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Commentary: Racial Bias In Policing Makes Those 'Living While Black' Nervous And Afraid

Fresno State

What happens if you do all the right things as you pursue the American dream? You graduate from high school. Then college. You work for one employer 25 years, rising from administrative assistant to training director. You get married, and when it doesn’t work out, on your own you raise your children to become self-sufficient. You even exercise and eat right. Shouldn’t you be able to take a walk during your work break without incident?

One July afternoon, my sister was taking her daily walk during her break when the police stopped her. Why? Apparently a black woman and man had robbed a nearby grocery store. My sister was a black woman walking nearby, so the police assumed she did it. Instead of merely questioning my sister, a 60-year-old woman wearing business attire, the police officer detained and took her in a police car for a “line-up” of one. After the grocery store clerk acknowledged that my sister wasn’t the thief, the officer released her. She was devastated and couldn’t work the rest of the day.

Why is it that when a black woman robs a store, every black woman is a suspect?

"When a crime occurs, there should be an investigation. That investigation should include more than detaining the first black woman around."

When a crime occurs, there should be an investigation. That investigation should include more than detaining the first black woman around. That investigation should include more than ignoring answers to the officer’s questions and immediately taking someone for an unofficial lineup.

And even more disturbing, is there a deficiency in the officer’s training that would make the officer think color is the only determinant of culpability?

As a society, we have an obligation to ensure that officers are trained better than that. It’s disheartening that so little thought went into the decision to detain my sister. Did the officer stop all black women walking in the area? And what if my sister had refused to go? Would she have been arrested?

In New York, one of a few cities that keeps statistics on police stops and their disposition, during the first half of 2014, 82% of those stopped by police were totally innocent and more than 50% of those stopped were black. In the black community, we call it DWB, driving while black. I call it LWB or living while black. The police shooting death of unarmed black teenager Michael Brown is evidence of the sometimes tragic consequences of such stops. Society should assess culpability based on facts, not color. Yet non-white color is the first basis for any investigation.

Now, when my sister sees a police car, she’s nervous and afraid. It shouldn’t be that way in this country.

The views expressed on The Moral Is are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Valley Public Radio.

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