In recent weeks, there have been several incidents where white people, mostly women, have called the police on people of color for doing the most mundane things: waiting in a Starbucks, touring a college campus, sleeping in a college dorm room or grilling in a public park. In each incident, after being questioned by the police, the people of color were released with no charges filed.
The Trump Fear Factor
The fact that no charges were filed in any of these cases isn’t surprising, nor is it surprising that there’s been a marked increase in the number of such incidents, particularly given the nationalist fear mongering and racism stoked by the Trump administration in the language, tone and tenor of remarks about people of color.
In public remarks and tweets, Trump has vilified people of color at nearly every turn. The mostly black NFL players taking a knee in protest of social injustice and police brutality are “sons of bitches.” Hispanic MS-13 gang members are “animals,” and people from Haiti, El Salvador and Africa are from “shithole countries.”
Meanwhile, Trump defended white supremacists at a rally in Charlottesville last August, saying the group included “some very fine people.”
The message the president is sending very clearly is that people of color are unwelcomed. What we see consistently from the highest levels of our government is an attempt to relegate people of color to second-class citizenship and dehumanization.
Unconscious or Explicit Bias?
Is it any wonder then that some white women, who may have their own biases about people of color, are taking a cue from the president’s example and instituting an overzealous, fear-based vigilante approach? Is it irrational fear, a manifestation of unconscious bias, or more explicit prejudices that cause them to make people of color feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed in any space?
While one could argue that these incidents are the result of unconscious bias, when these highly publicized cases seem to only increase in number, it’s difficult to believe they aren’t, in fact, explicit efforts to intimidate and/or to potentially endanger the lives of people of color.
Anyone who’s watched the national news just once a week for the past three years has likely heard of at least one case of an unarmed black person being beaten or killed by a police officer. Encountering a person with black or brown skin is by itself a perceived threat to some law enforcement officers.
Thus, when a white individual calls the police on a person of color who is committing no crime, has made no threat and is simply being, it could have tragic consequences and endanger someone’s life.
When law enforcement officers are called to intimidate or harass ordinary citizens of color for no justifiable cause, the people who make the call should be held accountable for making a false report. Then, and only then, will people begin to think twice about weaponizing the police simply because their own prejudices make them feel uncomfortable around people of color.
Stacy Fitzgerald is a Washington, DC area Gen Xer whose obsessions include politics, traveling and food and wine ventures.