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November 17, 2016 / WRAG

Racial Profiling is Real. It Just Happened to my Son.

By Tamara Lucas Copeland
President, Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

Yesterday, my son was stopped by the police as he came out of our home at 4 p.m. in the afternoon.

“Hey, what are you doing?” asked the white police officer on a bicycle riding down our Capitol Hill street.

“Huh?” replied my 22-year-old, not fully understanding, or perhaps not processing the question.

“What are you doing?” he asked again as he stopped in front of our house.

“Leaving home,” said AJ, as he was about to go to a doctor’s appointment.

“You live there?” asked the officer.

“Yes, here’s my ID,” my son said, providing his driver’s license. “Didn’t you see me locking the front door?” continued my son.

“Okay,” said the officer after his partner had also examined AJ’s driver’s license and they both then rode away, probably feeling that they had appropriately protected the neighborhood.

My son didn’t feel well and he is a 22-year-old young man. What if he had been a bit cocky instead of providing the respectful response that he did? What if he had simply walked away and not responded at all? This incident could have had a much different ending. Trayvon Martin walking in his Dad’s neighborhood comes tragically to mind.

I have lived in the same house for 27 years. My son has lived here all his life. The literal complexion of our neighborhood has changed. Twenty-two-year-old African-American males used to be a primary demographic of this neighborhood and there weren’t many police officers riding down the streets to make sure that they were safe. Now, the neighborhood has changed. Young white families stroll the streets pushing baby carriers, and on one recent Sunday afternoon, I didn’t see a single black person in nearby Lincoln Park. My son is now the “other,” stopped to see if he belongs in the neighborhood.

Although this young man was casually coming out of the front entrance to his home, not juggling a stolen TV or running to hide a possible crime, he was still targeted. There was no indication that he was doing anything wrong, but still he was stopped and questioned by the police.

Implicit bias? Yes.

9 Comments

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  1. Stephanie McGencey / Nov 18 2016 2:12 pm

    Tamara, As the mother of a young adult African American man, I share your anger. Sadly, my son has been profiled many times when we lived in a predominately white neighborhood. It continues now that he lives in North Carolina and lives in a ‘nice’ neighborhood. I am RESOLVED to work for peace, justice and equity and slapback against racism in all of its ugly forms. Warm regards, Stephanie

    • Tamara Copeland / Dec 13 2016 3:06 pm

      Stephanie, I agree. I shared this story to remind folks that this even happens in regions where we think the racial climate is more enlightened.

  2. Art Taylor / Nov 27 2016 6:35 pm

    Dear Tamara – This is Sickening! I’m so tired of this foolishness! I’m glad your son kept his head and managed to exit the situation alive.

    Art

    • Tamara Copeland / Dec 13 2016 3:07 pm

      Art,
      Thanks for your note. What should we do? We’re involved with an educational and action initiative — http://www.puttingracismonthetable.org. What else should we be doing to not be afraid of the “other?”

  3. Sonia Segarra Law / Nov 29 2016 3:42 pm

    Can you share a little bit about his reaction to the experience and the conversation you had with him after the fact?

    • Tamara Copeland / Dec 13 2016 3:08 pm

      Sonia,
      He was relatively calm about it, commenting that he knew how to talk to the police. I was the one who was outraged, outraged because he clearly had to have this skill set.

  4. Lisa Macey / Nov 29 2016 5:47 pm

    He didn’t deserve that. At all. AJ clearly kept his wits about him, but it shouldn’t have been necessary to do more than respond to a friendly hello–as would have been the more likely scenario for a white person.

    • Tamara Copeland / Dec 13 2016 3:09 pm

      Lisa,
      So true. Good to hear from you. Bias is a huge problem that effects all of us. It takes conscious work to change. I’m committed to trying to work for greater racial understanding. Be well.

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