BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES

I can't breathe: Black men and white-caller crimes

The white-caller crimes have led to black Americans having to defend their presence in public places. This goes beyond racial discrimination.

 |  BREAKING NEWS INTO PIECES  |  6-minute read |   02-06-2020
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American culture penetrates Indian minds through Hollywood movies. It happened to me too. You couldn’t help but admire the onscreen police in America. They were well-equipped, very professional and addressed everyone as sir and one another as officers. Nobody messed with them, unlike our policemen, who would be ridiculed, often beaten up by small-time politicians and their goons. One wished one was protected by the fine and straight officers of the American police than the bribe-loving corrupt-to-the-core crooks of a dysfunctional force here at home. 

Then, one grows up and learns that “Police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Risk of being killed by police peaks between the ages of 20 years and 35 years for men and women.” That’s according to the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 

main_racism-in-ameri_060220055720.jpgWhite people simply pretend to be scared and the black man has to face the strong arm of the law. (Photo: Reuters)

One morning in LA, I had decided to walk to a conference venue because taking a taxi to a place in clear sight seemed like a waste of money. Soon, I realised I was the only one walking. The neighbourhood seemed posh and I assumed it would be white. And I was a person of colour walking along these quaint, minimally magnificent houses with neatly mowed lawns and dainty driveways. A weird sense of unfriendliness took over my thoughts. I was afraid. I didn’t fear robbery or mugging. I feared someone would call the police and they would do what American cops do. Policing in the land of the free means the men in uniform are free to do anything to you, and your rights and life depended on the colour of your skin. 

Just months ago, a 57-year-old Indian man was assaulted by police officers in Madison, Alabama, after a resident called 911 and complained of suspicious behaviour in their neighbourhood. Sureshbhai Patel was in the US visiting his son. He had gone out for a walk in the neighbourhood. As a result of the police brutality, he was partially paralysed. 

Nobody wants to end up like Sureshbhai Patel but innumerable people do. And that there was nobody else walking was not comforting at all. Then I realised I was lost, because I reached a freeway and needed directions to walk. A man in jogging shorts and running shoes appeared from behind and I called out to him but he had earbuds in and didn’t hear. So I shouted a bit louder and the man looked at me and ran instead of jogging. He had just ignored me, but my paranoid mind thought worse could happen. 

Nothing untoward happened and the walk was utterly uneventful. I told a friend, who is a resident of California but not LA, about my unsettling walk. He guffawed and told me I was overthinking. He, however, said black people do get into trouble, but “we aren’t black”. That’s another story for another time but that September day, my fear was not unfounded, even if it did not come from experience but from reading about police hyper-action in American states. Just being a person of colour in a white neighbourhood can make you a suspect. If you are a black man walking, doubly so. 

main_george-floyd_pr_060220055854.jpgWhite-caller crimes have led to black Americans having to defend their presence in public places. (Photo: Reuters)

Before George Floyd was murdered by a policeman, a woman walking her dog in New York called up 911 and complained about a black man who was threatening her. All the black man, a Harvard grad and an avid birder, did, was to ask the white woman to leash her dog. Samuel Roberts, a professor at Columbia University, was walking his dog when he was stopped by cops because someone had called 911 to complain about a black man with a Rottweiler robbing people. White people simply pretend to be scared and the black man has to face the strong arm of the law. 

Rashon Nelson and Donte Robinson were out for a business meeting and waiting for a partner to show up at a Starbucks in Philadelphia. In less than 10 minutes, a whole posse of police was there, who accused them of trespassing. How do you trespass in a coffee shop even if it’s private property? Well, the store owner had called the police saying the two gentlemen were not ordering anything, so there must be some hanky-panky on their minds. Rashon and Donte were handcuffed and taken to the police station. Their crime was they waited for their business partner to arrive before they ordered. We have seen umpteen videos of black men, young and senior citizens, being pinned down by cops on suspicion which is a euphemism for racial profiling.

The British used to declare entire tribes in India as criminal tribes. The US has not done so but being black is somehow a criminal enterprise in the eyes of law enforcement. Of course, there will be statistics/data to support the narrative because the story there has been that skin colour matters and black lives don’t. The story of the Central Park Five, dramatised on Netflix, showed how. A white woman jogger was raped and five young black men were rounded up. They were prosecuted and condemned to prison. Until a serial rapist confessed to the rape. The zealous prosecutor went on to live her life comfortably. It took a Netflix series to force her to resign from her college board position. 

main1_george-floyd_1_060220060115.jpgA white person can put a black person in trouble because the white one feels scared or threatened by the mere existence of a black person around. (Photo: Reuters)

Trayvon Martin was only 17 when he had gone to meet relatives in a Florida gated community. A resident, George Zimmerman, called 911 to complain that a black boy is just walking around, looking about. “Looks like he’s up to no good,” he told the police as he went out to confront Martin. This led to an altercation and Zimmerman shot Martin dead. Zimmerman was charged and acquitted. Recently, Ahmaud Arbery was jogging when a father-son duo accosted and shot him dead. The reason they gave was similar. Walking around, looking about, up to no good, looked like a burglar, suspicious character, and if nothing works: I was scared, he was threatening.

This is white-caller crime. A white person can put a black person in trouble because the white one feels scared or threatened by the mere existence of a black person around. These white-caller crimes have led to black Americans having to defend their presence in public places. This goes beyond racial discrimination. This cannot be solved by the representation of the black minority in public positions. This is a disease; rather, a chronic disease. The cure is re-education of America. Americans have to rebuild their society. It’s time the US criminalised white-caller crimes. Charging the police officer who knelt on George Floyd’s neck with first-degree murder and his colleagues with being accessory to murder is a good place to begin with.

Also read: We will all breathe for George Floyd. Except Donald Trump and Mark Zuckerberg

Writer

Kamlesh Singh Kamlesh Singh @kamleshksingh

Journalism student. Ed honcho at the India Today Group Mediaplex. God's Loyal Opposition. Useful Warning: Tweets may hurt religious sentiments.

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