|Filmmaker/DWB victim Tyler Perry|
It's not easy to explain to someone who isn't black the range of emotions that fill your head when you see flashing police lights in your rear view mirror and you know you haven't done anything wrong; you know the officer is stopping you because of the color of your skin. Reduced by law enforcement to a stereotype.
One of the interesting components of racial profiling in America is that we live in what many describe as a "post-racial" society. One of the central planks of the Republican party and thinkers on the right revolves around the loose assumption that "there is no racism anymore." One of the reasons I began this blog was to dispel that myth, not to "cry racism" at every turn; but to show different ways of how racism is interwoven into the threads of this society. To show how it warps perception and perpetuates fear.
So I was disappointed to read this morning that a four-month internal affairs investigation cleared two Atlanta police officers for profiling filmmaker Tyler Perry back on February 24, 2012 after he left his studio in his white Porsche Panamera. Georgetown professor Michael Eric Dyson does a far better job than I could to offer an eloquent and concise summary of what it's like to be stopped by the police when you're a professional with a college degree and a nice car. Watch his comments in the video clip above.
Tyler Perry is the latest in a long list of black celebrities to be subjected to the humiliating and dehumanizing process of racial profiling; Sidney Poitier was stopped by Beverly Hills police in the 50's blocks from his own house.
I vividly recall when Earl Graves, Jr., the son of publisher Earl Graves, a clean-shaven Harvard grad raised in the upper middle class community of Scarsdale, New York was stopped by two white Metro-North police officers on the platform of Grand Central Station after he stepped of his early morning train wearing an expensive suit and carrying a briefcase on his way into work. Graves was 33 at the time and a vice-president of advertising and marketing for his father's Black Enterprise magazine; but to the police investigating an "anonymous report of a black man with a gun", he was just another 6'4" black guy. Not an individual but a possible perp.
The story got a lot of press in New York City and Metro-North apologized for the incident by taking out several full-page newspaper ads; but such reactions are the exception rather than the norm.
As I've mentioned in this blog many times, in the 1990's detailed studies of traffic stops by New Jersey state police on the NJ Turnpike showed that African-American drivers comprised a staggering 80% of traffic stops even though blacks made up only about 12% of the state's population. NJ State police training even taught officers to target and stop minority drivers as part of policy.
There are no public apologies for the thousands of innocent black and Hispanic drivers who are still stopped just for looking like they do. Some law enforcement personnel like Arizona's notorious Sheriff Joe Arpaio brag about profiling drivers who fit a pre-conceived stereotype.
And so it continues. I'm personally affected by people like Tyler Perry or Earl Graves, Jr. because like them, I'm a tall black man when it comes to how some white police officers see me. They don't see my college degree, intellectual pursuits, professional accomplishments or the fact that I pay taxes and vote. They don't see my volunteering for charities or the fact that I have no criminal record. Sadly some white police officers, clearly not all, will see me only as a physically imposing black man; they see danger and fear.
I'm standing right in front of them but sometimes they don't see me at all.