Saturday’s column on racial profiling definitely spawned some conversation here and on Facebook. I also got a number of private messages and emails.
Here are a few of the responses I got.
Comment on the Vanguard: “Would you have written this article if the suspect was vaguely described as white, 6-foot tall and drives a newer white model 4-door sedan? I think we all already know the answer to that.”
Comment on Facebook: “This is ridiculous in more ways than one. I’m checking out all 4-door white, newer model sedans driving down our street – profiling them lol.”
Comment on the Vanguard: “Davis is frequently the victim of Racial Targeting- Our little white town suffers from very frequent downtown bank robbers, the all too common late night punch and grab assaults and yes, the endless door to door knock and rob attacks. Racial Targeting is very real… I think David should write an article talking about the very real suffering of the pasty white victims.”
The problem I see is that a good many people in this community – well-intentioned as they may be – do not have a real sense for what it is like to be a person of color and be regarded with an automatic air of suspicion as they walk down the street.
A friend of mine, married to an African immigrant, told me that her husband was afraid to go outside on Friday to get the mail.
Her husband has lived in Davis for over 17 years, but when he learned that there have been home invasions in Davis and the suspect description is an African American male around 6ft tall, his response was “wow, here we go again.”
One time when he was jogging with his family, including their young son on a tricycle in their neighborhood, there were a few groups of people on their evening walks coming toward him. Each group looked up at him and switched to the other side of the road with worried looks on their faces.
This is what people of color – specifically younger black males – have to deal with in Davis and elsewhere on a regular basis.
So it is easy for a poster to ask if we would react the same way to a vague description of a white male suspect, because the response of the community and the impact are not the same.
For the most part, I don’t think this is conscious bias on the part of people in this community. However, as I have noted a number of times, students of color, particularly African Americans who come to UC Davis, often find themselves in uncomfortable situations within the community.
It is not just police who seem to disproportionately stop African Americans and Hispanics, but it is the treatment from ordinary citizens that heighten this discomfort.
We need to build awareness in our community of this. Whenever it gets brought up, there is a combination of denials, false comparisons, and dismissive jokes.
The problem is that you cannot compare the impact of a vague white suspect where every white person in a town like Davis is not going to be regarded with suspicion. The same is not true when the suspect is a vaguely described black person.
But the reality is that through some combination of popular media and news reporting on crime, a deep suspicion about the intentions of black people has been planted in our minds.
While it is easy to dismiss this assertion, a brief conversation with a black (or brown) person will yield many stories of how they experience this suspicion in a variety of ways.
White folk should be careful not to dismiss this bias just because they have not experienced it.
—David M. Greenwald reporting