Louisville Magazine

MAR 2019

Louisville Magazine is Louisville's city magazine, covering Louisville people, lifestyles, politics, sports, restaurants, entertainment and homes. Includes a monthly calendar of events.

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108 LOUISVILLE MAGAZINE 3.19 WE BY ARIELLE CHRISTIAN PHOTO BY JOON KIM In a case of who you are and where you are and not what you did, a cooperative black teen learns the law can be out of order. It's Tae-Ahn Lea's one day off and he's set to chill. No nine-to-nine hustle selling cars at Oxmoor Ford Lincoln, where he started working earlier this summer after graduating from Central High School, class of '18. He watches Z Na- tion on his phone in his room, where he'll play his drums or piano or with Raphael, his lizard named after the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles character. A poster hangs on the wall with his goals — start a barbershop, own two small houses by 21 — and inspirational quotes, like "Have desire in what you do" from that book his dad gave him titled ink and Grow Rich. His senior-night post- er is filled with notes from friends: "You'll do great in life!" "Keep going!" Lea goes to the orntons near his house in Park DuValle, in west Louisville. e newly 18-year-old notices someone noticing him at the gas pump. Bulletproof vest, unmarked car. He goes inside for some ATM cash, Funyuns and a slush. He sees another unmarked car pull up. Lea hops into his shiny orange Dodge Charger. It's Aug. 9, just after 6 p.m. e late-afternoon heat beats down. Some dark clouds suggest a storm. Lea makes a right-hand turn from Algonquin Parkway into the left lane of northbound Dixie Highway. He hears the police siren. He turns on his blinker and pulls over. Lea does everything he has practiced over and over with his mother: secures his hands on the wheel, asks before reaching for his wallet, gets his insurance information from the sunglasses com- partment so the officers can't think he's reaching down for a gun. He's careful not to make any sudden movements. For a second, he trusts the officer at his window, who starts and ends sentences with a casual "man." en Lea's mom calls back — he'd called to say he was being followed — and he puts her on speaker for precaution. en, according to police body-camera footage, the officer's hand is inside the car, unlocking the door, popping it open, moving Lea's phone and wallet off his lap and grabbing his wrists. Lea, con- fused and scared, says, "Mama, they taking me out of the vehicle." LMPD's Ninth Mobile division is assigned to Louisville's most dangerous neighborhoods to apprehend violent crimi- nals and confiscate guns (1,700 in three years) and drugs. One of the officers tells Lea, "We're gonna stop 30 more people after you." But before they run Lea's li- cense, before they learn that he has a clean record, a K-9 makes a playground of the Charger, even though Lea denies consent. e dog's handler says there was "a hit," but Lea knows there's nothing for them to find. As one friend of the family describes Lea: "He's a square bear from Delaware." Lea knows how the police see him, though — a young black man in that car. e handcuffs clasp Lea's wrists behind his back as he shuffles his feet side to side. He wants to go home. He wants off this busy street where cars are driving by and looking at him, people probably think- ing, "It must be bad." One of the officers says, "I'm not going to fight you and I'm certainly not going to chase you," as Lea stands handcuffed, his head down. Lea has been a little snappy, has been cussing (he'll later say he normally doesn't), but the whole situation pisses him off. All his life he's tried to do everything right, and now this? As the K-9 officer rips through Lea's trunk, the senior-year honor roll dis- appears. As the officer mangles a McDon- ald's bag, the quote next to Lea's suited-up yearbook pic — "Central High School taught me how to reed ann right" — loses its quirk. (Lea, a Gemini, says the opposite of his chill is class clown.) As the officers use a special device to pop off part of a door panel, Lea is uncrowned as Mr. Central. His mother, Tija Jackson, is here. is is her only son. is is the son she took to Little League games as a boy, the son she screams for as the River City Drum Corps marches down the road, her Tae — "drummer boy" or "Little Nick Cannon," as people call him — a fierce force on the drum line, his quads like a heartbeat. is is her heartbeat. She keeps up with the news too much and knows how these traffic stops can end. Jackson — who works as a private investigator, bailiff and juvenile officer — knows to stand back so she doesn't interrupt the scene. e K-9 officer approaches to, he says, "calm her down," though she was just filming on Facebook Live. "I appreciate y'all being out here for violent crimes," she says. "But my son's a violent nothing." Two more officers arrive, which makes five, plus the dog. About 20 minutes have passed since Lea was pulled over. An officer asks Lea, seriously or sarcasti- cally, "Why do you have, like, this negative view toward the police? What's ever hap- pened in your life personally? Can you give me a good explanation?" Lea tells the officer that he has a "good-ass" job and got scholarships to go to college. e officer says, "We don't know who you are. THE RIGHT TURN OF TAE-AHN LEA

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