Walking While Black

On May 18, I went out to see a local band in Providence. I used public transportation, had a great evening with friends and left for home around 11pm. The last stop on the bus line is conveniently at the top of my street, so I exited the bus and began the five-house walk home. A police car drove past me, did a u-turn and pulled up next to me. The police officer asked me my name.

Rhode Island passed a bill in 1938 that says a peace officer may detain any person abroad whom he or she has reason to suspect is committing, has committed, or is about to commit a crime, and may demand of the person his or her name. Because of the peculiar u-turn the officer made and the present climate of police/citizen relations across the country, I was on guard. I asked the officer why he wanted my name and he firmly made his request again. I told him if he does not give me a reason for the stop I do not have to give him my name. He exited his vehicle and blocked my path to my house. I tried to get around him and he grabbed me. I asked him if he was a public servant and if I was being detained. His reply was, “Why you got to go and do that?” He grabbed me and threw me against the car.

I turned to him and said, “I know you are a police officer, I know you can shoot me and will be cleared of any crime, I have a daughter, I want to live.” He opened up the car door and told me to get in. I got in. No handcuffs, no pat down, no rights. Long story short, I spent the night in the clink.

You might wonder why I wouldn’t give a police officer my name or think the only reason I’d have to not give a police officer my name is because I was hiding something or committing a crime. You might say I don’t respect the police. But the questions I have are, why does this not happen in predominantly white neighborhoods? If I was white, would the officer have made a u-turn to ask me my name? Would he have put his hands on me without giving me any reason?

These last couple of weeks I have been doing a lot of explaining to my friends who are not of color, combating statements like “But black on black crime” and “But the police kill more white people than black people” and the most popular “But all lives matter.” Let me break this down for you as plainly as possible.

According to the US Department of Justice statistics, 84% of white people killed in the US every year are killed by whites. According to The Huffington Post, five years ago there were more cases of whites killing whites than blacks killing blacks. The idea of black on black crime is perpetuated by institutional racism. I am not calling you a racist because you believe in the existence of black on black crime, I am calling you lazy for not fact checking.

People say the police kill more whites than blacks. According to US Census Bureau stats, whites make up 63% of America and blacks 12.3%. The Washington Post says as of July 10, 2016, 1,502 people have been shot and killed by on-duty police officers. Of those, 732 were white and 381 were black. The number of black people killed is more than half the numbers of whites, but the population of white Americans is five time larger than black Americans. This means African-Americans are five times more likely than whites to be shot and killed by police officers. Police officers would have to kill 2,928 more white people in order for the percentage of whites and blacks killed by police to be equal. The point here is not balance out the killings, but to stop the killings.

This leads to all lives matter. No one is saying white lives don’t matter or that one life is more important than another. Black lives matter is saying “Please stop killing us, and treat us like humans.” People are not being profiled, they are being hunted.

When five police officers were killed in Dallas, former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh declared war on President Obama and the black lives matter movement. If that’s war, then what was it when 560 unarmed Americans were shot and killed by police? If all lives really mattered, there would be no black lives matter movement. As for my arrest, there would never been a question as to why I wouldn’t give the police my name if I were white, because the incident wouldn’t have happened in the first place.

9 responses to “Walking While Black”

  1. Kate Champa says:

    It is a moral/ethical outrage that you or anyone should be stopped and forced to give his/her name in the absence of any problem. It is, infortunately, pragmatic to "obey" police officers. They carry guns, assume that they have infinite power, and, in many cases, are scared. A very bad and often lethal combination! They are often "trained" by military types whose assumption is "be scared and shoot first." All of us have to work to change that.

  2. Len Cabral says:

    Maybe we should run drug test on police and anyone that is armed while working. Certain drugs make some people paranoid and overly aggressive. This is a case in point. Where is protect and serve?

  3. Jared Paul says:

    Thanks for sharing, Christopher Johnson. So saddening. Frustrating. Enraging. Shit just isn't changing fast enough

  4. Did you go in to file an official compliant?

  5. Your facts, while correct, are used incorrectly. For example, you state that white-on-white crime is far greater than black-on-black crime… but you don't adjust for the fact that there are 5x as many white people as black people. Yet, you then use this exact adjustment to claim that cops kill more black people than white people, proportionally.

    This is a logical fallacy and, while I don't know you, it shows that you are trying to push a narrative, not the truth.

    The truth is that cops actually do kill white people more often than they kill black people if you properly control for the conditions of the encounter. Several studies have shown this (none have shown the opposite), including a very recent one done by a black Harvard Economist, Roland Fryer Jr., who specifically set out to prove that cops are racists. The results shocked him, becuase they stated the opposite.

    As for your own specific situation – Based on the way you tell it (which is the only way I know) it looks like the cop behaved poorly. As you mentioned, tensions are currently very high between the cop and black community. I personally believe that BLM is the cause for this (based on the facts I presented above), and, as a supporter of BLM, you are somewhat at fault as well. The fact that you didn't respect the cop more, while within your rights and the law, certainly doesn't help.

    Should the cop have thrown you in a cell for the night? No. Did he have the right to stop and question you? Unclear. Should you have respected him more and gone home to a goods night rest instead of antagonizing the cop and falsely accusing him of being a likely murderer? Yes.

  6. Whites who are killed are usually not shot in the back, unarmed or stopped just because they are walking down the street.

  7. Renee L. Bailey That is false. I suggest you read the study done by Roland Fryer or any of the other studies done that show that whites are actually shot more than blacks by cops when you control for various factors (including unarmed, walking away, etc.)

  8. Cyn Babcock says:

    You are absolutely correct. And bravo for making a stand in not giving your name. Just very grateful nothing happened in reguards to turning into dangerous violence. Just the fact that you were put into the car and transported uncuffed ????? Very scary.

  9. Maura Flynn says:

    Submitting to giving your name is no gaurantee that your evening would have ended differently because there is always a second question and entrenched racism.

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