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).