Reporting While Black

One New York Times reporter exposes abuse and racism from police officers:

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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About Jill

Jill began blogging for Feministe in 2005. She has since written as a weekly columnist for the Guardian newspaper and in April 2014 she was appointed as senior political writer for Cosmopolitan magazine.
This entry was posted in Crime, Race & Ethnicity, Racism and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Reporting While Black

  1. QLH says:

    “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.”

    The South isn’t a part of America? In America, you can talk to anyone you like wherever you like; in the South, you can’t.

    I’m glad that I, someone who moved from America to the South recently, now have that important information.

  2. Tony says:

    I understand your point, but try being a police officer for a year in a “high crime area.”

    This is the current balance act that is really breaking the back of our system right now: there is no easy answer to the problem:

    Officer safety v. the rights of citizens.

    When you figure out how to deal with tha in a way that protects rights and officers, let me know . . .

  3. Cola Johnson says:

    Tony: What’s the point of having civil servants if they don’t serve the public? What’s the point of paying people with our tax dollars to protect us if they instead oppress us out of fear?

  4. Mnemosyne says:

    Interestingly, the LA Times reported on Friday that our murder rate is the lowest it’s been since 1970. Some parts of South LA have seen 50% drops.

    How? Not by sweeps and crackdowns and arresting every black guy you see, but by working with ex-gang members and gang intervention specialists to short-circuit things before they get bad.

    Stopping violence without engaging in even more violence? That’s unpossible!

    (Stolen from Kevin Drum as I was too lazy to actually read the paper on Friday.)

  5. Cara says:

    Tony, it isn’t about safety, it’s about prejudice. If I had been that reporter, as a young white woman, the police wouldn’t have handcuffed me, they would have warned me to stop hanging around for my own “safety,” and I think that everyone knows it. But the black guy gets thrown down on a hood of a car. The rules are not and never have been applied evenly.

    What I find to be most fascinating about the “this is the South” comment is that someone would actually admit that. I mean, just . . . wow.

  6. Farhat says:

    Hang out on leoaffairs.com for learning about how your ‘defenders’ talk among themselves about the unwashed masses. That is, if you can stand the taste of bile in your mouth.

  7. Daniel says:

    I couldn’t understand some parts of this article Reporting While Black, but I guess I just need to check some more resources regarding this, because it sounds interesting.

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