Questlove has been stopped by police between 20 and 30 times in his lifetime, he told Democracy Now! in an interview this week touching on racial profiling and stop-and-frisk policies.
The co-founder and drummer for “The Roots” and music manager on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” recounted his first encounter with police, which occurred when he was a teenager growing up in Philadelphia. In 1987, he and a friend were stopped while driving back from buying the U2 album The Joshua Tree.
“A cop stopped us, and he was holding a gun on us. There is nothing like the first time that a gun is held on you,” he said. “We’re 16, mind you, like 16, 17 years old, and I just remember the protocol, I remember my father telling me, like, ‘If you’re ever in this position, you’re to slowly keep your hands up.’…How I knew that was the protocol at that young age, I mean, it’s probably a sad commentary, but it was also a matter of survival.”
Even today, he “gets stopped all the time,” he said. He was “stopped for unknown reasons” as recently as a few weeks ago. After finishing a regular Thursday night DJ gig in Brooklyn, police officers pulled over him and his driver, shined flashlights into the car, and asked him: “Why are you sitting in the back seat like a don?” The police only released him after he showed them a copy of his new memoir, Mo’ Meta Blues.
He recalled that his “most humiliating experience” occurred after a 2010 appearance for President Obama in Orange County, California. He had pulled over to call his manager when five police cars began to surround his car. Police then made him exit his car and wait in the back of a police cruiser while they searched his car.
“The stuff I had in the trunk were some psychology books and some Scrabble games. In my head, I thought, there’s no way that they’re going to believe that that stuff belongs to me.”
The next night, he won a Grammy.
In another part of the interview, he recalled that at an airport, he was suspected for being a drug dealer because he “was walking around with a lot of cash.”
“I didn’t have a chance to deposit it,” he said. But airport officials didn’t believe him and ushered him away for questioning.
On the overall experience of being stopped, he said: “It’s the most humiliated, emasculating feeling I’ve ever had. I only feel low when that happens.”
Questlove even said that when choosing a car, he avoids anything “flashy” to prevent getting pulled over.
“How much more can I play it safe? Like, I’m already purposely taking myself out of situations because I want to avoid that. But I don’t know how much more I can suppress myself to not seem like a threat,” he said. Other prominent African American men, including former Reading Rainbow host Levar Burton and U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder have talked about the advice they feel compelled to give to their sons on avoiding police encounters.
Questlove also commented on Monday’s ruling that declared New York City’s stop and frisk policy unconstitutional and an indirect form of racial profiling.
“I was highly shocked. That’s something that just came out of left field because I too was wondering, ‘will stop and frisk just be…a way of life?’”
Marina Fang is an intern for ThinkProgress.