Mowing While Black?


racial-profilingLetter Writer Claims Racial Prejudice in Police Encounter – In the movie The Hurricane, they flash to a scene where the police pull over the protagonist Rubin “the Hurricane” Carter in a vehicle stop where he’s told they are looking for two black men.  “Any two will do?” actor Denzel Washington quips.

But, as we learn, it’s no laughing matter as Mr. Carter is ultimately fingered for the triple homicide and spent most of the next two decades in prison.

While the Vanguard unfortunately hears of these kinds of stories all of the time, it is usually a more distant experience and rarely is it retold in the local paper.

But here one is, vivid and raw, retold in print.  It will be interesting to see how the community wishes to respond to this letter.

We reprint here in its entirety:

By Eli Davis

Just when you think most racism is subtle, a Davis police officer yanks you back to reality.

I live between Village Homes and Lake Boulevard, in West Davis. As I was mowing my front lawn on April 17 at 2:20 p.m., a Davis police car drove past. It made a U-turn, drove back and stopped in front of my house and driveway.

A policeman approached and asked, “Sir, do you live here?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“I need to see some ID,” he stated.

I attempted to ignite his common sense by stating that I had lived here for 30 years. It didn’t work.

“I still need to see some ID,” he demanded.

Since I am the only black person on the street, I thought of racial profiling. “Are you going to ask the others on the street for their ID?” I asked.

He answered, “No, you fit the description.”

“What is the description?” I asked.

“You fit the description,” he replied.

I told him that my ID was inside and went to get it. He followed me inside. He asked my name and I told him. Upon attempting to hand him my driver’s license, he stated, “That’s OK, it’s over. I can see that you live here, you had no trouble getting into the house.”

Afterward, I called the Davis Police Department and gave my name and location, and asked: Were they looking for a tall, slim black male?

“Not in general,” was the response.

“Are you looking for one right now?” I asked.

“No,” he answered.

I fear that the only description that fit is that of being a black American male, and therefore is an image of his ignorance. His action was more gut reaction of “see a black male” and think “suspect of something.” Perhaps he thought I was stealing a lawn mower and was mowing the lawn to make sure it worked.

My father appears to be right: “They have a select non-ability to believe you, and you are always a suspect.”

It was a few weeks ago, and I was curious about the requirement for providing identification to the police.  The answer is a bit more complicated than one might think.

The clear circumstance is that when you are involved in an arrest or a vehicle stop, you must provide your identification or you can be criminally cited.  You are also required to provide identification when you wish to be released from a notice to appear (it is not a crime, but you will not get released without proper identification, which makes sense).

Bottom line is that if one is being arrested, there is no question one has to provide identification.  The question is less clear if one is being detained, rather than arrested.  In Nevada there is a statute that states that one must provide identification when being detained, but there is no such law in California.

There have apparently been some cases outside of Yolo County where DA’s offices have prosecuted the failure to provide ID as an offense under PC 148.  However, the Attorney General’s office does not believe the failure to provide ID during a detention falls under PC 148 (which makes it a crime if one “willfully resists, delays, or obstructs any public officer, peace officer, or an emergency medical technician… in the discharge or attempt to discharge any duty of his or her office or employment.”)

But the above case is, of course, neither an arrest nor a detention.  The easiest advice is to not say anything to police under any conditions and do not consent to anything.  That is what a know-your-rights-advocate would recommend.

However, there are some practical considerations.  Most detentions result in no further police action and they are thus investigative and nothing will pan out.  On the other hand, a lot of advocates believe providing information that is not compelled under law to be problematic.

At the same time, withholding providing a name could lengthen the investigation.  Not providing a name may result in a longer detention, because the officer needs to take longer to figure out what is going on and who is being questioned.  It may also end up in an arrest that may not be needed.

So, that is the law.  Mr. Davis, of course, ends up in a situation where he is asked to provide identification and once he does so, the officer leaves.  The explanation for the intrusion, at least according to his account, is wholly unsatisfying.

And, if accurate, it does not help the agency either because it simply breeds description.  We, of course, only have Mr. Davis’ account – we do not know the context of the request, but it bears looking into.

—David M. Greenwald reporting


About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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17 thoughts on “Mowing While Black?”

  1. David M. Greenwald

    I can give you a better answer after dropping the kids off, but the simple answer is the “anything you say can and will be used against you” argument that if you don’t say anything, things can’t be taken out of context. The line from My Cousin Vinny where the guy’s “I killed the clerk?” became a confession, “I killed the clerk.”

  2. JustSaying

    Providing one’s ID when requested seems innocuous enough. I’m thinking it’d be much more problematic to refuse, especially if the officer is trying track someone, is in a hurry, is insistent. Cops should be patient, even if someone is offended by being asked for ID. But the problem seems so minimal that it’s difficult in seeing the wisdom of the advice you cite.

    Now, if one is carrying only fraudulent identification that’s another story….

  3. Growth Izzue

    [quote]And, [b]if accurate[/b], it does not help the agency either because it simply breeds description. [b]We, of course, only have Mr. Davis’ account[/b] – we do not know the context of the request, but it bears looking into.[/quote]

    Much better, I’m glad you took my advice.

  4. medwoman


    [quote]But the problem seems so minimal that it’s difficult in seeing the wisdom of the advice you cite. [/quote]

    Like most of our beliefs, this would seem to be based on perspective. Perhaps this seems minimal to you because you have never had a negative encounter with police, or because you have had negative encounters that were so much worse that this seems trivial to you, or because you believe that the police are too honest and so possessed of self awareness that they would never stoop to what amounts to racial profiling, or because you believe that police are fully capable of racial profiling but would not waste their time on a man mowing his
    ( or even someone else’s lawn ).

