Her: What should I do if police stop me or come up to me?
You: Accept that your skin color makes law enforcement prone to profile you quicker and more often than girls, and even boys, of other ethnicities. While it is unfair, it is best to cooperate. Carry identification on you at all times: a state ID, driver’s license or school ID. Keep a cell phone for emergencies. Should a police officer walk up to you or ride behind your car or pull you over, you definitely want to show your hands so they see you have nothing in them. Don’t even reach for a cell phone to call me. Ask permission first.
This is the new “talk.”
The American Civil Liberties Union defines “racial profiling” as “the discriminatory practice by law enforcement officials of targeting individuals for suspicion of crime based on the individual’s race, ethnicity, religion or national origin. Criminal profiling, generally, as practiced by police, is the reliance on a group of characteristics they believe to be associated with crime.”
Although the McKinney, Texas, pool party false arrests video breaks hearts, and those young people will need exceptional support in the next few years to recover, it opens a window of opportunity for black women and girls to be taken seriously on a silenced fact: We have always been at just as much risk for undue punishment as black men and boys.
Black female slaves were punished along with black male slaves for petty mistakes or presumed underproduction. When we consider their requirement to be sexual with both their owners and fellow slaves they were expected to breed with, black women probably endured more punishment than their male counterparts. Any scene of law enforcement clashing with non-violent protestors during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement shows women and girls hosed down or battling attack dogs right along with men and boys.
And, as teenager Brandon Brooks’ video shows, American black women and girls today are often manhandled and suffer excessive force from law enforcement without basis or threat.
Though I have learned to live with the flashbacks, these children’s abuse triggered remembrance of similar “post-racial” experiences I have suffered, many in my own home or neighborhood. While my reports for help were ignored or even reprimanded if I needed law enforcement, any familiar or stranger who had a petty gripe or axe to grind with me could make one call or one hand gesture to get me defending myself like a criminal. This incomprehensible equation has escalated into the crisis state we see today.
Even when I feel my safety is at risk on a dark road or empty street, I avoid police.
I do not recommend anyone else to go to such extremes. However, we must open up the conversation on what to do about police for not just black boys, but black girls. They cannot be expected to understand what we say to them. When I was in my teens, my local NAACP wanted to protest the schools’ alleged mistreatment and mis-education of black students. I did not understand it. Then, I thought the world was fair. Now, I could be one leading the protests. It is hard to deny the accumulation of others’ questions, reprimands, disrespect, weird behavior and seeming mistrust of my presence. It all meant discrimination was not necessarily an intrusive or unexpected event, but rather a part of daily life.
Some profiling is good and even necessary. Imagine the chaos if men were directed to women’s bathrooms (or vice versa). What if school leaders sent kindergarteners to classes with high school students? We definitely need to categorize people from time to time. But profiling hurts when ignorant or malicious people can judge innocent people harshly or incorrectly based upon powerful negative perceptions. We have to sit our girls down and tell them, sadly, police officers may not be working for them much of the time.