Whites use cops as ‘Black people removers’

It’s nothing new, just better documented and shared

News Analysis

The phenomenon of White folks calling the police on Black folks, including children, for doing everyday things like barbecuing, traveling, and even canvassing neighborhoods has risen to what seems like new heights. Just about every week a new video or meme goes viral, maintaining a stronghold on our conversations.

For example, in Ohio, angry White folks called the cops because a 12-year-old Black boy accidentally mowed some of their lawn last month, and then they called again on July 4 because they felt “threatened.” An eight-year-old California girl was selling bottled water outside her apartment complex when a White lady dubbed #PermitPatty dialed 911 to report that the budding entrepreneur didn’t have a permit for her impromptu fundraiser.

Who can forget the performance #BBQBecky put on when she phoned in a tip to police about Black folks grilling in a public park, which is legal and lawful to do. Just last week, a White woman called the police on Oregon State Rep. Janelle Bynum while she was canvassing constituents.

The author of this article even experienced her own #BabiesInTheBack episode in Woodbury, MN when passers-by accused her husband of leaving their children alone in a van only to find the author – their mother – with them.

And the list goes on…

The question now is why. What’s going on in this country that White people feel empowered to use police as their personal “Neighborhood Association Enforcement Agency?”

To get an answer, the MSR reached out to Keith Mayes, associate professor of African American & African studies in the College of Liberal Arts at the University of Minnesota.

Mayes is an expert in race relations, perceptions, and civil rights policies. But, don’t let the smooth taste and all his degrees fool you. Mayes is a thug at heart like Killmonger from Marvel’s Black Panther, and he ain’t never scared.

(l-r) Keith, Myles, and Marcus Mayes Courtesy of Keith Mayes

Sheletta Brunbidge (SB): It seems like Black people can’t even breathe without having the cops called on us. Why is this phenomenon of Whites policing Black existence growing to such levels?

Keith Mayes (KM): I think it’s because we live in the age of Trump. Some White people think they have a license to call the police even though they know that Black people are not doing anything wrong.

They think the Black person is a source of menace, even a Black child. So they call the police to remove the Black person from their sight. I think it’s gone beyond any kind of reasonable call for someone you think is doing something wrong. They’re thinking, “I just don’t want to see these Negroes around here!”

SB: Is this a new phenomenon?

KM: I think it’s always been there. We [as Blacks] are now hypervigilant about White people doing this kind of stuff because we live in a different era. We thought what we saw on the news were outliers or aberrations. We are seeing occurrences across the country, but now we are documenting it more frequently and we have more proof of it happening.

SB: What do you think about communities recording and documenting this ongoing issue?

KM: I love it. That’s why social media is so important, because we need to put them on blast. #PermitPatty had to resign as CEO of her company when video surfaced online as she called police on a little girl selling water in front of her apartment complex. She paid a price for it.

I think if more people paid prices for doing stuff like this, they are less likely to do it. I just think we need to put some folks on blast and have that be the educational campaign that we engage in for now.

SB: What about the children? What do we tell parents like myself who are going to extremes to not let them go anywhere to prevent another #BBQBecky situation?

KM: What you’re doing to your kids is what we don’t want to do. We don’t want to keep our kids in the house for fear that White folks will call the cops. You know, we’re talking about young kids just walking around the neighborhood or going to the store or a swimming pool.

SB: Aren’t you personally afraid of what could happen?

KM: I’ll be damned if I’m not going to go to the park to cool out with my family and not throw some stuff on the grill because I’m worried about #PermitPatty.

SB: So then, how do we prepare children?

KM: The only way to prepare them is to give them the additional talk, which is to say, “Listen, when you go to these places, you shouldn’t be afraid. You have a right to go where you want.”

We want to give them the freedom to play, but we have to be careful. We may need to accompany our kids. We may need to have somebody who is watching over them. So, from now on we will have to monitor the situation to make sure they are all right.

SB: Playing devil’s advocate, could it be possible that White folks are genuinely concerned for their safety?

KM: I don’t think that’s the case. Truth is, they don’t want us there, and they are going to use whatever White power and privilege they have to get us out. My thing is, if there is indeed some kind of misrepresentation about who people are or some confusion about where they are from, that can be cleared up with a conversation.

Some simple respectful dialogue would diffuse the matter. But they are like, “I don’t want you Negroes around, even if you are kids.”


Update – July 12, 2018: This story was updated to correctly identify Prof. Mayes’ position at the University of Minnesota.