A Black Man Walking With Hands In His Pocket is Threatening

Here’s a story that provides some important context to the story of why black people are so fed up with disparate treatment in law enforcement and illuminates the role of implicit racism both by the public and by the police. A man in Michigan was stopped by a police officer because he was walking down the road on a cold day with his hands in his pockets.

Brandon B. Waxx McKean posted video on his Facebook page showing his encounter with a police officer who briefly detained him on Thanksgiving day while he was out for a stroll.

In the video the officer can be seen radioing in, asking dispatch to close out a contact file, before explaining to McKean that he was stopped because he was “making people nervous.”

“Well, you were making people nervous,” the officer explained as he took out his own cellphone and began filming the encounter.

“By walking by?” McKean asked.

“Yeah they said you had your hands in your pockets,” the officer replied.

“Wow,” McKean said. “Walking by, having your hands in your pockets makes people nervous and call the police when it’s snowing outside?” to which the officer admits, “It is.”

Asked by the officer, “What are you up to today?” McKean replied, “Walking, with my hands in my pockets. Walking.”

“Is it an inconvenience talking to me right now?” the officer asked.

A perfect example of implicit racism, the idea that even people who no doubt consider themselves not to be racist, who make a real effort not to be racist still have subconscious racist reactions. There’s a ton of evidence to back this up, so much so that no reasonable person could deny it. If this was a white man walking down the road with his hands in his pockets, the person who called the police would almost certainly have not even given it a second thought. But it was a black man, and whether they do so consciously or not, they perceived black people to be inherently threatening and called the police.

Police officers do the same thing, of course, because they’re human beings too. That’s why I always point out when documenting the racist nature of our criminal (in)justice system that the undeniable facts that back up that claim do not require that police, prosecutors, jurors and judges be any more racist than anyone else, or to be overtly racist or not. All it takes is implicit racism, which we nearly all have (I do not exempt myself from this; I’ve caught myself doing it and I’m not proud of that).

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  • D. C. Sessions

    Just imagine how terrifying he’d have been with his hands raised, open, above his head.

  • eric

    If this was a white man walking down the road with his hands in his pockets, the person who called the police would almost certainly have not even given it a second thought. But it was a black man, and whether they do so consciously or not, they perceived black people to be inherently threatening and called the police.

    That’s a cultural issue but not the real legal/law enforcement issue. Police are always going to receive calls from nutcases and idiots. And they may even have an obligation to investigate those calls. But that doesn’t mean stopping the person and interviewing them: it means driving by the location, observing, and only intervening if the situation really demands it.

    We had a similar situation when I was at Uni. One neighbor of ours would use any excuse they could imagine to call the cops about our ‘noise disburbances’ and ‘wild parties.’ The cops would dutifully show up. They’d park on the street for a half hour and take decibel readings. Then they’d leave. After the first complaint they never bothered us, never even came up to the front door.

    That is (IMO) the model for how to address racist citizen complaints. You get some call claiming there’s a threatening black man on the street, then sure okay, I can see how the police may be obligated to investigate. If there’s a threatening black man there, the police should stop and talk to him. But if there’s just a black man walking on the street, then there is no reason for the police to do anything beyond brief observation.

  • grumpyoldfart

    Land of the free. Home of the brave.

  • oualawouzou

    If only that nervous citizen had had a gun with which to defend himself…

  • caseloweraz

    “Wow,” McKean said. “Walking by, having your hands in your pockets makes people nervous and call the police when it’s snowing outside?” to which the officer admits, “It is.”

    Well, sure. Who knows what he might have had in his pockets? He might have had a howitzer in there — might have pulled it out and blown somebody’s house away.

    But seriously, it’s possible someone might have called the police on a white man walking down the street with his hands in his pockets on a cold day. But in that case, I can’t see the police becoming annoyed when the white man says, “I’m walking with my hands in my pockets.”

  • marcozandrini

    The caller must be an inveterate (and invertebrate) of Fox Spews (Hate)!

  • marcus

    Dumbass cop: “Is it an inconvenience talking to me right now?”

    “Yes, and if you have nothing further I’ll be on my way.” (You authoritarian ratfucker.)

  • colnago80

    In all fairness, from the transcript of the video, it appears that the officer was respectful and actually offered an apology to McKean at the end of the conversation.

  • http://www.pandasthumb.org Area Man

    Why don’t we just implement a form of pre-screening, like the TSA has at airports, in which the blacks who can prove they aren’t thugs get to wear a badge that shows everyone they’re safe?

