While the Trayvon Martin protests took place in a hundred cities over the weekend, I listened to Brian Copeland on KGO Radio. (Sign his MoveOn petition to boycott the state Florida until the “stand your ground” law is repealed.) Like President Barack Obama sharing his experiences of being a young black man in America, he shared of his own experiences from living in the East Bay during the 1970’s.
He dropped his car off at Jiffy Lube and walked over to Tower Records when a van cut him off at the gas station in San Leandro. A white undercover police officer jumped out with a gun, told him get down on the ground, frisked him while pointing the gun at the back of his head, called in his driver license on the radio, and let him go because he had no outstanding warrants.
On another occasion, he helped a white woman moved out of her dorm room. After they got on to the 580 in Oakland, a CHP officer pulled over the van that she drove and asked for his identification. When the officer returned from calling in his driver license info and founding no outstanding warrants, he asked the woman if she was okay and wasn’t under any duress from being with a black man.
An Oakland woman called in with a story about her eight-year-old nephew that also happened in the 1970’s. A neighbor around the corner called over to say that she had a batch of cookies fresh out of the oven. She told her nephew to walk over to pick up the cookies. Of course, he didn’t. A moment later she heard police sirens, ran out of the house and found her nephew in a chokehold by a white police officer. The poor kid pissed his pants from being terrified. She called a police officer she knew to come over to rescue her nephew from being booked in jail for running through the neighborhood.
Some white callers gave Copeland grief for “whining” about being a black man, provoking hatred between the races, and complaining about a problem that wouldn’t exist if black people stopped talking about it. If a black man could be elected President of the United States, most white people think we must live in a post-racial society. The real world doesn’t work that way—at least, not in my neighborhood.
One summer afternoon a few years ago I heard a commotion coming from the parking lot outside and walked out on to my balcony to see what was going on. An older black man stood with his wallet in hand next to his big car in the fire lane, and five San Jose police officers—three whites and two Hispanics—with hands on their holstered guns stood behind three police cars in the parking lot. A traffic stop being made this far back into the apartment complex was unusual. A black man screaming at the cops about driving while black for a half-hour was something else.
Although the SJPD has long denied committing any racial profiling, officers will have to record the race of any person they stop for any reason by the end of the year.
As a white man in California, I can’t ever relate to being a black man. Race isn’t something I think about at all. The only racism I run into as a “minority” technician among Indian engineers is finding only vegetarian pizzas for the catered meetings and special events at my tech job. No pepperoni and sausage for this fat white boy.