Neighbors Call Police for “Walking While Black”
The warning came in a neighborhood bulletin board. A female resident of the the mostly-white Estudillo Estates neighborhood, had seen three men in their twenties, two of them black, walking down her street. She did not recognize them. Some time later, she saw them again. This time they were walking on the same direction, but on the other side of the street. She was kicking herself for not having called the police on them. Surely they were casing houses. Mind you, she did not say she had seen them look at homes carefully, check out doors or windows, or do anything other than walk down the street. But the mere presence of a mixed-race group of young men, walking down a street, is “suspicious.”
That a white lady in once lily-white San Leandro may hold those views probably should not surprise anyone. What did surprise me was how popular her views proved among members of the bulletin board. “Yes,” was the common thread in the responses, “the men were suspicious and the police should be called on them.” “I would have done the same.” “Thank you for alerting us.”
I was alone in suggesting that walking twice down a street is not suspicious. People do it all the time and there are a myriad of reasons why you’d do it – from taking a walk around the neighborhood, to canvassing, evangelizing or even getting lost. And, indeed, if it was I, a white-looking woman, rather than a mixed-race group of men in their twenties, nobody would have thought twice of it.
My comments, however, were met with derision. How dare I suggest that it’s racist to call the police on young men for walking down the street! One of the men was white, after all.
This attitude prevails in San Leandro because it’s constantly fueled by the Police Department. The SLPD tells neighbors to report anyone “suspicious.” The avoid the word “black or Latino,’ and instead use words like “people you don’t recognize” as a euphemism for “people who don’t belong”. Of course, it behooves the Chief to fuel racial tensions in the community. If nothing else, it will lead to more crime and more resources for her Department.
That said, I don’t believe that the majority of San Leandrans are racist. But I do think the best way to stand up against racism is to challenge it.
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