Spotlight on Racial Profiling | Emilie Carroll
On April 12th Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson, both African American, planned to have a business meeting regarding a real estate opportunity in a Philadelphia Starbucks. While they were waiting, Nelson asked a white manager if he could use the restroom, to which she responded that restroom privileges were reserved for paying customers only. Nelson returned to the table he and Robinson had been sitting at and was approached by the same manager, who asked them if she could assist them in ordering a drink. They declined. Minutes later both men were in handcuffs, unsure of why the police had been called on them and why they were being arrested. They were kept in jail for a few hours but were eventually released, their trespassing charges dropped.
Fast forward to April 29th, when Onsayo Abram was setting up a charcoal grill for a family barbeque at Lake Merritt in Oakland, California. A white woman approached Abram and began arguing with him, attesting that it was illegal for him to use a charcoal grill in a non-charcoal zone. Lake Merritt has six designated grilling areas, half of which are reserved for charcoal grilling while the other half are classified as non-charcoal areas. Abram had set his charcoal grill up in a non-charcoal designated zone, which was enough to prompt the woman to call the police. No arrests were made, though police gathered statements from both parties as well as witnesses. One witness, Angela Williams, was quick to note that there were other families barbecuing on the lake that day and that she felt the woman had purposefully and unfairly targeted Onsayo.
On May 8th, Lolade Siyonbola, a postgraduate student at Yale University, fell asleep on the couch in her dorm’s common area. She woke up to the sound of white student yelling at her, telling her that she was not supposed to be there and that she was going to call the police. When police arrived on scene, they questioned Siyonbola for roughly fifteen minutes about whether or not she had the right to be in the dorm despite the fact that she used her key to unlock her door and prove her residency. Siyonbola also told the officers that the same white student had called the police on a friend who got lost in the stairwell in the past. The police eventually left after definitively identifying her as a Yale student, though the process was delayed due to the fact that her name was misspelled in the school’s database.
These three separate occasions are in no way secluded or extraordinary. They perfectly embody the idea of racial-profiling, the likes of which has been used for decades as an excuse to call the police in response to any slight discomfort caused by the presence of a minority individual. Racial profiling was a critical factor in the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old who was shot by law enforcement in 2014 after someone called 911 to report a man with a gun. Not only was Tamir just a child, he was also determined to have been playing with an airsoft gun and was unarmed when he was shot. Tamir’s death caused a huge uproar, spurring protests that made national headlines and inspiring widespread marches against police brutality. So how, despite the thousands of injustices that have both preceded and followed his death, including the events described above, has America still failed to understand that the police are a force meant to protect against threats, not marginalized people?
It is frustrating to see racial profiling used as a warrant for an unjustifiable arrest, especially knowing that in some cases the falsified dangers associated with cases of racial profiling can result in the loss of innocent life. Not only is calling the police because of discomfort irresponsible and a waste of valuable resources, it has also proven to be a life or death situation for many minorities. Law enforcement should not be used as personal security, nor should it be used as a mechanism through which people can express their contention for another person’s (law-abiding) actions, or their identity. Now more than ever, it is important that communities around the world band together and make a conscious effort to intervene when they see instances of profiling. And most of all, it is important that we use our voices to protect the innocent and educate the ignorant: there is power in speaking up.