There are not too many Black people walking among us today that can tell you they have avoided contact with the police. It is an almost inevitable collision. You can be walking down the street, driving a car, entering your own home, or performing everyday life tasks, and eventually you will interact with the cops. This is something Black parents try and prepare their children when they give The Talk, a conversation our Mothers and Fathers have with us about how to act when confronted by the police and how to live another day to talk about it. Social media and message boards are filled with stories and suggestions on how to avoid being arrested, detained, or any interaction with law enforcement. We know that contact with the police can be fatal. Black men and women such as Philando Castille and Sandra Bland who have been executed by cops are still fresh in our minds. Staying alive is the object of the game.
Given that Black people are in such a precarious position with police and other law enforcement organizations and because there is supposed racial awareness among white people in the age of Herr Trump, you would think they would be hesitant to call the police right? White men and women march in protest against the latest victim of police terrorism, wear Black Lives Matter t-shirts, pledge to fight the racist scourge that is the 45th President of the United States, and have bought Ta-Nehisi Coates books in bulk, so what I am missing here? There have been endless videos of cops attacking and killing unarmed African Americans shared on Facebook, so there is no ignorance to the danger police pose to us. The question is – why are white people still calling the cops on Black people?
In the past three months, there have been a rash of 911 calls on African-American’s that have hit the nation’s conscience: In Philadelphia, a Starbucks manager notified the police because two Black men were waiting for a friend and didn’t buy anything. An African American student at Yale had the cops called on her because she was sleeping in a common area. In Oakland, a group of Black people were harassed and the police were called because they were “BBQing without a permit” in Lake Merritt. The most recent police call was on a young eight year old Black girl in San Francisco. Her “offense?” Selling water without a permit. The common denominator in this? White people dialing 911.
Before Alexander Graham Bell had invented the telephone in 1876, white people have been alerting the authorities in regards to the goings-on and whereabouts of Black people. If a Negro was loitering, making loud noises in public spaces, or making white people feel uncomfortable at any time, they knew that contacting law enforcement was an option. Even with the smallest perceived infraction, whites would contact police. This was all to keep Black people under control, and Negroes knew this. Whites often said, “We need to keep the Negro in line.” There was a fear that Black people, and Black men especially, would destroy towns, kill white men, and rape white women. Because of this belief of a “Black uprising”, laws such as The Black Codes were implemented. AAMU Sociology defines the Black Codes as “Laws in the United States after the Civil War with the effect of limiting the civil rights and civil liberties of Blacks.” Even when they were free, they were not. Newly freed slaves understood the threat of a white person accusing them of a crime. The word of a white person was enough for Black people to be arrested, imprisoned, burned at the stake, and lynched. Black people were not meant to have the same rights or be able to live in peace because we have always been viewed as savage thugs or criminals who haven’t yet been caught.
I moved to San Francisco five years ago. As a new resident, I had been driving around my neighborhood getting to know where everything was. I wanted to find the nice restaurants that SF had been known for, the cool bars where I could grab an after work/pre-dinner drink, and where the nearest gym was, so I could work out before I start my day. While pulling into the parking lot of a shopping center, I noticed this older white woman agitated in her car. I brushed it off that she was mad about something. As I began to walk towards the grocery store, the white woman approached me in anger. Confused as to why she was so aggressive, the woman demanded that I stop and talk with her. We began discussing why I “cut her off” and why that was her parking spot. I was blown away that this white woman was so pissed at not being able to park closer to the entrance, so surprised at her entitlement, as if I was supposed to defer to her. As the argument continued, I decided that I had enough and walked away. She then yelled, “I will call the police!” Immediately I froze up. So many thoughts ran through my mind. I knew that whatever this woman chose to tell, whatever lie she decided to make up, the police would believe it and arrest me. I turned around, walked slowly back towards her, and studied her face. Absolutely no resemblance of a smile or any kind of happiness. She was focused on letting me know she was not pleased. I was to know my place, because this woman could bring me down with her “Trump card.” Even though I did not do anything wrong and committed no crime – she knew that calling the police could potentially be harmful for me. I knew this all too well, so I listened as she got all of her yelling out of her system.
At this moment my favorite song is Nas’ “Cops Shot the Kid” from his latest album Nasir. The MC describes what happens when police come in contact with Black people. The lines that hit hardest for me are “White kids are brought in alive/ Black kids get hit with like five/ Get scared you panic, you’re goin down/ The disadvantages of the brown.” This is a part of Blackness; knowing that because of a cops’ view of Black people, it could lead to him or her assaulting or shooting you. In my view, these 911 calls on Black people demonstrate two irrefutable things: one is that white people are not ignorant when it comes to racism. They know how Blacks are looked at by the police. The second is that they also know law enforcement will almost always side with them. African Americans are never given the benefit of the doubt. To quote professor of politics and journalism at Morgan State University Jason Johnson, many whites “feel that the police are there to work as their personal racism valets and remove black people from the situation.” I believe the same people who call the police on Black people for simply existing are the same ones who sit on juries and vote to not convict or even charge police for killing unarmed Black people. They can relate to the officer saying “I was afraid for my life” because they have internalized that Black people are inherently criminal.
There is also another aspect to this – many of these callers are white women. This is very important to highlight because many crimes against Black men, race riots, and lynchings have started due to an accusation from a white woman. For me, I don’t gender racism; white women are just as complicit in the system of racist white supremacy. For some reason, we think that because of sexism, white women are not as racist as their counterparts. That because of the oppression they face every day, white women cannot practice racism against Black people. I disagree.
What was really disgusting about “Permit Patty” or the woman who called 911 on the young Black girl for selling water without a permit is that the young girl posed no danger. She is trying to do something positive and present people with an opportunity to buy a healthy beverage on a hot day. It was water!!!! White kids have had lemonade stands for years and no one bothers them. While in Boston this month, I bought a cookie from a white kid selling them from his stand. I think it is cute when I see kids set-up, selling candy, cookies, and water to make money for the summer or raise funds for their school group. There isn’t a Girl-Scout troop I don’t buy a box from when I see their table and I have never even thought about asking for a “permit.” Who does that?? It makes me so angry that at every turn, Black people are met with racism from white people. I feel for the young girl: She may get discouraged and not want to do this anymore. It makes me sad that this may scar her at such a young age.
I recently saw a tweet that questioned, “Why don’t Black people call the police on white people as much as white people call on Black people? Maybe it is because Black people don’t see police as protectors?” I then thought about it and said to myself, “When do the cops believe us? When have cops ever helped us?”