Racialicious on Walking While Black

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.

About ozyfrantz

Ozy Frantz is a student at a well-respected Hippie College in the United States. Zie bases most of zir life decisions on Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, and identifies more closely with Pinkie Pie than is probably necessary. Ozy can be contacted at ozyfrantz@gmail.com or on Twitter as @ozyfrantz. Writing is presently Ozy's primary means of support, so to tip the blogger, click here.


  1. Invictus says:

    Walking while “other” is apparently not ok in a lot of places. Years ago as a young lower-middle class male living in an upper-middle to upper class area I would walk the mile x mile radius around my house or to the nearby 7-11 almost every day for years and years. I can count the number of times on my hands that I wasn’t stopped or harassed either by the police, or by people living in the area or driving by. I can’t even imagine what it would have been like if I was non-white.

  2. I’m sure I heard of a black trans man saying he was being arrested 9 times more often post transition than before.

  3. A friend of mine who is in a criminology program went on a ride along with police officers in Philadelphia. The police were unapologetic about how they make up any excuse to pull over drivers (who were all black males) and frisk them (frisking includes searching around their testicles). This happens every day in cities like Philadelphia and New York. It’s gross and needs to stop. I am glad that this blog is giving attention to the issue.

  4. Matthew Swaye says:

    Stop Stop&Frisk. Film the police:

    “Outside While Black”

  5. A disturbing thing that I realized is how much it seems people may normalize such racism. There are areas (cities, communities) where people are aware the police profile people of color, particularly black people. “I live in Fraser. Yeah, where the police suck; they stop anybody that is black and don’t even think about doing one mile over the limit. Try not to speed!” It seems like all white people I know can name a place like this. Just a part of everyday, treated like its hilarious or an annoyance equal to being busted for technically breaking the law if you’re not actually impacted by the practice. Is nothing done due to apathy, a belief held by racist whites that its okay, the belief that it can’t be proven or nothing will change anyway, or a combination of a few or all of those?

  6. @Ferris:
    Exactly my point. Sorry if I wasn’t clear; I was trying to point out that
    1) The statistics show that the idea that they’re looking for guns, which what they’re claiming to be doing, is ludicrous.
    2) Looking for drugs at Terry Stops, which is what they’re actually doing, is illegal.

  7. @Fnord that’s because they’re not looking for weapons, they’re looking for drugs. They don’t have probable cause to search for drugs, but due to various rulings related to officer safety, they can frisk someone for a weapon just as a routine matter. And if they should happen to find drugs during this suddenly legal pat-down… well there you’ve got a lot of nice easy collars that look good on crime stats.

  8. NYC has been crawling with police ever since Occupy, and it’s really quite terrifying. I think they’re ramping up a presence in preparation for May 1st too, which I am not looking forward to at all. In fact, I think I’m probably going to stay inside as much as I can thereabouts. I’ve got friends in high-ish places here too, people with a little clout, (someone with hush-hush ties to Occupy, who advised them on economic matters in the beginning), and his wife told me that the cops are apparently systematically busting his younger, college-age friends associated with the movement, in their homes, and detaining them for 72 hours at a time (complete with sleep deprivation, witholding food and water, restraining them in rigid sitting positions, etc).

    And that’s just OWS, which is mostly white kids.

    Another thing that comes to mind is the relatively recent reporting on a scandal that happened with the 81st precinct in Brooklyn, which is one of two that service my neighborhood, which is predominantly black: http://www.villagevoice.com/2010-05-04/news/the-nypd-tapes-inside-bed-stuy-s-81st-precinct/

    So I guess.. yeah. NYPD are a bunch of fucking asshole thugs. /tangent

  9. Incidentally, the frisk allowed in a Terry Stop is SUPPOSED to be for officer safety, since the standard of evidence is lower than is normally required for a search. A search for weapons only, if there is reasonable suspicion that the suspect is armed.

    If you thought 88%, the proportion of totally innocent people frisked, was a high false positive rate, guess how many people who were “reasonably suspected” of carrying weapons were armed: 0.15%; less than one in five hundred.


  10. @JE:
    Probably. In fact, it’s been pointed out that few of the arrests actually lead to convictions.

    You’re still looking at being handcuffed, strip searched, and taken to jail, possibly for several days. And even an arrest can be seriously stigmatizing (have fun explaining to your employer that you missed work because you were in jail).

    The whole fourth amendment jurisprudence is fucked up, anyway. Even when none of the (many) exceptions apply, by and large suppression is the only remedy. As Ozy mentioned, 88% of those victimized by New York’s Stop and Frisk are totally innocent, even of bullshit marijuana offenses. So, for the vast majority, there is no remedy.

  11. According to the comic it is entrapment. it fills both requirements given in that the crime was caused by the police and that the person wouldn’t do it otherwise

  12. No, it’s not entrapment. See here: http://thecriminallawyer.tumblr.com/post/19810672629/12-i-was-entrapped

    IANAL, but the person who wrote the cartoon is.

  13. Fnord: Isn’t that the text book definition of entrapment?

  14. I’m not sure if it’s the plain view doctrine, or a similar legal theory, but I think a huge part of the problem is the notion that probable cause for one crime legally allows a search, during which any evidence for any other crime found is admissible, despite the lack of probable cause for the new crime. Combine this with the drug war and you’ve got a recipe for a huge amount of fishing expeditions looking for easy drug collars.

  15. Speaking of marijuana in New York. Possession of (small quantities of) marijuana was decriminalized in New York, made into a civil violation, the equivalent of a traffic ticket. But public display is still a crime. So those people carrying small amounts of marijuana are legally not doing anything worse than speeding or parking in a no-parking zone. Then, they’re stopped by the police, and told “empty your pockets”, and suddenly it’s an arrest for “public display”. When the display was at the order of the police officer.

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