Sunday, February 28, 2010

Racial profiling and street justice

There is a serial rapist in the Waldo area of Kansas City. A predominantly White, middle class neighborhood and perhaps not the first place you’d expect to see a crime spree.

The victims have been forced into their own homes or come home to find the man waiting for them. Scary stuff. Rape is one of women’s biggest fears. I think about it when I am walking to my car alone. When I am home alone. When a creepy guy in a bar looks at me and I coincidentally see him later in the night. So I can’t imagine the way these five women’s lives have been changed forever. My heart breaks for them.

But my heart also breaks as I read the stories of how some are responding. You see, the suspect is a Black man. A Black man in a very White neighborhood. So in addition to taking self defense classes, and double checking the locks on their doors, people are taking matters into their own hands – reporting their Black neighbors as possible suspects even though they bear no resemblance to the sketch. Some men have been followed as they go about their daily activities. They get double and triple looks when they run out to buy milk on the way home from work. The police have to follow up on tips in case one is correct. But I know if the suspect was a White male, the vigilante behavior wouldn’t exist.

We live in a very diverse area where for the first time ever, I might be in the racial minority. However, despite the numbers, my Whiteness still protects me. It’s a history of privilege and wealth. The inherent “safety” my race is given over traditional non-White groups. So even though I am in the minority, I still possess the inherent power I never earned. And part of that privilege means that when a white woman commits a crime, I don’t get any second looks because I fit the profile.

I don’t think the answer is to stop reporting suspects for fear of racial profiling if they truly are suspect. I don’t think the answer is for police not to stop following up on the tips for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. It’s a much deeper solution. I don’t know how to get us there, but the end solution means I don’t get any inherent privilege, power or safety just because my skin is white. And a Black man can live wherever he wants and not live in fear of his neighbor’s second glances.

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