Posts Tagged ‘Racial Profiling’

Suspicious characters in their own neighborhood

October 13, 2015

Black residents of a mixed-race neighborhood in Oakland, California, are regarded as suspicious characters by their white neighbors.

The white neighbors use to share information about suspicious activity in their neighborhood, which very often consists of black people doing normal things.

Some black parents are scared to let their children wander the neighborhood alone.  Maybe this is an over-reaction, but then look what happened to Trayvon Martin down in Florida.

I have lived in a mixed-race neighborhood in Rochester, New York, for more than 25 years, and I’m not aware of anything like this on my street.  On the other hand, maybe I’m not aware of everything that happens.


Racial Profiling Via by Sam Levin for East Bay Express.  (Hat tip to Bill Harvey)


Why haven’t poor black people done better?

May 24, 2015

I recently re-read My People Is the Enemy, a 1964 book by a white lawyer named William Stringfellow, who’d spent the previous seven years providing legal services in a poor neighborhood in Harlem.

He wrote about black people in New York City were barred from decent jobs, were denied credit and were  harassed by police.  This couldn’t go on much longer, he wrote.  Things were about to blow—which, in fact, they did.

about.race_nfcrpq8yMT1smopzxo1_500But as I read the book, I was struck by what was missing.  He didn’t give any example of an unarmed black person being killed by police.  He didn’t give any example of police cruising up and down the streets and arresting young black men for trivial reasons or not reason at all.

He wrote about how a young black man found life in the Rikers Island prison more comfortable than the slum he came from.  He had a clean cell, nourishing meals and access to a gym and a library.  That’s a far cry from the hellhole of violence that Rikers Island is reported to be today.

Which raises the question:  Why is it, in spite of all the civil rights laws and all the social pressure against  racist language and behavior, that things haven’t gotten better?

My answer is that things have gotten better, much better, but only for a certain segment of the black population—what W.E.B. DuBois called the “talented tenth”.


The persistence of racial prejudice

August 31, 2013

A lot of my friends, including my fellow white liberals as well as Tea Party Republicans, think that racial discrimination in the United States is a thing of the past.   The only problem, as many of them see it, is the bad behavior of the black underclass.

I accept that there is such a thing as a black underclass, in which crime, addiction, ignorance and irresponsible sexual behavior are acceptable.  I don’t know enough to say to what degree these are problems of the African-American culture specifically and to what degree they are problems of the larger American culture, although I suspect the latter.

But I do not believe that members of the black underclass represent African-Americans.  They are not a majority of the African-American population.  The black people I’m acquainted with are all middle-class professionals like myself, or struggling poor people with middle-class values.   Most of them had harder struggles than I have had to get where I am.  This is not something I feel guilty about.  It is fact of life which I recognize.

My opinions are based partly on stories they’ve told me about how they have to shape their behavior around the fears and prejudices of what people—how they feel in danger when they encounter a police officer, or they have business in an all-white suburb, or how they have to make a special effort to seem mild-mannered because white people are afraid of aggressive black men.

A minister friend of mine told me about his brother, an aerospace engineer, who was stopped while riding his bicycle by police who believed he had committed a robbery or larceny nearby.  He showed them his corporate ID to no avail; they simply assumed he had stolen somebody else’s wallet.  It was only when he phoned his employer to have someone vouch for him that they believe he was who he said he was.  The important thing about this story is that it happened to the same person twice, in two different cities.

I remember once when I was a reporter for the Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, and was working on an article on what kinds of things people were buying as Christmas gifts that season.  To make the article more readable, I went out to stores and interviewed shoppers.

I approached a well-dress black man, and was struck by his stricken here-we-go-again expression.  Obviously he thought I was some kind of store official who thought I suspected him of shoplifting or something.  A great expression of relief came over his face, when I identified myself and he told me what kind of computer games he was buying for his grandchildren.

The white-sheet racism that dominated so much of the country in 1963 has been pushed to the margins of society.  American society has changed for the better, and white people of my generation who’ve made an effort to change their attitudes can take some of the credit for that.  But racial prejudice is still a part of American life.

The video above, which shows how differently people react to a white guy, a black guy and a pretty white girl doing the same thing, is an example of this.  Testers have found that a white person with a criminal record has a better chance of getting a job than a black person with a clean record.  Use of illegal drugs is just as common among white people as black people, yet the vast majority of arrests and jail sentences are of poor black men.

In New York City, the police with Mayor Bloomberg’s approval engage in racial profiling—singling out young black men in poor neighborhoods to be stopped and frisked in humiliating ways.  Black people that I know argue for affirmative action on the grounds that if they are singled out for bad treatment, it is only fair to get some special advantage as an offset.  I oppose both racial profiling and affirmative action, but my righteous indignation is reserved for the former.

But what about the dysfunctional culture of the black underclass?   I was brought up in the Christian tradition, which teaches that you should be more concerned with your own faults, the beam in your own eye, than with your neighbor’s faults, the speck in his eye.

I don’t believe that being lectured by someone like me is going to change the behavior of any black person, but maybe there is some slight possibility of influencing some of my fellow whites.


