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Loni Love writes about the scary incident in her memoir,  I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To (available June 23)

By Michele Corriston
June 11, 2020 11:00 AM
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Growing up in the Detroit projects, The Real host Loni Love felt enshrined by a “cocoon of blackness,” she writes in her memoir, I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To (available June 23). That changed when she moved to Texas for college in the 1990s.

One night, after working all weekend as a cashier, she and her friend Keisha went out dancing. On their way back to campus, they stopped at a Mexican restaurant. In her book, Love remembers paying for her food when she caught sight of Keisha being “yanked away” and placed in handcuffs by a police officer. When Love asked what was going on, the cop accused Keisha of filling up a free water cup with soda.

Back home, “I never had to deal with police,” Love, 48, tells PEOPLE exclusively in this week's issue, on stands Friday. “Everybody just got shot, and that was it.”

As Love tried to intervene, she was put under arrest too. Her alleged crime? Trespassing. “Both you n— bitches is going to jail,” the cop said, according to Love’s book. “Now close your f—ing mouth before I close it for you.”

loi love

"He put handcuffs on me," she tells PEOPLE. "And that was my introduction to the criminal justice system."

Because stealing soda is petty theft, but trespassing is a felony, Loni and her friend were separated in jail "with all the murderers, with the felons." Her cell mates for the night included a woman with a split lip who’d “gotten beaten by the cops” during a stop for speeding and a young pregnant woman “who shot her baby-daddy in the leg in self-defense” after he threatened to “blow her head off,” she writes. Luckily, before Love was transferred to the even more draconian central booking in the morning, her sorority sister bailed her out.

Loni Love

"Fortunately I was able to make it out, take probation and get it expunged from my record, but I could have gotten hurt, if it wasn’t for the grace of God," she says now. "It taught me a lot."

Going through the legal process wasn't cheap, even with a public defender. "It took all of my savings, and it's all because of something so stupid. And you could say, well she did put soda in a water cup, but it was because we were two black girls," she says. "We know if it was two white girls, [the cop] would have said, 'Don't do that.' "

loi love
Loni Love
| Credit: social - @arilou Loni Love photographed solo and with her boyfriend James Welsh by Ari Michelson in Playa Del Rey on June 1, 2020. Photographer: Ari Michelson Prop Stylist: Wanted PD Hair: Amber Jay Makeup: Jacqueline Mgido

Shaken by the experience, Love began studying the criminal justice system. "I started seeing the biases against people of color, especially black men," she says. "It kind of all connects with why I decided to go on to co-host a talk show, because I wanted to have those issues focused on as well. Because in my opinion, I thought that if you're on a daily talk show and if once in a while, you can talk about the injustices and show it and discuss it, maybe we can all learn from it."

  • For more on Loni Love, pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday
Anderson Cooper
Anderson Cooper and son Wyatt on the cover of PEOPLE's Pride issue
| Credit: Melanie Acevedo

She is also a passionate advocate for voting in local elections to hold public officials accountable — especially now, amid nationwide protests against police brutality sparked by the slaying of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody.

"I've been a black woman who has seen injustice myself, and that's the reason why I encourage people to write their own stories,” she says. “Somebody fought so that I can sit here and be a published author. That was the James Baldwins of the world. That was the Martin Luther Kings. It’s my duty to fight for the next generation."