On Saturday, Sept. 27, I was walking shirtless in my neighborhood, going to work out. A police officer, my neighbor from within a block, stopped me and demanded my information saying, “You don’t belong here.” I’m black and he’s Hispanic. Our southwest neighborhood near the intersection of Red and Bird roads is almost entirely Hispanic. I don’t mind his stopping me. I’m not writing this to discuss or suggest racial profiling. My real problem is that, after my providing him with the information he requested, after telling him that we’re neighbors, he continued with that hideous language. “You don’t belong here.” I told him that a month earlier, another neighbor followed me in his car while I was walking to the grocery store in broad daylight and also told me, “You don’t belong here.” The officer replied, “Do you find that odd?”
Hm. I would’ve expected that an officer of the law would inquire to know more about a neighbor of his engaging in such tactics so that he could stop it. But not this time. Not this officer.
I’m writing this for two reasons: to wake people up about folks like these two neighbors of mine, and to wake people up about themselves.
I’m glad that I’m in this situation. If these gentlemen have previously had impunity in representing the police department and my neighborhood as discriminatory, I’m glad I can bring some attention to that prejudice. No person has the right to treat another this way, and certainly not a police officer – I, too, pay my taxes (read: his salary). If you know of such injustices, speak out. Silence isn’t the answer! Avoiding the police or avoiding neighbors to circumvent conflict when you’ve done nothing wrong is ridiculous. I’ve now been a victim of this closed-mindedness twice, in MY OWN NEIGHBORHOOD. I shudder to think – what if I had been subjugated like this, but was less self-confident? Unfortunately, some people out there may fit that description, and just never told anybody!
If you consider yourself as accepting and tolerant, then the right way to react to this is NOT to preach your opinion of “them” or “how they are.” If you’re really accepting and tolerant, you’ll realize that there is no “them” at all.
Ironically, this story is simultaneously way bigger and way smaller than a question of ethnic harmony. It’s bigger because it’s about how members of humanity treat each other. Ethnic relations represent only a part of the whole picture of human interactions. People are treated certain ways because of their gender, wealth, social status, physical abilities, sexual orientation, religion… anything that makes them different. My story points out ugly separations created along ethnic lines, but while you, reading this, may abhor racism, think about what lines you separate along in your day-to-day life. Who do you cast out?
I say this story is far smaller than a grand question of ethnic relations because these are just two guys. I have many other neighbors with whom I get along great. I asked one of those neighbors if we had a neighborhood council or anything like that, and she said, “You know, we don’t. But we should.”
Each of us should try to save the world; home is a great place to start.
– Rob Collins
First Year Law Student