Racialicious has an excellent post on walking while black.
I have felt like Trayvon Martin. Many many times while walking at night, being pulled over by police, being told that I’m not supposed to ‘be.’ My ‘being’ in a space has caused questions, concerns, suspicions. In the back of my mind I always wondered if there would be a reckoning. If my ‘being’ would become so intolerable to someone that they would try to end my existence rather than engage in a conversation. The only difference between me and Trayvon is that I am still here and he is not. Still, the question lurks around the subconscious when I walk home every night from the subway and a police car slows down alongside me. The squad car slows down. Eyeballs examine my ‘being,’ noticing any signs of anger, insanity, guilt. I continue walking, pretending to be oblivious. In most cases this is the best sign of innocence: by pretending to not notice.
Some people have access to the streets, and other people don’t. Since I don’t own a car and end up walking everywhere, I have a lot of personal experience as this. When I’m in blue jeans and a Star Wars T-shirt and a binder, and hence read as male, I never get harassed. When I’m in a skirt and eyeliner, and hence read as female, I get endless comments. The “you’re so beautiful” and the “hey girl, you gotta nice ass, wanna fuck?” I can deal with, although it is somewhat unpleasant to be reminded that to many people my primary purpose on the street is not walking but eye candy. The “stuck-up bitches” and the descriptions in great detail of what, exactly, the person would like to do to my ass are… well, frankly, they’re terrifying.
The ability to walk unmolested on a street? Is a privilege. And it’s a privilege not open to far too many people. Conventionally attractive women. The visibly non-gender-conforming or trans. Fat people. And black men.
But for black men, the street is far more dangerous than it is for me. I may face someone calling me a stuck-up bitch, but I rarely have a (reasonable, not a result of female socialization to be afraid) fear for my life or my safety. My harassers are civilians, not my government. It is unlikely that I will be murdered or imprisoned.
For black men, that is not always the case. For instance, consider, in the United States, the Terry stop, otherwise known as the stop-and-frisk.
According to US law, the police may briefly detain a person on suspicion of a crime even if there isn’t sufficient probable cause for arrest; this is known as a Terry stop, after the Supreme Court case that made it legal. By law, although a patdown is allowed, it must be limited to what is necessary to discover weapons; however, if contrabrand (such as, most commonly, drugs) is discovered, the suspect may be arrested.
In New York City, 91% of those who were stop-and-frisked were people of color. Most of them were men of color; 88% of people detained had committed no crime. Many other cities have comparable stats.
That’s right. In New York City– and around the country– men of color can be, at will, detained by the police based on nothing but the merest suspicion of wrongdoing (and for far too many cops, “being black in public” counts as a suspicion of wrongdoing). It’s the best way of saying that this basic public infrastructure? It’s not for you.
Not to mention the ones who ARE breaking the law. For instance, if you are carrying a small quantity of marijuana for personal use, bothering no one, harming no one, causing not the least pain or suffering to any individual whatsoever, you can be arrested and have a felony on your record because a cop found your pot during the stop-and-frisk. Meanwhile, a white person carrying an equivalent amount of marijuana may walk the streets in perfect freedom, since their chance of being frisked is about as much as their chance of suddenly choosing to take up Pastafarianism.
I say: fuck that shit. People of color pay the same taxes that white people do; they should have equal ability to walk about on the street they fucking paid for unmolested. That is not too much of a demand.