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August 17, 2014 10:23 AM Existing While Black

By Martin Longman

In the Washington Post, Manuel Roig-Franzia, DeNeen Brown and Wesley Lowery have a nice overview of the problems in Ferguson, Missouri that takes into account the perspectives of the black citizens of that town and the towns around it. A common theme is that it isn’t safe to drive, which is interesting because Mike Brown was on foot when he was executed by a police officer in broad daylight on the street.

In interview after interview, black men and women talked about their fears of random stops while driving in the city, as well as in neighboring municipalities.
Marcus White, an acquaintance of Brown who works for a moving company, said he frequently has to spend the night in his employer’s office because he can’t find anyone to drive him home to Ferguson.
“They’ll tell me, ‘I don’t go past Goodfellow,’ ” he said, referencing one of the streets near the line that separates the county of St. Louis from the city of the same name.
Many here have their own catalogue of towns that they dare not drive through. They sketch long, circuitous routes to avoid the small areas where they feel most targeted, a concern buttressed by statistics that show far higher numbers of traffic stops involving African Americans than whites in the St. Louis suburbs.
“More than four people in the car, they’re going to pull you over,” said Earl Lee Jr., a 41-year-old warehouse worker who lives in a nearby suburb. “Tint on your windows, they’re going to pull you over. Too early in the morning, they think you’re up to something. Too late, they think you’re up to something. When are you supposed to drive?”

It’s this presumption of criminality that gnaws away at the black community’s relationship with the police. It’s bad enough to have to always be thinking about how to avoid the suspicion of the police.

“Is it too late to drive to my friend’s house?” “Too early?” “I’m certainly not going to use that car.” “No, you can’t come, we already have four people in the car.”

This is considered good policing in a lot of this country. See a car with tinted windows? Pull them over; tell them their tail light isn’t working; check them out; tell them their tail light is working again; let them go.

They don’t do this to white people in white neighborhoods. They just don’t.

So, things are tense before someone gets gunned down in the street. Sell cigarettes in Staten Island and get put in a fatal chokehold. Steal cigars in Missouri and people will defend a cop who empties his gun into you while you try to surrender. In the latter case, the cop didn’t even know Mike Brown had stolen cigars. He confronted him for walking in the middle of the road.

But, if the black community had reason to fear and mistrust the police before, how much more so now that the police have put the community under siege, and fire on them nightly with a combination of chemical smoke, tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and sonic blasts? They do this, mind you, while maligning the victim and defending the murderer.

This is not the way to police any community.

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