White people in the US, suspicious of black people engaging in everyday activities, have phoned the police on multiple occasions in recent weeks. If the cops realise they called in bad faith, they should be fined on the spot.
The list of reasons for white people to scramble officers to deal with black people continues to grow. A Starbucks manager phoned for back up after two black men didn’t order anything, tried to use the bathroom and refused to leave while waiting for a friend. A woman called for help and told a black family they would go to jail after they set up a charcoal barbecue in an area designated for gas grilling. A student at Yale University felt that a black student sleeping in a common room, and another black student asking her for directions, warranted calling the authorities. A black family checking out of a house they booked on Airbnb was suspicious enough for a neighbour to call the cops. Three black boys shopping for prom suits at Nordstrom Rack, a group of black women playing too slowly on a Pennsylvania golf course, a black man moving into his New York apartment, black sorority girls picking up rubbish by a highway and a real estate investor photographing a home all warranted police involvement in white people’s minds.
It appears that routine racism is on the rise. Mainstream media interest and widespread access to smartphone cameras and social media to record and publicise these incidents may partly explain the upsurge in these types of stories. But it’s easy to imagine that President Trump, who continues to stoke fear of non-white people and blame them for all of America’s problems, has encouraged his followers to embrace and act on their racist tendencies. White Americans also seem oblivious or wilfully indifferent to the real threat of injury or death for African-Americans they create by forcing them into a police encounter. The calls also divert police time and resources away from actual crimes and threats to communities.
The current epidemic of siccing police on black people for living their lives or committing minor offences is symptomatic of a society where they are ‘othered’ – perceived as out of place and subjected to additional scrutiny - in majority-white settings such as golf courses, Ivy League common rooms and cafés in tony neighbourhoods. Black people must justify their presence in these ‘white spaces’ and put white occupants at ease, or they’re deemed to be a threat that warrants involving the police. Escalating the matter works in the white incumbents’ interest, as police defend them while acting as nuisances or dangers to the black interlopers.
If they can rely on police to back them up, white people will continue to call them on black people without justification. One way to level the playing field would be to introduce fines for phoning the police in the absence of criminal behaviour. Such a policy would encourage people to look for actual evidence of crimes and consider other options before calling the cops, meaning officers receive fewer nonsense calls and can focus their efforts on genuine criminals.