    There are many perspectives that might apply to this situation.
    I had never had a negative encounter with unreasonable police until three years ago in a situation which I will not repeat here since I have posted it on several other threads. This was an eye opener for me in many ways and has led me to believe in the wisdom of the advice “don’t say anything, and don’t consent to anything”. Their obvious distrust of everything I said, despite everything I said being factual made it apparent that they would, if possible, use my words against me if they had the slightest indication to do so. My experience, while relatively trivial, gave me a new appreciation for what members of our community who are not white females in their 50’s may be encounter on a much more frequent basis.

  5. medwoman

    Growth Izzue

    [quote]And, if accurate, it does not help the agency either because it simply breeds description. We, of course, only have Mr. Davis’ account – we do not know the context of the request, but it bears looking into.[/quote]

    Are you really suggesting that you want such a modifier in every article that David writes ?????

  6. David M. Greenwald

    So here’s a few thoughts on the question:

    ACLU explains people’s rights ([url][/url]) in various circumstances

    A defense attorney on why you shouldn’t talk to the police ([url][/url])

    An article ([url][/url]) that explores the question

  7. David M. Greenwald

    A think a modifier here was appropriate. There are other cases, where I don’t think it is. In way, the modifier should go without saying.

  8. Steve Hayes

    My apologies to Mr.Davis who was innocently victimized while mowing his lawn within Davis by being highly visible, male, and black. I would like to point out the irony that there are others who are being victimized within Davis by truly being invisible to the powers that be.

    For example, numerous customers of the Old Mill Stream Laundromat formerly in the Manor Mall Complex in East Davis could have been accused of “Laundering while White” if anybody truly saw them or gave a damn! These customers were predominantly young mothers from the many apartment complxes across from the Mall (on the north side of East 8th Street) who used this facility regularly to do family laundry. They were “mowed down” so to speak, when the heavily used laundromat was forced out of the Mall when the Mall owner catered to the demands of a new tenant (Not So- Goodwill) for an expanded site within the Mall.

  9. SouthofDavis

    It is a cop’s job to look for things that are out of the ordinary. Back in the mid 90’s I was working on the purchase of a portfolio of distressed real estate in minority areas of LA and OC. I was stopped by the cops multiple times every day since very few (if any) clean cut white kids live in South Central LA or the Santa Ana Barrio. The “stops” were often the cops slowing to say hi and I would walk over to tell them what I was doing.

    I don’t know Mr. Davis and I’m not one of the guys that defends the cops all the time, but close to 99% of “incidents” like this seem to have two people feeling disrespected who escalate things (a good example that got a lot of press is the incident in the Boston area that ended with President Obama calling a “beer summit” at the White House). Often a cop wants to ask a question and if someone does not immediately drop what they are doing and walk over to their car they feel disrespected, and many people feel disrespected if they think a cop is racist for stopping in front of their house (maybe Mayor Joe can get Rachel’s husband to comp a couple beers and get everyone together for a west coast “beer summit”)…

    P.S. Even the rich white and famous sometimes get arrested:

  10. Davis Progressive

    it’s improtant to understand that while we have too many firefighters, we have not enough police officers – only five on duty at one time, compared to 12 firefighters . the problem is that because we are paying so much for fire, we can’t afford to put more police on the streets. then again, when you read about incidents like this, it’s a wonder we need five officers.

  11. jimt

    Yes, the odd thing is that when he afterwards called the police department and asked if they were looking for someone of his description, they responded they were not. Perhaps the police spokesman on the phone made a mistake; or perhaps he gave a dishonest answer in order to help with the search (i.e. did not want to get word out that might alert suspect to the fact that they were looking for him; could make suspect easier to find in some circumstances).
    I can’t think of any other legitimate reason for this episode.

  12. David M. Greenwald

    I was given the explanation from the department that there “was a bonafide, citizen’s in-progress crime complaint being handled/ investigated” at the time of the call. However, he of course wasn’t told that apparently, and the handling by the police officer on the scene may have been questionable as well.

  13. Robin W

    It is time for the City to do something to stop police harassment of Davis residents based on officer prejudices. Demanding ID from a guy mowing the lawn? This officer’s actions need to be fully investigated, and the Davis Police Department needs to provide in-house workshops to help each officer recognize his or her own biases and to learn not to act unreasonably based on those biases. This is far from an isolated incident of racial bias on the part of DPD. Officers harass other Davis residents based on unreasonable presumptions as well, e.g., the belief that three or more teens hanging out together in the park is gang activity. This longstanding weakness in DPD needs to be dealt with.

  14. LadyC

    I always find it interesting that those who are white never believe that the reason this can happen to someone is because they are black. Well, I’m white and I see it all the time. I just open my eyes. This man was treated extremely disrespectfully. He deserves an apology. I’m sure the officer has convinced himself that it wasn’t profiling however, so no harm was done. People need to realize that we all make snap judgements and give ourself permission to do so. Then, we need to decide if those decisions are rational. I, too, notice when I see someone black driving a nice car — it’s Davis, it stands out! But my next thought is that the person must be a professor here. Let’s face it… because I’m white, female, and middle-aged, the incident experienced by Mr. Davis would never have happened to me. Until the members of the Police Department realize they have a problem, there will never be an improvement. If they can first do that, then they can implement the changes so greatly needed and suggested by Robin W above…

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