April 13 2015 06:19 PM

Just walking while black is still perceived as a crime in San Diego


Two days after the captured-on-video murder of unarmed black man Walter Scott by white South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, my friend's black teenaged son dared to walk through his Scripps Ranch neighborhood. The nerve. 

In his own community, the teenager was "stalked and followed" by a white woman in a car who threatened to call the police. 

My friend agonized about her son's experience on Facebook: "The stalking was so obvious and for a long distance. He attempted to take a picture of her license plate but it only seemed to aggravate her more until, fearing for his safety, he found some bushes to hide in."

The woman eventually drove away, but not before she clutched her pearls and circled, making a solid attempt to find that menacing black man walking down her street. 

My friend's son is still a kid. A handsome, lanky high schooler. But it's tough out there for black children when white folks no longer want to pinch their adorable cheeks, or touch (please, people, stop this madness already) afro-puffs. A UCLA study published last year in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology found that black boys age out of presumed innocence long before their peers, as people perceive them to be older and guiltier than their white counterparts. To wit, the police officer who shot 12-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland last fall said he thought Rice was 20. 

"I am writing this," my friend finished her post, "because I am tired of having to speak in small, safe circles about the incidents that happen to us, especially in San Diego. I am tired of people with 'good intentions' being shocked it doesn't just happen to 'those kids,' or trying to deny our experiences. I am mostly tired of trying to keep my cool after these things happen because there are people who are so privileged they do NOT have to think everyday about strategies to keep their kids safe and alive from would be vigilantes and law enforcement."

For those wishing to be allies to people of color, rather than giving in to white fragility—a defensive response to race dialogue—I invite you to sit with those sentiments for a minute. Re-read them. Percolate on 'em instead of yeah, but-ing them to avoid discomfort. Discomfort, I would argue, is the sustained state for black people in 'Merica. The micro-aggressions start early and have no end.

The lived experience(s) as shared by my friend elicited many supportive responses. But given the news of the previous day and the previous weeks (and months and years and decades), I was nonplussed when one distraught and sympathetic white commenter suggested that her son file a police report or try to get a restraining order. 

I straight up Linda Blair-ed (minus the pea soup) when I read that bit from the suggestion box. Dude: This is not Mayberry.

To be fair, in the parts of this comment that didn't include going to the people who regularly rely on the he-reached-for-my-gun substantiation, this guy seemed to grasp the pain of the situation. He was appropriately disgusted by the despicable behavior of the woman, and he understood that our friend's son was made to feel unsafe. 


The suggestion that going to the police is somehow a viable solution for this child specifically, and black people in general, betrays a fairly severe blind spot. It's not unlike the one that makes certain people bloviate about why Walter Scott ran after that routine traffic stop. Years of negative police interactions, unlike any most white people experience, likely led Scott to that fateful decision. 

And though it isn't in the same hemisphere of delusional, it is nevertheless a distant cousin to the ignorance of Mary Ann Twitty, the former Ferguson, Missouri, court clerk who sent racist emails, not because she's racist (because she's totally not; she recommended two black women for jobs if you need proof), but because they were jokes. 

Twitty was fired, an injustice in her no-peripheral-vision eyes that leveled her. "It took me awhile [sic] to get over the feeling of being raped," she said. At which point I Linda Blair-ed again. Damn if my neck isn't starting to ache as much as my broken heart. 

Black men, women and kids are brutalized in America every day—psychically, physically, spiritually, emotionally—for walking while black, running while black, driving, riding, shopping, sagging, eating, laughing, learning, playing, fill-in-the-blank while black. It's a sickening epidemic. 

In the wake of the important Black Lives Matter movement, months of organized activism, more deaths at the hands of cops, and a video arguably more shocking than that of Eric Garner dying in a chokehold before our eyes, people still defend the supposed good guy who got caught in a ubiquitous, systemically supported lie. The predictable narrative already in motion, Slager was on the Darren Wilson/Ferguson trajectory of getting away with murder. And he may still get away with it. After all, white supremacy is powerful magic. So powerful, in fact, that an otherwise reasonable white person could still think a black kid can expect to be helped by police.

That is a major disconnect right there, and I wonder how many more videos are required before white people with good intentions stop being shocked at any of it.

Email Aaryn Belfer. Aaryn blogs at aarynbelfer.com and you can follow her on Twitter @aarynb.