When I was a young man growing up in 90s Bed-Stuy Brooklyn there were certain things that I eventually grew accustomed to. There was the sound of gunshots in the night. Long hot summers where anything was possible, and violence was inevitable. Conversations that began with “Yo, did you hear about…” And being searched by the police. I was never someone who could be considered a criminal, especially not measured against the likes of the real thugs who stalked the streets day in and out in search of trouble. That’s why when I was searched regularly as a teen it always took me by surprise. I knew real criminals (you had to if you wanted to survive). And I knew that I wasn’t one. That’s why it always bothered me to be slammed against fences and walls and cars by police officers who had nothing better to do.
As a black man in a big city I find myself still feeling more nervous than safe around police. I have plenty of retired detectives and officers in my family, and even they have told me to beware. I suppose it is what it is. Of course not all cops are the same, the same way all priests don’t molest kids, and all Muslims aren’t terrorists, and all Republicans aren’t assholes. I’ve met some great cops in my past life when I was a manager at at a mental health clinic where, since we had no security guards, you were only as safe as the response time of the police. Still, seeing a patrol car in my rear-view gives me the heebie jeebies.
Earlier this week I was sniff-searched by a police dog as I tried to board the Staten Island Ferry to visit a client. This wouldn’t have been so bad if I hadn’t already been “randomly” search about 10 times over the last few years at a variety of checkpoints in the city. There are literally millions of people in the city and plenty of them have never had to open their backpacks or drop their bag in a busy terminal to be sniffed by a moody dog. In general I don’t mind the searches – I’m no bleeding heart liberal when it comes to safety. I do, however, mind that I have been searched more than my fair share of times. In this latest incident I was trotting alongside a fellow commuter to catch a ferry that had just pulled up and that guy (white male) trotted on through the checkpoint while I was singled out yet again. It doesn’t seem random. The only thing that I can surmise at this point is that the police have been asked to randomly search people who look like me.
Profiling is not new. It has been outlawed in my city, but it obviously still exists the same way racism still exists in a country led by a black man. There must be a way to get the police trained in a way that black men doing the right thing don’t feel like a target when they are out and about in this city. The police officer who stopped me was at least almost nice about it, which is a start. There must be a way for my son to not inherit a police culture that is driven by skin color. There must be a way to educate the public about why we are where we are as a country in terms of profiling and how to move forward with an agenda of safety that is truly driven by values, behaviors, science and psychology rather than by color. I am going to start by doing this – writing and sharing. In the meantime – be safe.
It’s a terrible shame that it still exists, and to me it seems the harder we try to eradicate it the tougher its foothold seems to be!
I worry for my students and my children, because many of them lack the patience and common sense on how to handle themselves in those situations…thus taking random search and turning it into an arrest b/c they just don’t know.
Hey there, would really like to get your thoughts on my most recent posts…when you get a chance, of course.
I feel you on this! Seems every time my family and I go through the airport x-rays we get that extra “random” screening as well.
It’s ridiculous that a person can be detained and in some cases even handcuffed simply because they are black.
Last week Dominique Marsh, a student at Booker T. Washington High School in Norfolk Va. was stopped on his way to school and asked where he was going. The high school senior and starting Q. B. for the football team replied that he was on his way to school. His classes didn’t start until 10:30 and he was arriving early, around 9 a.m., to meet with a counselor to go over some college applications.
The police officer told the young man that he would have to get in the patrol car and have the officer drive him although he was already in sight of the campus of the school. The student who has never been in any trouble and who did not want to be seen arriving to class in the back of a police cruiser declined the offer at which point he was told he’d either ride to school with the officer or ride to jail.
According to the Virginian-Pilot newspaper this is what happened,
Marsh said he objected, that he didn’t want to tarnish his reputation by being driven to school in a police car. The officer then grabbed his arm, the student said, and told him either he was going to school or to jail.
“And then he threw me on the car,” Marsh said.
The officer handcuffed the teen, who said the restraints were tight and he began experiencing shortness of breath and had an anxiety attack. The officer, whom city officials have not identified, drove Marsh to school, where paramedics provided Marsh first aid. – http://hamptonroads.com/2010/12/norfolk-police-officers-treatment-student-criticized
Now this incident will undoubtedly leave a negative life-long imprint on the mind of this one student but I suggest that it will also influence the minds of all the other students in that school.
Why would they not think that if it can happen to a young man like Dominique it can also happen to them.
Dominique who according to the Pilot “has been the Eastern District’s most prolific passer the past two years and is being recruited by several colleges.”
Booker T. Principle Kevin Monroe says he is a “great kid”