  • http://howlandbolton.com richardelguru

    Of course a white guy with his hands in his pockets is just feeling cocky!

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    I don’t see the problem. “Better safe than sorry”, I say, and am willing to inconvenience, harrass, and if necessary arrest or shoot as many people who are not me as necessary to maintain that sense of safety, and you would too, if you thought about it. I mean, he could have had Skittles!

  • eric

    Why don’t we just implement a form of pre-screening,

    I know you were being facetious, but if you flip the idea around (prescreening callers, rather than the accused) its not a bad idea. Just like the boy who cried wolf: police should stop listening to or investigating the complaints made from the same call number, once that caller has made several frivolous or obviously merely-racist calls. A good doctor learns to recognize hypochondriacs after the first couple of visits; a good police officer should learn to recognise the racist equivalent (blackochondriac?) after the first few calls.

  • Trebuchet

    Just imagine how terrifying he’d have been with his hands raised, open, above his head.

    Several members of the St. Louis Rams entered the stadium that way yesterday. The police union is loosing its shit over it, demanding they be punished by the league and comparing them with “thugs” burning down buildings.

  • Trebuchet

    “Losing”, not “loosing”. Although “loosing” is somehow appropriate as well.

  • madgastronomer

    “In all fairness, from the transcript of the video, it appears that the officer was respectful”

    No. He used polite words. It is not even slightly respectful to stop a man because he is black, walking, and has his hands in his pockets. It is racist as fuck, and there is nothing respectful about it. This idea that a cop not shouting or using racist epithets is the same as being respectful has got to go.

    Apologizing at the end is nice, but it doesn’t fix anything, and this cop is just going to keep doing the same kinds of thing, which makes it a fake apology, utterly meaningless.

  • D. C. Sessions

    Why don’t we just implement a form of pre-screening, like the TSA has at airports, in which the blacks who can prove they aren’t thugs get to wear a badge that shows everyone they’re safe?

    They’d have to be a distinctive and high-contrast color. Yellow, maybe?

  • D. C. Sessions

    Trebuchet, I’m old enough to remember the high tide of “Black Power,” with the symbol of a fist.

    I like the raised hands vastly better. They wouldn’t have worked then, but today they make a Hell of a statement, and in a very Ghandian sense attack the self-image of so many people today.

    Then again, I’m white and far too privileged. Still, as a symbol it makes my blood boil.

  • marcus

    @ 8 “In all fairness” he shouldn’t have bothered this gentleman at all

    (madgastronomer @ 15 said it better).

  • blf

    Several members of the St. Louis Rams entered the stadium that way yesterday. The police union is [losing] its shit over it, demanding they be punished by the league and comparing them with “thugs” burning down buildings.

    I wonder what the goons and their unionmafia have to say about Tommie Smith & John Carlos, the two gentleman who did the very famous Human Rights Salute at the 1968 Mexican City Olympic Games. (As an aside, both apparently went on to play in the NFL.)

  • otrame

    “What does it have in it’s pocketses?”

    But the truth is that simply walking along the street can get you killed if your albedo is low enough. That is not funny at all.

    _____________

    @2,

    My neighbor has a problem with black people, as her husband frankly told me*. She called the cops on my younger son, who tended to hang out with a lot of black kids, about 20 times while he was in high school. They came the first time, talked to my son, who was very polite and completely unconcerned (white privilege, of course), which they, of course took to be a sign of innocence. They came back each time, usually just waved at them from their cars, said howdy, and then left. I happened to be working in the yard one time and the cop came up and apologized, stating that it was policy to always answer “possible gang activity” calls, even when the caller was “known to be…. well, a frequent caller,” as he put it.

    *He seemed to expect me to lower the number of black kids that hung out with my son because she was made very nervous by black people. I’m afraid I was unsympathetic.

  • TxSkeptic

    D.C., I too am way too white and privileged, which is exactly why I have adopted the habit now of taking the Hands-Up stance anytime I pass a cop when I’m on foot. You think that will make me look threatening? Here in Texas, to look non-threatening as a white guy, I think I’m supposed to carry an AR-15.

    I think us old white guys adopting this kind of silent protest to cops around the nation could make a much larger statement than when blacks do it, especially when done in one-one passing rather than in organized protests.

  • http://dontlinkmebro F [i’m not here, i’m gone]

    “Is it an inconvenience talking to me right now?” the officer asked.

    Let’s see how many buttons I can push and see if I just can’t arrest you for contempt of cop.

