Over the past few months stories of Permit Patty, BBQ Becky, and ID Adam—disgruntled white people who call the cops after assuming a black person was up to no good—have gotten all-too consistent coverage in the news. Viral videos of these folks and others like them have been shocking to many. But for black people and other oppressed groups, it's nothing new. While many white people have stories of being helped out by officers, even after they've clearly committed a crime, black people are usually not given the benefit of the doubt. In fact, being viewed with suspicious eyes—accused, harassed, questioned—and treated like a criminal by law enforcement without cause is unfortunately a regular occurrence for black people, one they're all-too-familiar with. With that in mind, I rounded up some stories from black folks I know who have been accused, singled out, or interrogated for simply being out in the world.
Shamel, 29, Audio Engineer and Navy Veteran
When I was 19, I was in my garage fixing my little brother’s bike. This random lady drove up to my house and said, “Hey, where did you get that bike?” I told her it was my little brother’s. But she just continued interrogating me. Then she said, “My son had his bike stolen recently and it looks like that one.” I stayed calm and told her, “I’m sorry to hear that. If I hear of or see another bike that looks like this one, I will notify you.” Then she just drove off. A few minutes went by, and I walked the bike over to my grandmother’s house next door, which is where we store our bikes. This lady drove back down the street—it was almost as if she had parked somewhere close by and had just been watching. She screamed out, “Hey, where are you going with that bike?” I told her that the house belonged to my grandmother and this is where we keep our bikes. And she shouted out, “I just saw you in the house next door with my son’s bike and now you are moving it somewhere else? Are you going to give my son his bike back?” She drove off really fast once again. At this point, I went inside to speak to my grandmother and call my mother to tell her about this lady. As I walked outside of my grandmother’s house on the phone with my mother, I saw a police officer walking up the driveway with his hand on his gun. The woman was standing at the end of the driveway. Now, I was pleading my case to this cop as my mother was on the phone listening to everything. The cop told me to give the woman the bike. He said he didn't want to take me to jail over it. And I told him once again that this was my brother’s bike, not her son’s. The cop then asked to take a look at the bike, so I let him. Then he walked down to the lady and asked her to describe her son’s bike. The woman described the bike and I heard him say, "Ma’am, I don’t think that’s your son’s bike." So she got mad and drove off.
Darin, 56, Business Owner
I was with a friend of mine who was selling houses. He used his lock box key to get inside one he was showing me. But when we opened the door, the alarm started going off. As soon as it did he called the listing agent to let her know. She apologized and said she had just run out for lunch and instinctively put the alarm on. She said she’d be there in a few minutes to turn it off. She let us know the police would probably come, but if my friend just showed them his real estate card and let them know he's a realtor, it wouldn't be a problem. So the police showed up and my friend tried to explain. He gave the officer his card. The officer also asked for my ID. We stood there as he called everything in, checking to see if we had any warrants or a record. He made us stand up against the car like we were criminals. It wasn’t until the listing agent—a tiny white woman—came up and asked the officer what he was doing that he decided to back off. I should add: At the time, I was a corrections officer. I gave the officer my badge and he still felt the need to do a background check.
Alexis, 24, EMT
One time, I was picking up my friend from her house—she lived on the rougher side of town. I was driving my dad’s car, a Mercedes truck. I made a left turn onto the highway and got pulled over. The officer told me I didn’t use a blinker while turning, but my blinker was literally still on as he was talking to me because he pulled me over mid-turn. I said to him, “Sir, my blinker is still on.” and he said, “Oh, I must have missed it.” He then asked for my license and registration, so I asked him why he pulled me over. He said, “Well, you have a tinted license plate cover,“ and asked whose car it was. I told him it was my father’s. He asked for my license and registration again. He looked at my license and seemed very confused when he saw that I lived in the suburbs. He asked me what I was doing out in the area, and I told him, I’m picking up my friend—who was beside me in the passenger seat. I pointed to her. Then, sounding surprised because my white friend lives in a rough area, he asked her, “You live out here?” She said yes. Then he let us go.
Carrie*, 26, Freelance Makeup Artist
I was meeting up with a friend to go to this restaurant. They were running late, so I decided to run across the street to a Walmart. I’ve worked in makeup retail for a long time and I tend to only use higher-end products, but I still wanted to browse to see what makeup Walmart had. I’ve noticed that when I have my hair in a more European style—like straight hair with no curls—store clerks don’t even look at me. But this day, I was really relaxed. I had just washed my hair, so I had it in a scarf and I was wearing a T-shirt, some jeans, and sneakers. I picked up a lip gloss, looked at it, decided I’d already had something similar and put it down. I was in the cosmetics section for something like 30 seconds—I didn’t really linger because there was nothing I wanted. I went over to the shoe department and tried on a few things, but then my friend called to say she was at the restaurant. As I was leaving the store, some guy came up and said, “Do you want to give me the makeup in your bag?” I was shocked. All I could say was “What?” He repeated himself, asking me to give him the makeup in my bag. When it clicked, I just started smiling because I literally couldn’t believe what was happening. I asked him if he was sure he wanted to check my bag, to which he replied with a nod. As a customer and someone who has worked in retail, I know my rights. And I know it is illegal to check someone’s property if you are not an officer. I felt so violated and embarrassed because he had just accused me of stealing and was looking through my bag. People were walking by, so it really did look like I stole something. As he looked through my bag I saw his face grow cold when he realized it was empty. He then gave me some bullshit about how there is a lot of theft in that area and how he and his coworkers have to keep their eyes open. “Did you stop me because you have a lot of theft in that area, or because I look like other black girls who you think steal from your store?” I asked, before requesting to speak to his manager. I looked around and saw people shaking their heads. The manager came over and gave a half-ass apology and offered me a gift card. I was so embarrassed that I took it and left. I never went back to that Walmart.
Glorie, 27, Office of CFO/COO
Every black parent who lives in Georgia has had this conversation with their child: “From this exit to this exit, whatever you do, don’t get out of the car.” There are those areas where everyone knows there are a bunch of racist cops. During my freshman year of college, a friend and I were driving to Savannah and something happened to his tire. He tried to control the car, but it flipped. We got into a horrible accident. If it wasn’t for our seat belts, we would have died. In that area, police don’t respond quickly. Instead, they send a third party that assesses you before they arrive. Things felt off when these first responders pulled us out of the car and began assessing our injuries. They were a group of white men and we could tell that they didn’t really want anything to do with us and didn't seem to care about what we'd been through.
Just before the accident, we'd gotten gas and gum at a service station. While we were standing there and I said to my friend, "I wish we'd gotten the gum out of the car." Next thing I know, we are surrounded by 50 cops. They'd misheard me. “You have a gun in the car?” The vehicle had already been towed, and they couldn't search it to see that we didn't. So now, after this horrific accident, we had to wait for them to finish the investigation. It felt like I went from being a freshman in college to being looked at as a criminal. And a part of me can really see how someone could get “gun” from “gum,” but we were saying it in a joking way to each other. We were trying to make light of us almost dying. So after they got the car and searched it, they still didn’t believe us. They made us sit outside for hours while they searched the entire area to make sure we didn’t throw the gun out of the window or something.
*Names have been changed at participant's request.
This article has been edited for length and clarity.
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