By Mildred Robertson
I started Tuesday morning as I usually do, watching “Morning Joe.” Some days I can take it – some I can’t. This was one of the mornings when Joe’s pontifications rubbed me—more than usual—the wrong way. The panel discussed New York City’s stop and frisk law.
As has been occurring since the Trayvon Martin tragedy and ill-conceived verdict, a bunch of white men discussed what it must be like to be young, black, and well – existing. They rolled out the stop and frisk numbers, indicating that only 1 in 10 of the profiled individuals stopped actually even got a citation, let alone charged for a serious offense.
Joe pointed out that if similar stops were made in upper Manhattan, the numbers of those found actually committing a crime would probably not be that different. So, why, might you ask, am I particularly irritated with Joe Scarborough for this morning’s coverage.
It is because, apparently, he does not listen.
After hearing numerous African Americans, many his peers, explain to him how Black mothers and fathers must counsel their children to interpret any encounter with police as possibly a life threatening one, he still doesn’t get it.
The discussion turned to the fact that it is not the stop and frisk law that is so distasteful to African Americans. In fact, many who live in crime-infested neighborhoods appreciate aggressive policing. They just want that aggressive policing to be impartial, just and universal.
Joe goes on to say that aggressive policing wouldn’t work in upper Manhattan. Were he to be stopped and frisked on numerous occasions, he pontificated; he would demand the officer’s name and badge number. He’s a lawyer, you know. He knows his rights!
Again, Joe doesn’t listen.
Those words might work coming from his mouth, or the mouth of someone who looks like him. For my son, that might mean a beating, and perhaps a trip to the morgue. That’s the part he doesn’t get. That is the point of the outrage.
But not just outrage—pain.
It pains me that my 20-something year old son, running for a bus in Escondido, California, strapped with his college backpack was profiled by a police officer. I was pained that he suffered the inconvenience of being stopped. That he endured the insult of being called boy. That he suffered the humiliation of being asked why he was in the neighborhood – the neighborhood he lived in. That he had to PROVE that he lived there.
It was irrelevant that he was on his way to work. That he was running to catch the only bus that would get him to work on time. That he had his backpack because he was not going to be able to come home before heading off to school. The officer just saw a black man running in a white neighborhood early in the morning. To the police officer, it was obvious. He must be carrying stolen goods.
And Lord help, when my son told me the story, he said he told the police officer he was running to catch the bus so he could get to work on time, and because he was stopped, that might not happen. As a mother, my heart jumped in my chest. I told him to never do that again. I reminded him of Rodney King. By the luck of the draw, he didn’t get a “Rodney King” cop and he made his bus and made it to work on time.
My son told me he was sorry that his actions had upset me, but that he was a man, and that he demanded to be treated like one. I was proud—but terrified.
I remain terrified. Because I know who my son is, I fear his encounters with the establishment. Although my heart goes out to her, I don’t want to be like Trayvon Martin’s mother.
That’s what Joe Scarborough doesn’t get. My son was not raised in the hood. He is not a gang banger. He doesn’t carry weapons. He doesn’t sell drugs. But profiling can see none of that.
All it can see is that he is Black. That makes him suspect. That means he does not have the luxury of looking a police officer in the eye and saying "I need your name and badge number" without fear of repercussion. That means his rights, are not like your rights, Joe.
And therein lies the problem.