  • DaveL

    @13

    Most disturbing quote from that incident:

    He also plans to reach out to other police organizations in St. Louis and around the country to enlist their input on what the appropriate response from law enforcement should be.

    Can you say “chilling effect?”

  • vereverum

    @ Trebuchet #14

    I really liked “loosing”.

    It brought up all sorts of visions such as certain famous activities in the zoo.

    And, of course, … trebuchet.

  • busterggi

    So if had been wearing gloves & carrying an assault rifle, as per his 2nd amendment rights, can I take it the cop wouldn’t have paid him any attention?

  • Pen

    In all the time I’ve spent in the US, it’s shocked me how otherwise nice, liberal white people who think (say?) they are not racist allow themselves to talk up a fear of black people, and to spread memes about black crime, violence, residential areas, activities, etc*. It’s like a kind of epidemic, the sort of thing people just say because everyone says it. Apparently, they’re completely untroubled by the thought of slandering their compatriots to random foreigners! They feel no self-consciousness regarding their own cowardice at being pointlessly afraid of other human beings! I know a white American lady who absolutely literally quakes in her boots when surrounded by black people in a public place. It’s pathetic. Why isn’t she ashamed? Or seeking therapy, that would be a more respectable response than trying to rationalize her handicap by encouraging anyone she can lay her hands on to share it with her.

    *This rant isn’t intended to imply that other countries are vastly less racist than the US, but this particular branch of fear-based racism is really uncommon anywhere else that I know of and it’s the one that’s currently getting black Americans killed far too often. I mean seriously, who should be afraid of who, here!?

  • busterggi

    He could have had the One Ring in his pocket you know. Sure THEY say it was destroyed in Mount Doom but THEY can’t be trusted.

  • http://quixote317.livejournal.com/ Quixotic James

    “Excuse me sir, we got a report about a threatening black man. Have you seen any?”

    “No.”

    “Thank you.”

  • chilidog99

    You are all missing the most important thing!!!

    He had his hands in his pockets!!

    The next thing you know and it’s going to be: “Excuse me while I whip this out”

  • http://en.uncyclopedia.co/wiki/User:Modusoperandi Modusoperandi

    chilidog99 “The next thing you know and it’s going to be: ‘Excuse me while I whip this out'”

    Eww. Grampa does that, every year at Thankgiving dinner after he’s full of turkey and wine. Wine, mostly. Then gramma hits him with a drumstick and warns him to “put it away”, but he pretends not to hear her, on account of him losing his ears during The War.

  • lorn

    I don’t know about the department policy but around these parts as soon as the call is received it is recorded and there is an obligation to make “contact”. From the phraseology used “Is it an inconvenience talking to me right now?” it seems evident the policeman knew that he was not a threat and the call was silly, but also that he had to make contact, as embarrassing and unnecessary as that may have been.

    Some of this is fear of lawsuits. Some of this comes down to the idea that emergency services always come when called. Some of this comes down to certification in terms of average response times and numbers of calls cleared. Making contact, speaking to the person, is quick and it allows quick estimation of mental states. When Reagan defunded mental health a whole lot of people who were dong well enough in institutions were forced out onto the streets where they suffer and are easy prey for predators. It is now routine for contacts to include some estimation of mental health.

    In a local case a gentleman suffering from dementia walked out of a elder care facility and was reported to police as a ‘suspicious person’ simply because he was not wearing a coat in cold weather and was walking down a road that went deep into the woods. The police made contact and in a few seconds had determined that the man was unaware of his surroundings. They bundled him up in a blanket and took him to the police station where he ate doughnuts and drank coffee.

    A few hours later the call came in from the elder care facility of a missing elderly black man. He had walked over ten miles in near freezing temperatures. The police drove him back to the home and reported the situation to the state agency in charge of such homes. This triggered an investigation, the removal of at least one administrator, and tightened security at the home. I know about this case because it made the local paper. A small article near the back as I remember it.

  • caseloweraz

    Busterggi: He could have had the One Ring in his pocket you know.

    That’s another possibility (which I did think of when I posted.) But in that event the cop would have his hands full, as the Nazgül would arrive on the scene almost immediately.

  • caseloweraz

    Richardelguru: Of course a white guy with his hands in his pockets is just feeling cocky!

    I see what you did there.

    But I’m a white guy, and someone called the cops on me. True, I wasn’t walking down the street with my hands in my pockets. I was sitting in my car outside a friend’s house, waiting for him to get back from the store. His neighbor called the cops. They came out, checked my ID, and that was the end of it. San Jose, CA.

    I mention this just to show it can happen.