Late Night With Seth Meyers returned Monday night after a weeklong hiatus, so it was the first time the show had an opportunity to address the killing of George Floyd, the resulting nationwide police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter protests. To help give context to the “deep-rooted and justified fear” black Americans have of the police, Meyers featured a clip from writer Amber Ruffin. She took a few minutes to recap a terrifying experience of being pulled over by a cop when she was a teenage black driver who did nothing wrong — just one of many terrible experiences she’d have with police throughout her life, including one time a cop pulled a gun on her.
“Every black person I know has a few stories like that — many have more than a few. Black people leave the house every day knowing that at any time, we could get murdered by the police. It’s a lot,” she said. “Sometimes when you see news footage like we have seen in the past week and you hear people chalking it up to a few bad apples instead of how corrupt an entire system is, it becomes too much.” Ruffin ends the segment by saying she wanted to end on “something hopeful to provide some comfort, but maybe it’s time to get uncomfortable.”
During Tuesday’s Late Night, Meyers opened with another clip from Ruffin, who again shared a story about a past encounter with the police. The event happened just a few years ago in Chicago where Ruffin was spending some time with her friends. Simply skipping down an alley resulted in Ruffin being yelled at by a cop, who pulled his gun out, told her to put her hands on the hood of his car, and had his partner pat her down. “This man is livid! It makes no sense! His anger level towards me is insane!” Ruffin said. “I’m a young, adorable delight literally skipping down the street, and I’ve infuriated him.” If Ruffin’s white friend hadn’t been standing nearby watching the entire thing, the situation could’ve gotten much worse — instead, Ruffin said when the cop saw her friend, “He changes his attitude with the quickness! He’s suddenly professional instead of antagonistic.”
“It’s crazy that people don’t run around telling everyone these stories all the time, but there’s this unspoken rule that black people are supposed to take it in stride,” Ruffin said at the end of the segment. “Can you imagine having someone pulling a gun on you and being expected to take it in stride? Now imagine a bunch of incidents like that over one lifetime, multiply that by 43 million African-Americans, and that is why things are like this right now.”
On Wednesday, Ruffin returned with another story from when she lived in Chicago. One night a black friend left his wallet at her house and when Ruffin went out to her porch to hand it to him, a cop suddenly approached while holding a gun and accused Ruffin and her friend of … running from the police. “Isn’t it hilarious that when people say ‘run-ins with the cops’ they mean they got caught doing something, but when I say it, I just mean being a person that they bother?” she said. “That’s the kind of thing you have to do to stay alive when you’re black: You have to let the police lie to you at your own house.”
At the top of Thursday night’s segment, Ruffin said, “For the past three days, we have opened Late Night with me telling a story about run-ins with the cops, and tonight I’m out of stories. Just kidding, I have more!” This time, the story involves a cop approaching Ruffin and her white friend in their car at a truck stop, being “super nice” and respectful to her white friend, and then accusing Ruffin of being a prostitute. “The respect this cop just automatically had for my friend — I’ll never forget seeing it,” Ruffin said.
After the story, Ruffin reflected on the week’s protests, the black people who had to get killed by the cops in order for white people to start calling for change, and her thoughts about how we can make sure the current movement is more than just protesting in the streets. “Don’t let it cost more lives. Vote, call your representatives, unfriend racists, and most importantly, when you see something, say something,” she said. “Do something! Get loud! Don’t let people get away with racist crap — not anymore. It’s a new day.”
This post has been updated throughout the week.