What if Black People Called the Cops on White Children for Selling Lemonade Without a Permit? (And Other Empathetic Questions)

What if Black People Called the Cops on White Children for Selling Lemonade Without a Permit? (And Other Empathetic Questions) August 12, 2018

What if more Black people started calling the police for perceived infractions (minor) involving White people?

For example, what if Black people called the police on White children for selling lemonade without a permit? Would some of us care more?

After all, the disconcerting episodes of White people calling the police on Black people for what most decent human beings would consider miniscule alleged breaches to societal order have led to a proliferation of corresponding hashtags, from #PermitPatty, #BBQBecky to #IDAdam.

If we are open to self-examination, such questions can help engage our social imaginations in taking the proverbial stroll in someone else’s shoes and recognizing our often invisible racial perspectives.

Recently, I had an experience where I did not call the police on a White person over a minor issue, and it inspired challenging questions I believe worth pondering.  I use this story and another experience to explore how to increase empathy and intention in dismantling racism in everyday race relations.

Do I Want to be Like #PermitPatty?

During a morning walk at one of my favorite parks, I noticed that a White man had pulled his massive pick-up truck onto the grounds, obstructing one of the paths. I gave him the benefit of the doubt because he appeared to be a volunteer. Still, initially, I felt agitated because I could hear the loud music blasting from his truck.

I decided against requesting that he lower the volume because I did not think it was worth confrontation.

However, I  wondered if this man understood that a Black man in his position, playing rap music with violent lyrics, instead of his choice of a different controversial music, courtesy of Johnny Cash, would have possibly increased the likelihood of calls to law enforcement in this predominantly White community.

The context reminded me of the people I had observed regularly breaking the park rules without police involvement.

I felt grieved thinking about how different White people made time to contact the police to patrol and control Black folks minding their own business or simply living life.

I thought about if Black people choose to engage in the same practices, how we would reduce our character to the levels of #PermitPatty.

For example, if I chose to report this individual to the nearby park officials in order to lower the volume of his music, my actions would not reflect a grand commitment to the letter of the law no more than people who argue the merits of upholding rules to justify racist behavior in cases like #BBQBecky.

No thanks.

Or, if I chose to call the police because of my “concern” of this suspicious looking man playing disruptive Johnny Cash music, I would waste my energy and community resources.

Although I had planned on a quiet walk, I appreciated this stranger for helping with the park’s landscape. I decided to seek goodness.

I pushed my thinking, asking, “How often do I like to play music as I do something I love? I would not make the choice to blast music in this area. Regardless, of my perception of his actions (considerate enough to volunteer and inconsiderate enough to blast music), there is goodness in this moment.  I choose to enjoy my walk.”

Now that my inner pouting had ceased, I admitted, “Okay. I do like Johnny Cash, too, and this playlist has the greats. God is giving me an opportunity to be more flexible with my plans and grateful.”

I started enjoying the music and had an extra pep in my step. I even began singing along under my breath.

Then, the man paused from working and called out to me, “Good morning!”

“Great,” I thought, feeling guilty for my desire to call down a small fire from heaven on his stereo just minutes earlier, “He is friendly, too.”

I replied, “Good morning! It is a lovely morning for Johnny Cash!”

With a pleasant surprise, he responded, “It is!”

Then, I felt another wave of gratitude for his work. He was making this place beautiful for people like me to enjoy-For people who keep and break the park rules.

I expressed, “By the way, thank you for doing this.”

He stopped from his labor and responded, “You’re welcome.  I’m sorry it looks bad. I was away for a few weeks and things grew out of control fast.”

I shook my head with a frown, signaling that an apology was unnecessary and stated,

“It’s okay. With all of the rain, it does not take much for that to happen.”

We conversed more about the park before I continued my walk.

A few days later, I was out of town and driving to a country club. My GPS had misdirected me to a cul-de-sac in a nearby neighborhood.

I pulled off to side of the road. As I searched for new directions using different navigational application on my phone, I muttered aloud in amusement, “Lord, I need to get out of this neighborhood. I don’t want anyone calling the police.”

