“From cute to animal”: Facing racial discrimination since childhood

August 17, 2020

Since coming home to complete his junior year at the University of Oregon online, Kenan has been busy — so much so that he averages four hours of sleep a night, splitting most of his time between activism and summer courses.

Although he only recently became so involved in the BLM movement, Kenan is no stranger to racism and police brutality.

The first incident Kenan can recall was from sixth grade. When the teacher announced his class had to write an essay, a classmate remarked, “That’s gay.” Kenan recalled his teacher’s response: “Saying ‘That’s gay’ is like going up to Kenan and saying ‘Kenan, you’re a n*gger.’”

“That’s probably the first time that I’ve ever remembered feeling completely isolated because I was one of only two Black kids in class then,” Kenan said.

That was just the beginning. Ordinary activities such as playing catch outside his friend’s house and biking with an unbuckled helmet on Almond Avenue resulted in police officers harassing and even pointing their weapons at Kenan.

“I think it was going from sixth grade to seventh grade when everything changed — that was when I went from cute to animal in people’s eyes,” Kenan said.

When hanging out in downtown Los Altos, Kenan would notice store owners keeping an eye on him.

“You’re constantly feeling like you have to do something extra to be accepted the same amount that your other friends would be,” Kenan said. “Anytime I went to a store, I would make sure that I didn’t have my backpack on or people would definitely be looking at me more so than others.”

As he got older, his interactions with the police escalated, especially once he got his driver’s license. In Los Altos alone, Kenan has been pulled over the police 15 times — 23 times in total. He was even questioned by the police while eating a hamburger in his car in the LAHS parking lot.

“We’ve had conversations about how to stay safe, especially once our kids got their driver’s licenses,” Kenan’s mother Toni Moos said. “We told them things like ‘Keep your hands visible.’ We even got Kenan a dashcam for his car after he’d been pulled over several times.”

Even during a national movement against police brutality, Kenan’s encounters with police have persisted. While preparing for the protest against police brutality the day before — despite having coordinated with the Los Altos Police Department — an officer still tailed Kenan while he walked the route.

“There are unlimited stories about the experiences that have happened here, of how I’ve been treated,” Kenan said.

Due to his interactions with the police, Kenan’s parents worry he wouldn’t feel comfortable calling the police if he were in danger, either.

“One of the hardest things as a parent is knowing that our kids will never call the police if they’re in trouble,” Kenan’s father Kevin Moos said. “They don’t feel safe calling the police in any situation, so they’ll do what they need to in other ways to be safe.”

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