Earlier this month my husband and his brother met up in Minnesota for a football game. Not just any game; their favorite teams were facing off as the Minnesota Vikings hosted the Pittsburgh Steelers. They flew up excited to unwind and catch up with a long-time hometown friend from Huntsville, Al.
All three men are college graduates and successful in their respective fields. After graduating from Vanderbilt University, my husband continued working in athletics and now leads a college athletic department. My brother-in-law is an executive for a government organization and their friend, “Joe” is a neurosurgeon in the Minneapolis area. Their occupations and educational backgrounds shouldn’t really matter, but I wanted to provide a bit more context to help complete the picture. The fact that they are all married with families and raising thriving black children doesn’t really matter either.
Because at the end of the day, away from their jobs and away from their families — they are only seen as black men. And in this country, that alone can get you killed.
Joe lives in a very prominent and upscale area in Minnesota where people of color are few. He has lived in this same neighborhood for the past seven-plus years. One might think that in the confines of his own home he could escape the stereotypes placed upon Black men in this country. But on this day, that was simply not the case.
The morning after the game, my husband called an Uber Black vehicle to take him to the airport. The driver soon called to say he had arrived; however, he had inadvertently pulled into the wrong driveway. After calling my husband’s cell and realizing he was next door, the driver backed out and pulled into Joe’s driveway. My husband handed his luggage to the driver and off to the airport they went. I wish that was the end of this story.
The next door neighbor would have a completely different account of that morning’s activity. The simple mistake made by the driver, followed by the tall black man seen emerging from his neighbor’s driveway all added up to foul play. So much so that the neighbor felt it necessary to call 911, email the entire neighborhood to give his account of the situation, and request any cameras that may have footage from that morning. Here are just a few excerpts from his correspondence to the neighbors:
“I just saw another suspicious vehicle (Black Sedan) backed into our driveway.”
“I think the guy who came out saw me and then opened his trunk so that I could not see or record his license plate.”
“…the driver started driving away with the trunk still open while his partner carried a couple of things from my neighbor’s house.”
“…his partner loaded the trunk with those picked up things and then flew away.”
“I called 911 and they notified two cops to start heading this way.”
This last sentence of course is the most damaging action anyone could use when Black men are involved. If a non-Black person sees something “suspicious” and then subsequently calls the police, that person’s account of events is often taken as the absolute truth.
I can’t really express the anger I felt reading this email that was sent to the entire neighborhood. What was so “suspicious” about the “black sedan”? The professional driver was wearing a suit and tie and my husband had on a sports jacket. The “suspicious packages” were obviously luggage. Anyone who looks like me or my husband KNOWS how EASILY this could have gone another way!
I write this to help the many individuals who feel they are acting “innocently” to help “protect their neighborhoods”. If this had been a blonde, blue eyed man instead of a Black man, this would NOT have happened — PERIOD!! But that’s just another example of the privilege so many non-black people in this country continue to deny they even have.
When will others truly understand that their knee jerk reactions of calling the police can be an unfortunate death sentence to blacks in America. The need to embellish and exaggerate when explaining situations to 911 operators only heightens the anxiety of officers arriving on the scene and puts everyone in greater danger.
Unless you are absolutely certain a crime has taken place, please don’t waste the time of law enforcement. But then again, that’s part of the problem; because maybe to this neighbor, a crime of sorts HAD taken place. Because to him, the presence of another Black man in the neighborhood clearly posed a threat.
Let’s imagine for a second that the police had arrived at Joe’s home prior to my husband’s departure. I could easily list the countless similar situations where the end result was another dead black body. I can easily list countless situations where black men have been falsely accused of crimes while simply doing everyday tasks. I can list the countless situations where black men have been interrogated and even put in hand cuffs and in the back of police cars because they were seen as a threat by just being black.
As I wrote in my picture book, “Momma, Did You Hear The News?” — — — — If they don’t like us cause we’re black…what matters? Not our lives!
This is the reason Black families for years have been having “the talk” with our kids; and sadly, it is still a very necessary conversation. My two black sons are now young adults living in the DC area. We have had this conversation numerous times over the years. I know that the melanin in their skin automatically evokes fear in the minds of many. So, as a mom, I just pray they remember what we’ve taught them about these very possible scenarios.
But the scary part for me is knowing deep down inside, that even when we do everything absolutely right, our lives are STILL at risk. We are STILL not automatically safe; whether we are high-ranking professionals, innocent college students, brain surgeons or anything else. We are STILL seen as a THREAT when just minding our own damn business!
So…. what’s the solution?
I can’t say that I have one…but here’s a simple request that anyone reading this can do as we head into 2022…
Please, please, please JUST LEAVE US THE FU** ALONE!
Oh….and have a Happy New Year!
This post was previously published on medium.com.
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