A white culture of lawlessness?

July 31, 2013

white culture of crime

Click on Video of Violent, Rioting Surfers Shows White Culture of Lawlessness for more.

Click on “…the most violent ethnic group in America” for an earlier post of mine.

Just to be clear, the cartoon and my post are intended to be a satirical comment about how certain types of crime and criminals are treated more leniently than others.  I don’t actually believe that white people as a group are criminal.  Some of my best friends are white people.  In fact, I’m a white person myself.

Click on Mat Bors Archive for more of his cartoons.


Racial profiling and the Trayvon Martin killing

June 9, 2012

Is George Zimmerman a racist?  In my opinion (1) probably not, and (2) it’s irrelevant to the question of his guilt or innocence.

Murdering someone because of their race is a hate crime.  But being racist is not in itself a crime.  In a free country, people are not put on trial for their attitudes, or for what people think about their attitudes, but when they are accused breaking laws on the statue books.  I can imagine someone being an avowed racist, yet having the good judgment not to go around with a loaded gun playing policeman.  The issue in the Trayvon Martin killing is whether George Zimmerman was legally justified in taking a human life.

George Zimmerman

There was a time within living memory when a black man in communities such as Sanford, Fla., could be killed with impunity for speaking disrespectfully to a white person.  I remember the case of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black boy who was killed in 1955 in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman, and how the all-white jury acquitted the killers because they thought that was justifiable grounds for homicide.

I don’t believe the killing of Trayvon Martin was anything like this.  But I do believe that if it had been me, a 75-year-old white man, wandering through a gated community in Sanford, Fla., on the night of Feb. 26, instead of a 17-year-old black youngster, I would still be alive.  And if by chance it was my life that had been taken, I believe the local police would have been quick to treat it as a crime.

There are statistical disparities between how the criminal justice system treats white and black people, but they aren’t always what I would think.   The law comes down much harder on black people for victimless crimes such as drug abuse.  Surveys indicate that black and white people use illegal drugs in roughly the same percentages, but the overwhelming majority of people in prison for using illegal drugs are black.  But when it comes to crimes of violence, the important variable is the race of the victim, not the accused.  Black murderers of black people are treated more leniently on average than white murderers of white people.  But the small number of black murderers of white people are treated more harshly on average than the smaller number of white murderers of black people.

Trayvon Martin

My guess is that this goes back to the days of slavery and segregation, when white law enforcement officers didn’t care whether black people killed each other, and in the deep South thought that it was justified to kill black people to keep them in line.  Old attitudes persist, even among people who’ve forgotten the reason for them.

It is all too easy to jump to conclusions about other people.  There is a young black man who was a member of my church, an “A” student and an outstanding athlete.  He went to State University College at Albany on a football scholarship.  He was young giant, and at SUNY Albany was given a special diet and body-building exercises to build him up further.  He was quiet and good-tempered, nicknamed the “gentle giant” by his high school classmates.  Yet if I had met him on the street in a bad section of town at night, and not known who he was, I don’t know what I would have felt.

Many black parents try to teach their children how to appear nonthreatening to white people.  They see every encounter with authority as a potential life-threatening situation.  And if you read about all the cases where black men are shot and killed by police by mistake, you see this is not an overreaction.  Not that George Zimmerman had the authority of a law enforcement officer.  He was just a guy with a gun.

I am fortunate to have had parents who taught me to judge people as individuals, not by race, religion and nationality.  Like most human beings, I have my biases, conscious and unconscious, but I try not to let my judgments and actions be controlled by these biases.

Click on George Zimmerman: Prelude to a shooting for a sympathetic portrait of George Zimmerman by Reuters news service.

Click on Are We Teaching Kids the Wrong Lesson About Trayvon? for an argument that what’s needed is not for black parents to talk to their children about how to navigate racial prejudice, but for white parents to have conversations with their children about why racism is morally wrong and intellectually untenable.   I count myself fortunate that my own parents brought me up to judge people as individuals, and not on the basis of race, religion or nationality.   That doesn’t make me free of prejudice, conscious and unconscious.  It means I’ve been taught to try to overcome prejudice.

Click on Race plays complex role in Florida’s ‘stand your ground’ law for the Tampa Bay Times analysis of fatal shootings under Florida’s “stand your ground” law, which says that people have a right to use deadly force to defend themselves even if they could have avoiding the confrontation by retreating.  The newspaper found that killers of black people were treated more leniently more often than killers of white people, but there are other factors that may have explained this.

Click on Trayvon Martin’s Death, and What It Says About Race, Privilege and Homicide for interesting statistics from the CrimeDime web log.  These figures do not, however, prove what CrimeDime thinks they prove.  The comment thread is as interesting as the post.

Click on Sanford, Florida’s Long Troubled History of Racism and Racial Injustice for background on hate crimes in that community, including running Jackie Robinson out of town.  I think many black people and few white people are familiar with this background, and this may explain why black and white people respond on average so differently.  Of course this is neither here nor there concerning George Zimmerman’s guilt or innocence.

Click on The Murder of Emmett Till for background on that case.  I don’t think this is something that could happen today.