Immediately after finding my new route, I heard tapping on my window.

An older White woman attempted to get my attention.

Whelp, she got it.

I thought, “Really, God? Timing, much?”

With a kind smile and bright welcoming eyes, she asked, “Do you need help with something? You seem lost.”

Bingo, Sister.

Although I was in the process of getting out of Dodge way before sunset, I got the sense that she was not going to escalate the situation into a “suspicious Black woman parked in our neighborhood” call to the police.

“I am,” I acknowledged, explaining where my GPS took me and my intended destination. She laughed and gave better directions.

I thanked her and went along my way.

These experiences where we avoided frivolous involvement of law enforcement point to the abundant beauty available to us when we engage others from a place of love and gratitude.

Instead of calling the police, what would it look like if we replaced  irrational fears of the Other with love in our problem-solving? Instead of fueling personal inclinations to control others, part of the answer lies in approaching each other in grateful curiosity and a desire to connect.

As for those of us who defend racism in the form of petty vigilantism, are you stopping people in the name of citizen’s arrest when you see someone jay walk?

Are you turning yourself in to the legal authorities for minor traffic offenses such as speeding or rolling through that stop sign?

I doubt it.

Imagination and Empathy

We can invite more empathy and progress by engaging our imaginations and questions that challenge us to face ourselves.

For example, we can return to the questions such as:

What if more Black people called the police on White people like #IDAdam? How would it impact our responses?

What if more Black people got fed up and stopped taking the high road?

I sense the exasperation of different People of Color with America taking for granted generations of patience, grace, and mercy.

The deafening outcry over an NFL flag protest before a game starts (not even during the game or preventing the game from happening) turns into silence when White people call the cops on Black children for selling bottles of water or mowing lawns.

Their fiery patriotism does not seem to include preventing the possible trauma inflicted on young lives. It is as if a love for one’s country does not involve a love for all of her children.

This inconspicuous indifference suggests that a vast majority of America keeps hitting the snooze button on a national alarm, when God keeps trying to wake us up.

As a matter of fact, it seems like even the grace of God has been taken for granted.

If you are a White person, who find yourself defensive whenever race comes up, especially when it is an act of bigotry perpetrated by White people, you can use your imagination to place yourself in the position of the Other, to develop more empathy. Imagine:

  • You are a Christian White man, desiring to have a seaside devotional time, and you drive out to a wharf, with your C.S. Lewis and Timothy Keller in tow. You sit in your car, reading, beholding the ocean, and enjoying your solitude, when police arrive. You find out that Black people in the area called the police because of a “suspicious White man” had been sitting in a car parked at the wharf for two hours.

 

  • As a White parent, your child embraces the American capitalist spirit by mowing lawns in residential areas. You find out that a Black person called the police on them.

 

  • Your eight-year-old daughter decides to sell bottles of water to help you after recently losing your job, only to have the police called on her by an adult Black woman because for selling without a permit.

 

  • You are a White woman who attempted to use an expired coupon at the pharmacy, and the Black employees choose to call the police about it.

 

  • You are a White man playing basketball at the local gym and when you foul a Black man, he calls the police, accusing you of assault.

 

  • You are White mother in suburbia with your children at the neighborhood pool, and a Black resident demands that you show your ID to him. After you refuse, he calls the police.

 

  • You are a White man lounging beside the community pool at your apartment community, and a Black woman demands that you prove to her that you live there. She subsequently calls management, also Black individuals, and the police gets involved.

 

  • As a White business owner of a brick and mortar store, you have police called on you for breaking into your store when you arrive to open it in the morning.

 

  • You are a White man returning home one night after a long day of work, to have the police called because your Black neighbors think you are breaking into a house.

 

  • You are a White woman in graduate school at a predominantly White institution, and you fall asleep in the community area of your dorm while studying, only to have the police called on you by another student, a Black woman, because she did not think you belonged there.

 

If you experienced these wrongs, how would you feel? What would show up for you in terms of empathy for the victims and how would it compare to the empathy for Black people?

