You ever had the police called on you? Have you ever been racially profiled? #WhileBlack just became a hashtag, but it’s always been a real thing.
It’s an immediate sense of cognizance. You feel on edge and the environment around you starts to shift towards an uncomfortable defense. Then almost out of nowhere, you hear your own voice say, “You’re being watched,” for you to look up at that exact moment and meet eyes. It’s a feeling that is better felt than explained because to explain being profiled is like explaining intuition—you just know.
The first time I was aware I was being profiled was somewhere between 2010/2011. My friends and I went to D.C. to visit a girlfriend and took a day out of our trip to explore the Georgetown neighborhood and do some shopping. I forget the exact store we were in (I have an idea but since I’m unsure, it’ll remain nameless) and from the corner of my eye I noticed the security guard always a few steps behind us. We stayed in a group going from floor to floor and so did he. He didn’t stop until we left. No one bought anything.
Once we got to the next store, I asked if anyone else noticed the security guard following us. They did. We all brushed it off as if it was the normal behavior you experience while shopping in a store a tier above our treasured Forever21 budgets. But it’s an experience you don’t forget. It’s an experience that highlights Black adversity: involuntarily subjection to prejudice profiling.
Fast forward to 2015.
This was the year I started to heavily coupon. I was also jobless (I had lots of free time). Every day I hopped in my car and made my rounds to the pharmacies and grocery stores scouting deals and doing hauls. One of these trips was at a local CVS. By this time my handbag of choice was a fashionable backpack. I hated purses. Purses were inconvenient, backpacks were convenient.
As soon as I walked into the store the clerk behind-the-counter called out for me to bring my backpack up to the register. I had not even fully made my way to an aisle. She stated that per store policy backpacks had to be left behind the counter. There goes that cognizance, telling me this was no official policy but a cover-up to mask the fact these CVS employees didn’t want me to steal their shit. Now granted I had on a hoodie and sweats, BUT it was early morning and I was wearing comfortable attire. But I don’t believe a hoodie automatically guarantees mischief. My backpack served as my handbag, it stored my wallet and personal belongings. I was confused. I frequented this particular CVS weekly, when did this policy go into effect? Where was the sign at the front of the store on the doors that stated backpacks were to be left at the front register?
The clerk was an elderly white woman who appeared to just be doing what she was told. I couldn’t blame her. About five feet to her right was where my eyes shifted because something pulled my attention to that direction. It was him. There he was with his eyes locked on me simultaneously bagging groceries–the (appeared to be) manager. He was ready. I could feel it. At any given moment in wake of resist, he would have no problem making an example out of my ass. I complied. I handed over my backpack and went to my shopping, but I couldn’t concentrate.
I didn’t give a fuck about whatever deal I was there to find. I now felt uncomfortable. There was no “Welcome to CVS!” There was no “How may I help you?” I wasn’t even properly greeted. It was only “You have to put your bag behind the counter.” Well, damn. So I left.
I posted in the Facebook coupon group (I used to be in) and asked if anyone ever experienced this. The majority response was no. I sat in my car and cried. I cried and cried. I was angry, embarrassed, and low-key upset I bowed down so easily. You want me to be comfortable enough that I hand you over my purse. My bag was half the size of the typical student backpack; there’s only so much that can fit.
After that, I decided to resist any company that had that policy by just turning around. A backpack is not a guaranteed indicator of mischievous behavior. Recently, I went to a Dollar Tree and again before being greeted, I was loudly told to leave my bag at the counter. Whether that particular location experiences a high volume of shrinkage (stealing) you ain’t about to get my bag homie. How I know you ain’t gonna steal my shit?!?!? Nah, not in a store where all the items ARE A DOLLAR. Nah.
Then there was the time I had the police called on me.
Dun dun duuuuuuun……..
I was still in college and decided to spend a weekend at my uncle’s house about an hour and a half away from Athens, GA. I loaned a digital camera from school and wanted to pretend I was an actual photographer and take some nature photos. I asked my uncle if he wanted to join me on a walk in his neighborhood. My uncle is a light skin, green-eyed, chevron mustache having, cowboy hating wearing Black man. Plus he’s one of the nicest men I’ve ever known (behind my grandfather). As we rounded back to his house we stopped by a little creek where I took some pictures. Next thing I know, a cop car is pulling up and out pops a young white officer. He’s respectful and nice but states that we fit the description of someone who reported odd behavior. I’m livid. Who in the fuck called the police on a Black man in a cowboy hat? Although my uncle didn’t have his i.d. on him to confirm his address, the police officer didn’t sweat it. The fact that my uncle and I were walking around in a neighborhood he lived in for YEARS is what bothered me the most. Had the coward who called the police might have taken any initiatives to get to know their neighbors they would have known that. My uncle didn’t appear to be bothered by what happened. But me? I was ready to fight.
Whether the cop caller was white, Black, or Asian it doesn’t change the fact that our presence made them so uncomfortable the only REASONABLE solution to that was to call the police. Had we not got lucky and had a friendly cop, only God knows how this ordeal could have possibly gone. To have someone see me and my uncle walking down the street and be so worried to call 9-1-1 is unreasonable and a bit unforgivable. Mind you this happened afternoon; so, I’m not too sure what they thought we would do in the broad daylight.
That’s the thing that frivolous cop callers seem to not fully grasp: levelheaded cops are like finding a four leaf clover, you get lucky.
Black folks get the police called for not following public park bbq rules.
Black folks get the police called for napping in dormitory study halls…with couches.
Black folks get the police called because they’re babysitting white kids.
Black folks get the police called because selling bottled water on the sidewalk is apparently a high rate crime.
Black folks get the police called because they don’t appear to belong at the neighborhood pool.
Black folks get the police called because they didn’t purchase a frappuccino at Starbucks.
(I also want to note that about a week ago I purchased a $4 hot chocolate that was literally half full. Never again Starbucks, never again)
Black folks get the police called for renting out an Airbnb.
Black folks get the policed called because dammit everyone knows the number to call the police!
When will some accountability fall on the shoulders of the caller? When will we see a video where the police officer actually questions the integrity of the caller when there’s clearly no imminent sign of danger but simply a misunderstanding that could have been resolved with openmindedness and simple mature adult dialogue?
So yes, I had the police called on me because I was walking through a neighborhood #WhileBlack.