It’s been a bad month for my blood pressure after reports of incidents where police were called on minorities have me feeling angry. I’m also feeling dizzy, but that may be from all the head shaking I’ve done after reading some of these news stories. I shouldn’t complain, though, since I’ve been lucky that I don’t have to justify my existence every time I want to do … well, pretty much anything, it seems.
Let’s start with taking a college tour, an experience that should be pleasant and where the biggest moment of anxiety should come when you realize you’re either still too close or way too far from home. But for two Native American brothers — Thomas Kanewakeron Gray, 19, and Lloyd Skanahwati Gray, 17 — their tour of Colorado State University ended when they were stopped, frisked and questioned by campus police.
A woman on the tour called 911 after she felt threatened by the two teens, who joined the group late after driving seven hours from their home in Española. On her call to police, she described the brothers as Hispanic and claimed one of them “for sure” said he’s from Mexico. They may have said they were from New Mexico, but then again she also said “they were lying the whole time” and wearing clothes with “weird symbolism or wording on it.”
I would like to believe that this woman, who was on the tour with her college-bound offspring, had never in her life interacted with surly teens who shop at Hot Topic — or in this case, shy Native American kids visiting a campus in 82 percent white Fort Collins — and that’s why she was so taken aback by their inability to be open and friendly and “normal.”
I would like to believe that, but I really think she thought they were Mexican satanists out for blood. Jeff Sessions may want to invite her to his working group.
In other news, a young black man was moving in to his Upper West Side apartment in New York when police arrived. A neighbor had called to report a burglary in progress, never mind that the man was clearly moving his belongings into his new home. It reminds me of that joke of why Santa Claus has to be white … actually, there is no joke about why Santa has to be white. But it pretty much writes itself when you think about it.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the country. Three black filmmakers in Rialto, California, where surrounded by multiple squad cars and a police helicopter, after a neighbor saw them exiting a house with suitcases and they “didn’t wave to her.” Turns out they had rented the home through Airbnb and were ready to leave.
The police in this case claimed they had never heard of Airbnb, so the group was detained for 45 minutes while they figured it all out. This tells me the cops were either playing with the truth or Marriott has some great law enforcement discounts I’m not aware of.
Back in Missouri, three black men were shopping for prom at Nordstrom Rack when employees suspected they were shoplifting and called police. Officers met the men in the parking lot, where they showed their store receipts and allowed a search of their bags. Nordstrom has apologized.
And just so we don’t end in the south, in New Haven, Connecticut, campus police were called on Yale graduate student Lolade Siyonbola. The woman was taking a nap in her dorm’s common room when another student, Sarah Braasch, told her she couldn’t sleep there. When police arrived, they asked Siyonbola for her student ID and then spent 15 minutes trying to figure out if she was a student.
Turns out her name had been misspelled in the student database — curse you, racially insensitive typing fingers!
Most of these incidents were in the news just this past week, and I haven’t included the clerk in St. Louis who refused to sell a money order to a black couple over “fraud concerns,” the store manager in Tacoma who “reminded” black shoppers about the store’s theft policy while they were trying on clothes, or the University of Florida faculty member who pushed black students off the stage after they did a brief celebratory dance as they picked up their diplomas.
If these were isolated events, you could chalk it up to people being jerks or busybodies or even concerned citizens. But this clearly points to something darker — to the kind of low-level, pervasive racism that flows through our country. Even more maddening than these examples are the people who will see them and start finding excuses. “Well, they were clearly doing something,” they’ll say. But it wasn’t that they were doing, it was who they were being.
The widespread use of smartphones and social media grants us all a window into experiences that previously we could simply ignore. The undeniable fact is that, for many in America, it doesn’t matter if you’re trying to get a money order or an Ivy League degree, the color of your skin makes you suspect.