It was a sunny day at the park when suddenly HE appeared. HE was tall, “very” dark, and dressed in black from head to toe. With a foreign accent, HE beckoned to two small children, and asked for high-fives. The children went. HE, a stranger, then reached down and picked up one of the children and turned to walk away. A concerned bystander, observed the interaction, and demanded that HE release the child. HE fled. The police were notified.
A young lady jogged around the park when suddenly she was accosted by an African-American man. He grabbed her arm, and yelled give me your phone b—ch. She filed a police report.
A woman was gardening in her front yard when two “creepy” guys passed by on their bikes. She said they were checking her out as she bent down. She was encouraged to file a police report.
On Monday, each of these incidents was reported in my community moms Facebook group. Moms expressed their justifiable outrage, concern, and fear. They were alarmed, partly because the incidents reminded them that even in our “safe,” predominantly White- but diverse, suburb, we are not insulated from crime. One mom’s response to the park incident was to ask if her preschooler could carry mace to school. She also inquired if the preschool could hire someone to chase any “not safe person.” Another mom commented that HE sounded like a person she once saw on the train, in part because he too, was tall with very dark skin; she asked the group if she should contact the authorities.
I felt the same way many of the moms felt. I share their concerns; we all want to protect our families from opportunistic criminals. However, I also know according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, in 2015 only 1% of the missing children were victims of nonfamily abductions. I know in 2014, there were only 77 robberies in my suburb which has a population of over 52,000. The statistics suggest that the concerns of the women in the Facebook group are largely unfounded.
As they continued to comment, I knew most could not identify with the additional worries I have as an African-American mom. They could not identify with my concerns about the racial-profiling and stereotyping that is due in part to similar stories and overreactions. They didn’t know that, as they talked amongst themselves, I worried about the safety of my husband and sons. Not just the worry that they will be victimized by criminals, but that they will be viewed through a lens of suspicion because they are African-American males. I worry they will be subjected to unfair scrutiny by our “neighbors,” and consequently the attention of the police, because they look “creepy” or “unsafe” due to their dark skin.
We chose to buy a home in our suburb in part because of its diversity, and yet, in spite of the diversity I constantly worry how my children will be perceived and treated. We’ve taken Max’s White friends with us to various activities and I worry that my husband will be subjected to questioning looks if he beckons those friends when they have strayed away. I worry if my boys behave the way other adolescent boys behave, and look too long at someone of the opposite sex, who happens to be gardening, they will be perceived as potential criminals and consequently, brought to the attention of the police. I worry that regardless of how nicely dressed or how they carry themselves they will always be viewed as threats.
My concerns are not unfounded. Studies and tests, such as the Implicit Association Test, indicate that many Americans harbor biases against African-Americans. The Chicago Police Accountability Task Force found in 2013, 46% of the traffic stops were of African-Americans, and during those stops, African-Americans were searched four times as often as White drivers, yet contraband was found on White drivers twice as often as African-Americans. The Task Force also stated, in 2014, 72% of street stops were of African-Americans, most were not arrested, ticketed, or taken to a police station.
I agree we must be cautious, but I hope along with teaching our children caution, we are teaching them that crime and skin color do not go hand in hand. Let’s make it clear that a bad experience with one person of color does not translate into every person of color being a potential criminal and worthy of suspicion.