White Discomfort and Black Lives
If you have been watching the news, browsing social media, or tuning in to your local radio stations, you may have heard about what seems to be an influx of white people in America calling 911 on black people who are doing nothing more than existing while black. Though this seems like a new trend meant to put people who seem out of place in their place, this is nothing new. Especially to the victims who have authorities called on them for doing nothing more than trying to exist in a world that isn’t always welcoming to that. From simply cooking out in designated areas in a park, to a child exiting a corner store with his mother, false accusations and modern day Black Codes enforced against people of color, especially black people in America are not only inconvenient and wrong, but dangerous. Police brutality has been a hot topic across the nation and putting black people in situations where they can be harmed, or even worst, killed, when no crime has been committed should be considered a hate crime. Allowing people to continue to get away with tying up emergency lines and utilizing them as their own customer service line to voice their displeasure when they believe that white comfort is more important than black lives is not a reflection of liberty and justice for all.
America does not have the most beautiful beginning. There has been racial tension and separation of people by race from the very beginning. Simply put, racism is defined as power plus prejudice (Ponds). Though many may say one race does not have more power than another in America, that is simply untrue. There are disparities between the way officials and authorities respond to white and non-white Americans. Officers are more likely to side with white people over black people because implicit biases make them believe white people are more trustworthy. Half of black people in Americans surveyed by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public health said they had experienced racial discrimination at the hands of police officers (Neel).
This isn’t surprising due to the racist origin of the police force in America. From tracking and kidnaping of runaway slaves to the intervention and dismantling of necessary civil rights movements, historically, the police force has enforced laws to hinder the progression of civil rights movements in minority communities (7 Racial Bias and Disparities in Proactive Policing). Many of these encounters did not end in pleasant and peaceful dismantling. They were violent. They ended in lives being taken and families being destroyed because the majority deemed the minority had no rights or did not belong. (Beer)
History tends to repeat itself, and here we are in 2018 still having the police called on black people in our country for existing. If crimes were being committed there would be a need for police intervention, however barbecuing, parking, waiting in Starbucks, leaving a bodega, and planting in your community garden are not crimes. Discomfort based on implicit biases should not lead to potentially dangerous police interactions. Black people are only 13% of the American population however they account for over 20% of police killings. Almost double the rate of the general population, even when nonviolent and unarmed (Beer).
Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson entered a Starbucks and had been there for only a few minutes when the police were called on them for not ordering quickly enough, even though Starbucks is known to be a communal gathering place for people to chat and utilize free Wi-Fi, whether they ordered anything or not. This resulted in a lawsuit against the city of Philadelphia where the young men settled out of court and Starbucks closed their stores for an entire day for a training on racial biases and discrimination. Lolade Sinyonbola fell asleep in the lounge at Yale, where she is a graduate after working on what she described as a marathon of papers. She was awakened by police telling her an individual felt she did not belong. Police did acknowledge she was a student at the institution and the issue was not a police matter. Three teens in St. Louis were greeted by authorities after shopping in Nordstrom. Police searched the teens, their bags, and their car, eventually letting them go after verifying their receipts. Nordstrom Rack’s president issued a statement and apology noting that protocol was not followed in relation to the situation with said teens. In California three black Airbnb guests had the police called on them for not waving at or greeting neighbors as they would have liked for them too. This resulted in a helicopter coming to the scene and the guests being questioned and embarrassed. Airbnb describes the event as unconscionable (Victor).
A community activist and non profit owner in Detroit lost several contracts, money, and even his credibility due to false claims from the individuals in a neighborhood where he had started a community garden. Marc Peoples had the police called on him dozens of times for allegations that he was stalking, vandalizing, and harassing the community. These calls came from the same three white women, over and over again. Once these allegations were taken to court (after Peoples had been arrested and forced to bond out for crimes he never committed) the judge ruled that the allegations were false after said women could not remember their stories and eventually admitted to exaggerating and fabricating stories because they deemed he did not belong. (Burch)
These examples are few compared to the hundreds that happen every year. In each scenario there are no crimes being committed, just implicit biases leading to 911 being treated as customer service line instead of an emergency assistance line as it was intended. It leads wasted time, resources, and eventually money for companies and cities when lawsuits are added to the equation. The individuals affected by these microaggressions are left feeling hurt, embarrassed, and betrayed after these encounters. They begin losing credibility, jobs, and wages due to individuals policing their whereabouts simply because they have a different shade of skin.
All of these situations could be avoided if we treated people who decide that they can police the lives of black people, by calling authorities on them, even when nothing is wrong, as the criminals in the situation. If an individual proceeds to disrupt the life of someone who is simply living while black, they should be charged with a hate crime because they allowed their implicit biases to waste city resources, cost companies money, and ruin lives of innocent individuals.
“7 Racial Bias and Disparities in Proactive Policing.” National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018. .
Beer, Todd. POLICE KILLING OF BLACKS: Data for 2015, 2016, 2017, and first half of 2018. 24 August 2018. 22 October 2018. .
Burch, Audra D.S. How ‘Gardening While Black’ Almost Landed This Detroit Man in Jail. 26 October 2019. .
Neel, Joe. Poll: Most Americans Think Their Own Group Faces Discrimination. 24 October 2017. 22 October 2018. .
Ponds, Kenneth T. “Reclaiming Children and Youth.” Bloomington (2013): 22-24.
Victor, Daniel. When White People Call the Police on Black People. 11 May 2018. 22 October 2018. .