Let’s face facts here, people. In this new age of Trumpism, it’s becoming all too commonplace for white people to call the police on black people for a litany of mundane reasons. Virtually nothing – it would seem – is out of bounds these days. Barbecuing While Black. Delivering Newspapers While Black. Selling Water While Black. These stories are straight out of something you’d see on Key and Peele, except they…well…actually happen.
But I’m torn on the following incident, dubbed by Raw Story as Yoga CD Listening While Black:
Ezekiel Phillips claims that he was sitting in his car, resting before his yoga class and listening to a Bikram Yoga CD, when a white woman confronted him, telling him that he didn’t belong in the area.
“You’re not supposed to be here. This is a good neighborhood,” he recalled to FOX 11.
“At that moment I’m like, ‘wait hold up’. Have a good day ma’am. Namaste. And I rolled my window up,” he said.
She started taking video, and so did he. Then the woman called Long Beach police.
In the 911 call, obtained by FOX 11, the woman can be heard grousing that the man was unfamiliar.
“I noticed him two houses up from my parents’ house and I’m like, you know and he’s waving to me. I don’t know who he is.”
She added, “I go ‘why are you sitting in your car in our neighborhood? And he goes ‘I’m resting’ and I’m like you weren’t two blocks back’’.
Phillips decided to stick it out. “I thought about it. ‘If I leave, it’s looking like I’m guilty of whatever she’s talking about.”
Police arrived and Phillips wasn’t charged with anything.
It should be noted that the actual reporting of the story never mentioned anything about the lady’s call having to do with Mr. Phillips playing a CD. Raw Story – a decidedly liberal outlet – is probably playing up the “(Fill in the Activity) While Black” narrative with, what I would consider, a misleading headline. Instead, her call to the police was about a man (albeit, a black man) parked on her block and inexplicably waiting in his car for a significant amount of time. That said, the story does raise a fair and legitimate question: was this lady’s actions rooted in racism, cautiousness, or both?
For me to believe that her actions were racially motivated I would have know for sure that she would not have responded the same way if the person in the car was white. I don’t. Without knowing anything about her, I’d like to believe that she would’ve called the police about anyone she deemed suspicious (to be sure, another obvious question to consider is what makes one person ‘suspicious’ and another person above suspicion”). But to me, this lady’s suspicions about Mr. Phillip’s questionable presence in the neighborhood seemed to be fair and practical, at least in this particular situation.
I freely admit: perhaps my own personal experiences have jaded my thoughts on this matter. As I recount the following true story, I remember a quote I once heard (sorry I can’t properly cite it): “A liberal is just a conservative who hasn’t been robbed yet”, an idea suggesting that a person’s idealistic views on a subject are likely to change once reality hits.
Anyway, as a relatively new homeowner, my wife and I have had the misfortune of having our house broken into twice. The first time, the break-in was committed by white guys. The second time, black guys. But in both cases (especially in the first instance, when our monitored security system wasn’t in place yet), our former neighbor Sally served as our eyes and ears. She called the police when she noticed people lurking around our home before they actually made any kind of move. And once they did, it was only because of her intervention that those guys didn’t have as much time as they wanted to completely clean our place out. The second group of guys were thwarted by a combination of Sally, my dad-in-law who got on the scene quickly, and our security system. But, again, in both situations, Sally’s vigilance was a real blessing to us.
But during that first situation where we didn’t have the benefit of monitored security, what if Sally hadn’t noticed anything? Or, worse yet, what if she noticed that something seemed off, but chose not to engage out of fear of being attacked for being too presumptuous? And even worse than that, what if Sally (a white woman herself) assumed the white guys were harmless as she went about her day?
Point being: people are so quick to attack the “see something, say something” notion. But isn’t that the level of social engagement we should hope and strive for? And yet, this lady’s watchful and vigilant behavior is somehow considered problematic. At least, until it becomes the very type of engagement keeps her neighbors safe and their homes/possessions in order. Maybe Mr. Phillip wasn’t a problem today. And thank goodness. But that might be a different story the next day. Or the day after that.
Frankly, it’s in moments like that I wish there were more Sallys in the world.