Thursday, July 19 , 2018, 11:30 pm | Overcast 66º

 
 
 
 

Diane Dimond: Reducing Racial Profiling Depends on All of Us

The post-9/11 mantra "If you see something, say something" appears to have taken an ugly turn these days. It used to relate to concerns about terrorism. If you saw an abandoned backpack or van, or if you discovered evidence that could be construed as bomb-related, the instruction was to immediately call police to investigate.

Today, citizens seem to have twisted that advice; they call police with the pettiest suspicions or complaints about people who don't look like they look. Thanks to ever-present cellphone cameras, we can confirm several instances of racial profiling that have happened in just the past few weeks.

In Philadelphia, two young, well-dressed black men entered a Starbucks for a business meeting with a third person. Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson did not immediately buy any coffee, and Nelson was denied permission to use the men's room. While they waited, a clueless Starbucks manager called police to report they were trespassing. Video shows the two were completely compliant when police handcuffed them and led them out. Nelson later said he wondered whether he would make it home alive.

The Starbucks manager was white. In all the cases I'm about to mention, prominent reporting indicates that whites call the police on blacks on a routine basis.

Nine days after the Starbucks incident and about two hours west of Philadelphia, employees at the Grandview Golf Club outside Harrisburg, Pa., called police twice for help. When officers arrived, they were told about five black women who had paid their membership dues, had their tee time delayed for an hour because of weather and then allegedly were playing the course too slowly. Presumably, management wanted the women ejected, but officers quickly determined it was not a police matter. The women now believe they were victims of both racial and gender discrimination by employees of the golf course.

A week later, in Rialto, Calif., three black women were loading suitcases into their car outside a home they had rented through Airbnb. Suddenly, six police officers surrounded them, and a police helicopter hovered ominously overhead. The incident was spurred by a neighbor who called the police department reporting a suspected home burglary. In what world do women casually leaving a home and chatting as they walk to their car require such suspicion?

Next, let's go to Brentwood, Mo., where earlier this month three teenage boys, all black, were doing some last-minute clothes shopping for prom. The teens said they were followed everywhere by store security while at a Nordstrom Rack department store. After making a purchase, they were met outside by local police officers who wanted to check their bags and receipts. Nordstrom security had summoned the cops on suspicion of shoplifting.

"The police were actually good," one of the young men said. "They understood ... they showed us that they were just doing their job."

One more case in point comes from the prestigious campus of Yale University in New Haven, Conn. A black graduate student named Lolade Siyonbola was working on a "marathon of papers" and fell asleep in a dorm common area at 1:30 a.m. A fellow dorm student found her there, declared napping wasn't allowed and called the campus police. Siyonbola was made to show her university ID and take officers to her room to prove that she really belonged there. Police ultimately told the white woman who called that it was not a police matter.

Waiting while black, golfing while black, renting while black, shopping while black and napping while black are not crimes.

I have an important question for each of those citizens who called police: If the suspected people were of your same race, would you still have dialed your local law enforcement or simply watched with the curiosity of a nosy neighbor?

It has become all too popular to accuse police officers of racial profiling. And certainly, that plays a role in the behavior of some who wear a badge. But this is a good opportunity to look inward and examine our own reactions to situations. We, the public, instigate a majority of the calls to which officers must respond. As we contemplate whether to call police about a "see something, say something" situation, are we also engaged in racial profiling?

In all the cases described here, the corporation, business or university has apologized to those who were confronted by officers while engaging in harmless, everyday activities. In some of the cases, settlements have been reached or lawsuits have been filed or threatened. But not all the falsely accused are looking for monetary gain to ease their humiliation. As one of the teens in the Brentwood incident put it, "I don't want (Nordstrom) to fire anyone. ... I want them to ... make this a teaching moment and everybody move forward and get better."

Amen to that.

Diane Dimond is the author of Thinking Outside the Crime and Justice Box. Contact her at [email protected], follow her on Twitter: @DiDimond, or click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made through Stripe below, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Enter your email
Select your membership level
×

Payment Information

You are purchasing:

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.

Daily Noozhawk

Subscribe to Noozhawk's A.M. Report, our free e-Bulletin sent out every day at 4:15 a.m. with Noozhawk's top stories, hand-picked by the editors.

Sign Up Now >