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Systemic Racism Never Lets Up, Not Even During the Holidays

My Saturday evening was interrupted by the angry shouts of two police officers. “Get out of the car! Get on the ground!”

I ran out of my house to find no less than 5 squad cars and 12 cops surrounding a middle-aged black man. I whipped out my phone and started videotaping.

“I’ve lived in this house for 31 years,” he pleaded, pointing to the house two doors down from mine. It’s a beautiful, towering old home, and though I haven’t lived in my neighborhood long, I know that this house is always bustling with friendly activity.

The man was cuffed, led to the back of a squad car, and taken away.

As I stood watching this scene with a few other neighbors, the Lieutenant on the scene came by for a chat.

“It’s just sad to me, you know,” he starts, assuming I ‘know’ what he means. “People see cops and just assume we’re up to no good.”

He went on to explain that there had been ‘suspicious’ activity reported in the neighborhood for a few days, and the police were only responding to a call.

“Do you actually know what the suspicious activity was?” I ask.

“Someone called about a suspicious person in a car,” was his response. No details.

As if to prove something, he hailed his dispatcher on his radio, right in front of us, to ask for a repeat of the call he responded to. A car indeed had, been reported related to burglaries - but it was an entirely different make and model.

Turns out, the man is the son of my neighbor.

I immediately regretted not getting to know my neighbors sooner.

The Lieutenant continued to complain and attempt to justify that the cops aren’t at fault for incidents like this. I suggested that, as Lieutenant, he investigate why racial profiling is so prevalent in his department. He merely sighed and shrugged.

Within a half hour, my neighbor was returned to our block in a squad car and was immediately administered a sobriety test.

When the cops initially accosted him, he was not driving, but in his car in front of his own driveway.

I do not know what the breathalyzer rating was, but the cops determined he was inebriated enough to warrant a DUI. As if in retaliation, they cuffed him again, and took him back to jail - for reasons completely unrelated to the initial call.

Now my neighbor will have a misdemeanor on his record and heavy fines for his car getting towed out of his own driveway.

Who knows the lasting repercussions this incident will have on his life and his family.

I returned to my house, shaking with anger. More than anything, this incident reaffirmed one obvious but understated reality:

Racism is Systemic.

It runs like blood through the vessels of our society.

Through the fear of my neighbor who called the cops, assuming an unfamiliar (although he was her neighbor) black face meant trouble.

Through the blatant criminalization of people of color by the police, who blindly responded to my neighbor’s call in full force. Through my own (failure to) introduce myself to my neighbors of color in the first four months living on my block.

All of us in this society are impacted by racism (albeit, in vastly different and inequitable ways). We are all implicated, and therefore all responsible to fight it. If we’re not fighting it, we’re perpetuating it. We have serious work to do. To build bridges across lines of difference. To check ourselves and challenge our assumptions. And to engage in struggle against unjust and inequitable policies and practices - like cultural and institutional racial profiling - that keep the circulatory system of structural racism alive.

Because if we don’t, who will?

Just three days before Christmas, an editor came across this post on a social networking site. The above incident occurred in Oakland.

Ethan Buckner
Black men in America are treated as guilty until proven innocent. (An image from a Trayvon Martin rally, 2013)

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Black men in America are considerd guilty until proven innocent