Would you defend the actions of the Black people who called the police? Why?

Also, if  you feel inner resistance of any kind, from anger to pride, when engaging such questions and exercises, you are in a transformative place. You sense the challenge to expand.

You can accept the challenge or go stay comfortable without growth.

Speaking of our inner resistance, when Black people engage in wrongdoings against White people, other People of Color, and to each other, inter- and intra-racial grievances and crimes do not cancel each other out.

I share this caveat because a segment of the United States population think poor behavior by Black people serves as a reason to ignore racism.

Wrong is wrong.

Currently, a pivotal juncture lies before us to create a genuinely empathetic world where everyone shares responsibility in treating each other with greater mutual respect and dignity.

Conclusion: We the People and One of Us

The use of social media to promote social consequences against specific White authoritarians, who keep the local law enforcement on racial speed dial, raise issues about lasting and systemic results.

I can argue that “we the people” have become our own leaders in enforcing a social contract, and likewise, I can contend this phenomenon is a form of mob justice.

What remains to be revealed is the impact of this justice in prompting particular “good” and “hardworking” White people to examine the role of race in their lives.

As much as they annoy people invested in maintaining the status quo, these videos help prove that much racism happens at the hands of someone’s friend, family member, colleague, or neighbor without ties to White supremacist organizations.

The evidence disrupts the grand narrative of White exceptionalism and calls for greater empathy and intention.

And the world yearns for more of us to grow more comfortable with the rewriting of these narratives and less comfortable with the racism that maintains them.

The truth is that God made all of us equal.

Really.

If we really believe this truth, we would intentionally revisit the invisible ways we promote the myth of White superiority. Our solution would not involve similarly problematic racial narratives that People of Color are inherently better than White people, either.

Drawing from my experience with the White man at the park and the White woman who kindly gave me directions, if we approached people from a place of Divine gratitude for who they are and the crossing of our paths, our worlds would expand to align more with our talk of freedom.

We would likely feel thankful to see children a constructive path in life by selling water, opening lemonade stands, or mowing lawns.

We would likely seek mercy instead of going to the extremes of the law for something as minor as an expired coupon and delight in seeing family and friends enjoying life at a barbeque.

We would add to the goodness already in the world.

The song “One of Us” asks, “What if God was one of us?”

In a similar vein, what if we truly treated everyone like they were one of us?

Less misuse of calls to law enforcement could be one result.

A more inclusive world could be another.


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  • Chuck

    John 1:17

    For the law was given through Moses; grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ.

    Some white people call the cops on white children selling lemonade.

    If some white people also call the cops on black children selling lemonade, that’s not racism, that’s people being people, and white/black children being treated the same.

    If black people never call the cops on children selling lemonade (white or black) then that’s not racism either. That’s two groups of people treating people differently, but each treating all people consistently.

  • @RaceandGrace

    When do you think individual acts of racism or bigotry occur? I think racism exists at multiple levels, even post-Civil Rights era. I do not think bigotry ended when God challenged Apostle Peter on his perspectives of the Gentiles, and even that truth did not prevent Peter from struggling afterwards. So, it is no shocker to me that we still have race issues and challenges with empathizing.

  • Shirley Blake

    I loved your story. How mercifully you approached this sensitive topic. It’s so easy to be outraged and to react from a place of pain but only grace allows mercy. Maybe we as a people can have hope.

  • @RaceandGrace

    Amen, Shirley.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    Why is religion pointless and boring?

  • cvryder2000

    This really happened a few years ago: A fellow home health RN (white) was making her rounds in a black neighborhood. Her car was parked while she tried to catch up on her notes and figure out directions to a new patient’s home from where she was. After she’d been sitting there awhile, she found herself surrounded by several young men who seemed to be discussing her. She was a bit nervous at first but finally one tapped on her window. “How you doin’. ma’am?” She said she was fine, and he said he recognized her as his aunt’s nurse and wondered if she needed anything. She explained what she was doing, and he told her that was a bad corner and suggested if she needed to stop a bit she should drive up to the school on the next block where it would be safer to stop for awhile as the police drove by it frequently to keep an eye on the kids, winter and summer. She thanked him, and he finished by thanking her for taking care of his aunt. She did as he suggested from then on and never had a problem in that neighborhood, which was a rough one.

