THE police officer had not asked my name or my business before grabbing my wrists, jerking my hands high behind my back and slamming my head into the hood of his cruiser.
“You have no right to put your hands on me!” I shouted lamely.
“This is a high-crime area,” said the officer as he expertly handcuffed me. “You were loitering. We have ordinances against loitering.”
In law enforcement’s efforts to crack down on gang crime, they end up focusing on people who they think look like gangsters instead of gang crime itself.
This is a dangerous area,” the officer told me. “You can’t just stand out here. We have ordinances.”
“This is America,” I said angrily, in that moment supremely unconcerned about whether this was standard police procedure or a useful law enforcement tool or whatever anybody else wanted to call it. “I have a right to talk to anyone I like, wherever I like.”
The female officer trumped my naïve soliloquy, though: “Sir, this is the South. We have different laws down here.”
I tried to appeal to the African-American officer out of some sense of solidarity.
“This is bad area,” he told me. “We have to protect ourselves out here.”
As the police drove away, I turned again to my would-be interview subjects. Surely now they believed I was a reporter.
I found their skepticism had only deepened.
“Man, you know what would have happened to one of us if we talked to them that way?” said one disbelieving man as he walked away from me and my blank notebook. “We’d be in jail right now.”
It’s no big secret that “cracking down on gangs” is code for “cracking down on black and brown people.” Of course no one supports gang violence, or illegal activity. But prosecute the violence. Don’t slap handcuffs on any black man who happens to be standing on a street corner in a “bad” (read: mostly non-white) area.
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