Race & Policing—-Time for a Broader Discussion – By Yvonne Sam

Race & Policing—-Time for a Broader Discussion

By Yvonne Sam

Whites calling the cops on Black people.Any discussion regarding how white Americans rely on the police must begin with how black Americans experience law enforcement.

The nagging question is why is it always about race?    The answer does not lie very far from the question, although most folks hate to admit same.  Let us face the facts.–Racism does exist, although often treated like the elephant in the room. In other instances when the conversation focuses on race, most white folks say I don’t see color”.  According to Doreen Loury, director of Pan African Studies at Arcadia University, near Philadelphia, racism penetrates every aspect of our societal pores, and we must understand that it is a system of advantage based on race, and desist from making racism something personal. http://www.mixedracestudies.org/?tag=doreen-loury  

Beginning May 29, 2018 Starbucks will close its 8,000 coffee shops  in the U. S. to provide its employees with racial bias training, geared towards preventing racial discrimination.  In Canada, on June 11, all company -owned locations will close for an afternoon, also to provide sensitivity and diversity training.


The decision follows the unwarranted and disputed arrest on April 12, of two black men, Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson at a Starbucks location in Philadelphia. The two men were arrested when white employees called the police claiming that the men were trespassing for not buying anything.  The men were awaiting the arrival of a business associate, and had asked the employee to use the bathroom, — a request that prompted the police being called, leading to them being arrested and escorted out.


From time immemorial people of color have been the victims of racial profiling in both public and private places and spaces. Now social media and cellphone cameras have made it much easier to draw attention to such incidents.  For although racial segregation is illegal, nevertheless there remain the deep-rooted biases about who belongs where and when.

Other unsettling incidents in recent weeks involving whites calling the police on blacks involve the April 28, calling of the police twice by the white owner of a Pennsylvania country club who claimed that 5 black women were playing golf too slowly. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation-now/2018/04/28/golf-club-twice-called-police-after-black-women-told-they-were-playing-too-slow/561

April 29, a white woman reportedly called Oakland police on a few black people who, she said, were using a charcoal grill in an area where it was banned. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/entry/woman-calls-police-oakland-barbecue_us_5af50125e4b00d7e4c18f741

Three Black friends leaving an Airbnb rental in Rialto, 60 miles east of Los Angeles on April 30,were quickly surrounded by a group of police cars and an overhead helicopter,after a white neighbor called police and reported them as possible burglars.https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/07/us/airbnb-police-called-trnd/index.html

On May 5, Michael Hayes a Black real estate investor was in a Memphis neighborhood inspecting a house that he was interested in buying. The home was boarded up, and as he was pulling the board off the front of the home, the white woman next door came out, and inquired what he was doing. He told her that he was an investor, that he had a contract and pointed to the For Sale sign he had placed in the front yard. According to Hayes, the white female said that he had no right to be in her neighborhood and should leave. She then called the police. https://www.theroot.com/white-woman-called-the-cops-on-black-real-estate-agent-1826044836

On May 9, a 34 year old black graduate student at Yale University LoladeSiyonbola, fell asleep in the dormitory common room while working on a paper. A white student turned on the lights in the common room, found her asleep and called the campus police. The black student was detained for 15 minutes by the police, just so as one police stated, “make sure you belong here.”

https://www.cnn.com/2018/05/09/us/yale-student-napping-black-trnd/index.html. She was later released without incident.

These avoidable police encounters typify how in modern day U.S.A Whites still view Blacks through a lens of suspicion, and how they utilize the racial privilege they have enjoyed from birth.  Citizens are encouraged by police agencies to act as their eyes and ears, and to make a report whenever something appears suspicious. However, when black skin becomes a component for appearing cautious or wary, then citizen surveillance becomes an invitation for trouble.  The continued practice is troubling not only because the calls are unwarranted, but given the history of police brutality against Blacks, a white person’s readiness to call the police is an invitation to end an otherwise everyday misunderstanding with the opportunity for violence and death.

Therein lies the reason why it is deplorable, when 911 is transformed into a personal hotline, cops being used as racism valets, being summoned for something ridiculously minor, or because our black behavior makes the white caller uncomfortable, or simply because they think that we might be up to no good.

In America one can get arrested for pulling a fire alarm, making false bomb threats, making false claims, then why not a false police report that has caused death in some instances? There should be an all-out push for prosecution to the full extent of the law against these callers. The time has come to consider white people as equal a threat as the police that they call to carry out their bidding. After the Starbucks arrest, Jason Johnson noted in The Rootthat not only are police law enforcers, but also enforcers of social norms and hierarchies.  In America, the norm is white comfort and the hierarchy is racial. https://www.theroot.com/from-starbucks-to-hashtags-we-need-to-talk-about-why-w-182528408

Wherein then lies the solution to this recent spate of 911 calls gone awry?Any discussion regarding how White Americans rely on the police must also start with how Black Americans experience law enforcement. Most whites see the police as their protectors, and in America that was indisputably founded on racism, there will always be those who look for protection from blackness. The time has come for both sides of the ugly dynamics to be addressed, as these incidents highlight the racial divide in how whites and blacks experience shared spaces.How did we arrive at equating safety and comfort ability with a 911 call.

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  • Rosaliene Bacchus  On 05/28/2018 at 2:35 pm

    All these incidents raised by Yvonne Sam and many more that we never hear about are unsettling reminders of the challenges African-Americans face in their everyday lives.

    As an individual whose life has been defined by racism, I have made the issue the underlying driving-force in my both of my novels completed to date. As a member of an all-white American writers’ critique group – where we share and receive feedback for our work in progress and discuss the most sensitive issues of the human condition – I have found that my fellow writers are not willing to engage in the racial issues and white privilege unfolding within my narrative.

    We cannot move forward if whites and non-whites cannot have an open and honest discussion on, what to me, is a great crime against humanity – the relegation of the vast majority of humans to an inferior status.

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