  • Barros Serrano

    But it is not consistent. Whites repeatedly call the cops on black people in circumstances in which they would NOT call the cops if the person in question were white. That’s a fact.

    Nor is Police brutality consistent; it is disproportionate against non-whites.

    That’s the ugly fact of life in this still-racist country. Denying it, and you are helping to perpetuate the problem.

  • Chari McCauley

    Because it was not invented by our Creators. Their goal is not division amongst Their children.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    There’s more than one creator? I thought we’d saved money by moving to monotheism?

  • Chari McCauley

    Genesis 1:26 never says that; there it is Us, Our. Father is speaking with Mother. And it remains a “durable” verse in every translation I possess on my bookshelves.

  • Chari McCauley

    Wait, the (law, man’s law) was given through Moses; (grace and TRUTH) came through Jesus Christ, The Son born to the Father. (Has direct access to His Dad, and Mom, whenever He needs Their counsel). Their Son was…however, subjected to the things we humans do to each other, and also politically assassinated, by crucifixion..

  • Chari McCauley

    I was born in 1961, I know this to be true.

  • Ivan T. Errible

    “Mother” -who?

  • Chuck

    > That’s a fact.

    Can you provide a source that white people don’t call the police on white people for the same offenses?

    > Nor is Police brutality consistent; it is disproportionate against non-whites.

    Disproportionately? Disproportionately compared to what? Crime committed? In that case, it’s disproportionately against whites…

  • Chuck

    > When do you think individual acts of racism or bigotry occur?

    When do I think they occur? That’s really hard to determine actually. Someone being an absolute shit of a person isn’t necessarily racist. That depends on if they are a shit of a person to everyone, or just a specific race…

    People assume shit people are racist, because they are shit people to specific races, without every considering that they can very well be shit people to everyone…

  • Barros Serrano

    Your errors:

    1. you don’t argue by demanding proof of the negative case. Are white people called on for being in the park, selling lemonade, or opening their own store, by other whites? Show me evidence this occurs. I’ve never heard of it.

    2. Police brutality against blacks does not correlate with crime. Black people in recent months have been shot during traffic stops, or in their own apartment. You are claiming that based on crime stats (in many ways sociologically dubious) Police SHOULD be more brutal toward black people?

    Yet if I call that racist you’ll scream bloody murder, right.

  • Chuck

    1. Cops called on lemonade stands operated by white kids? That makes the news several times a year. https://www.cnbc.com/2015/06/19/lemonade-war-3-legal-issues-with-your-kids-small-biz.html

    That’s just one example.

    2. Police brutality against blacks does correlate with racial perpetration of crime… pretty significantly actually.

    White people in recent months have been shot during traffic stops, and in their own apartment.

    > Yet if I call that racist you’ll scream bloody murder, right.

    Yes, if you call me racist for something you invented me saying… that would be improper…

  • Barros Serrano

    Nobody can deny that the Police often act inappropriately toward whites. I know this myself, having been a victim of it by the LAPD, a notoriously violent and corrupt agency in those days. In NM cops routinely shoot white homeless people for no reason. In that case, it is due to their homelessness… another sort of bigotry.

    But anecdotes of abuse of whites don’t alter the overall pattern. And your assertion that brutality against black people is justified due to their crime rate is RACIST. That is racial profiling. It has been documented that many Police, including those who really don’t think of themselves as racist, have an irrational fear of blacks and react accordingly, almost by reflex. My life experience has been that whites are more dangerous than blacks, to me at least, though I’m white and so I, if a cop, would have no such reflexive reaction, but many do.

    I have seen the racial/ethnic bias in action so many times. As a teacher I saw it often directed toward black or hispanic students. I and other conscious teachers often had to take steps to try to ameloriate or prevent such abuse. I in fact often gave up my lunch time to go to the cafeteria and stand at the lunch line so the cafeteria workers wouldn’t make racist comments at the students who couldn’t speak English well.

