“People, please stop making my job so difficult.”
That’s the opening of a discussion in “ProtectAndServe,” reddit’s community of law enforcement officers. The poster, who goes by the handle “sf7” and has been verified as a law enforcement officer by the forum’s moderators, goes on:
So I’m working last week and get dispatched to a call of ‘Suspicious Activity.’ Ya’ll wanna know what the suspicious activity was? Someone walking around in the dark with a flashlight and crow bar? Nope. Someone walking into a bank with a full face mask on? Nope.
It was two black males who were jump starting a car at 930 in the morning. That was it. Nothing else. Someone called it in.
People. People. People. If you’re going to be a racist, stereotypical jerk…keep it to yourself.
Other forum users sympathize. One tells a story about someone asking the cops to investigate a middle-aged black man fishing in his own community. Another was asked to respond to a report of two Middle Eastern guys sitting in the same car. Another laments that “we frequently get calls about black men and woman and kids, yes [expletive] kids, walking. Like WWB [walking while black] was actually a crime and not a Twitter joke.”
The stories pile on. A white security officer tells of the year he and his black wife lived in an apartment complex. “She got cops called a total of 9 times in the year we lived there I got zero,” he says. A retired cop recalls the time a “lady called scared to death because some black guy was sitting in his truck across from her house” — it was the water meter reader.
These are simply anecdotes on a public website. But they illustrate an aspect of the relationship between cops and minority communities that doesn’t get much attention.
In stories like Ferguson and Baltimore, we tend to focus on the relationship between police and minority communities as if it were purely binary and took place in a vacuum. But the Reddit thread shows that cops can become frustrated by the frequency with which some members of a community — most likely white people — call the authorities.
This issue can be particularly acute in gentrifying communities. According to local D.C. news site HillNow.com, in the H Street region of Washington D.C. last year, police held a community forum to discuss concerns about racial profiling. “You have a lot of people here who haven’t lived in an urban neighborhood who are calling police for a lot of new things,” police chief Cathy Lanier said.
One of the community residents agreed. “A couple of guys walk through an alley like they’ve done their whole lives, and the newly arrived neighbors think something untoward is happening,” he said.
But it can happen in new communities too. NPR reported last year on the case of the Mueller community near Austin Texas, a new and racially diverse development where tensions between black and white neighbors arose.
The problem? White residents were viewing many of their black neighbors with suspicion. One black homeowner noticed people would snap pictures of his car as he drove around. Another had the cops called on him after he picked up an office chair in an alley that another resident had left out for free.
Plenty of African Americans, particularly men, can tell harrowing stories of times they’ve done something normal that somebody else interpreted as “suspicious.” President Obama’s had experience with this himself.
From the reddit thread, it’s clear that many cops hate the thought of racially profiling their community members. They’re embarrassed by having to check in on behavior that they know is almost certainly 100 percent innocuous.
Sf7, the cop who started the thread, says he has a strategy for dealing with these calls. He’ll approach the “suspicious person,” and “I will roll up and ask them if they need any help. If they need help, I will help them start their vehicle. If they don’t, I will leave. I am not going to waste their time because some random ***** is being racist. Nope.”
It’s a good reminder that the problem of American race relations goes far beyond the interactions between police and black communities.
For the story behind the three pictures go here.