It is absurd in its awfulness. Someone who is black, let’s say a Smith College student, is quietly eating her lunch in a campus common room. A white person, an employee, calls the police to report someone who “seemed out of place.” When campus police arrived, they found the Smith student, taking a break from her campus job.
It is yet another example of police being called to investigate black people in everyday situations, the criminalization of blackness. There have been calls for laws to punish people who call police on black people for no reason. But I was curious as to the WHY.
“Because they’re racist!” Well, perhaps. Vox looks at the sociology of the living-while-black incidents.
“Many white people have not adjusted to the idea that black people now appear more often in places of privilege, power, and prestige — or just places where they were historically unwelcome. When black people do appear in such places, white people subconsciously or explicitly want to banish them to a place I have called the ‘iconic ghetto’ — to the stereotypical space in which they think all black people belong, a segregated space for second-class citizens.”
The ACLU has developed LIVING WHILE BLACK ON CAMPUS – A Roadmap for Student Activism.
One reads White lady in golf cart calls cops on black father watching his son play soccer. “Gas Station Brenda” Calls Police on People Shopping In Her Convenience Store. North Carolina Woman Tells Black Sisters Waiting For AAA, “You Don’t Belong.” And there’s the language variation: Dunkin’ employee calls police on student speaking Somali with her family.
Some folks have looked at the phenomenon in a more comprehensive way. Dating While Black: What I learned about racism from my online quest for love. TRAVELING WHILE BLACK: Some Americans are afraid to explore their own country, concerns that evoke the Jim Crow-era Green Book. And it’s not limited to the USA: Morgan Jerkins: Three writers share powerful stories on what it’s like to seek escape in a world that surveils black bodies.
There are what I guess are “good” outcomes in these instances. White woman fired after blocking a black man from entering his home. And this scary tale: Michigan Man Who Shot at Black Teen Asking for Directions Found Guilty of Assault, as well he should have been.
On the other hand, being a “good guy with a gun” doesn’t necessarily apply while black.
This hardly-exhaustive list, mostly from 2018, is exhausting to write about. And scary. Having the cops arrive unnecessarily is not only nerve-wracking, but it’s also a waste of the police’s time and resources.
As Renée Graham in (Boston) Globe Opinion wrote back in April 2018, “To be black is to always be in the wrong place at the wrong time because, in America, there is never a right place for black people.”