    This garbage is rampant and widespread. Your denial only indicates that you’re trying to cover up guilt… your own, or of other whites.

    But don’t worry… I’m white and can attest that being on the correct side of history, and opposing white racism, doesn’t hurt at all. I feel no pain. Not from being anti-racist. The pain I feel is from watching our “President” indulge in racist incitement on a daily basis. And I used to live in Guatemala, so the nonsense he spews against the migrant “caravan” is especially noxious.

    Get on the side of the good guys. As it is, you’re acting as the advance guard for Nazis and Kluxers. I live near Cvill and have a low tolerance for that crap

  • Chuck

    > And your assertion that brutality against black people is justified due to their crime rate is RACIST.

    And here is where you lost all credibility. If black people commit more crime, they are going to have more interactions with police, and they are going to be killed by police more often.

    That’s just a fact.

    The fact that you jumped to “RACIST” just proves you can’t argue your point and were hoping this would win the argument for you.

    It’s cheap, it’s petty, and it means I have no respect for you or your thoughts on the matter anymore.

  • Barros Serrano

    You react very quickly to the word “racist”, which is what white racists all do. So why should I suspect you are a racist? Because you act like one. And don’t condescend to me. You are being called on your treasonous social dysfunction, your cultural pathology, and you have proven unable to concoct a reasonable defense for it.

    No, it is not a matter of the % of interactions with Police, because many of the shootings of unarmed black people are committed against people during a traffic stop or in other circumstances where no crime is being committed. The interactions are not due to black crime, in many cases. They are due to the inability of a cop to control their racisl fear and go for their gun when a guy reaches for his wallet to show his ID.

    Your excuse is empty, and nobody with any knowledge of social science would accept your empty rationalization, as it does not hold up to scrutiny.

    How many whites have been shot in recent years during a traffic stop because they’re reaching for their wallet to show ID? Those of us familiar with the FACTS regarding this issue know just how full of it you are.

  • P. McCoy

    Then WHY didn’t the police KILL the Synagogue terrorist? Robert Dear? Dylan Roof? Nikolas Cruz? Jeffery Dalhmer? Were they NOT violent?

    I could go on and on.

    A piece of Swiss cheese has less holes than YOUR FALSE racist, White Supremacist driven diatribe!

  • Chari McCauley

    Our Mother, Who art in Heaven and sits beside our Father (Genesis 1:26)

    See, Father gets ten percent whether we give it to Him or not. Father speaks truth,…that’s all He needs; He told us how to keep peaceful; MOST parents with several kids would prefer them getting along so to have a peaceful home. Having fun together rather than fighting.

    His jealous sons tell the lies (see Job), pride/hubris is like a drug; it only takes a little and is a bitch to get out of your system (like heroin on steroids). The jealous sons are the drug pushers. The drug ate their original individuality long ago; but, some of us went along with them. All kids go through a stage of thinking their friends know more than their parents.

    Religion is divisive; it was NOT Father’s invention; nor His Son’s; because in His Father’s House ( Infinity or space) there are many rooms (solar systems). Bet there’s a better rehab facility out there than we have managed to produce, here.

    We all get to know, someday.

  • forever_knight102

    sadly enough this does happen to white people, however because white folks don’t live with the perpetual urge to garner pity because of their race nobody hears about the times when white kids get the police called about their lemonade stand (https://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/national/article212213524.html)

  • Chuck

    You could look up any of those cases to see why they weren’t killed.

    You could also look up why police kill twice as many white men as they do black men. That wouldn’t fit your narrative, so you won’t.

  • Chuck

    Yes, anyone who doesn’t like being called racist is racist… you’ve finally got what you wanted, to be able to label anyone racist just on your accusation… congratulations.

  • Chuck

    I’ve already provided evidence of that happening… what else would you like? I mean, if you read the news at all, you would see this happening ALL THE TIME… but sure… it’s because they’re black… even though the children were white… it was because they were black… right?