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On being a suspicious looking black male…



(A couple people have asked me my thoughts on the Michael Brown incident and I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple days. This isn’t so much a rant like I normally do, as it is a collection of those thoughts.)

For those of you who couldn’t figure it out by looking at me. I’m a black guy. Shocking, isn’t it. I know, I know… most of you consider me a “chinaman” (and as many of you know I was claimed by the Asians in the Racial Draft of 2004 – WU-TANG 4 Ever! For the Children!!!). But really, to those who don’t understand racial free agency or decade old Chapelle Show skits (oh my god, really? 10 years?!?!?), they pretty much look at me and say “there’s a black dude.”

And I’ve had my fair share unwarranted “run-ins” with the law. My most favorite being when I was once detained and questioned for having the audacity to eat a chocolate chip cookie in public (Yes, this is a true story, if you’ve not heard it before, you should absolutely click the link). And of course, I’ve have been guilty on several occasions of the unforgivable crime of DWB (Driving While Black). “I swear, Officer, I didn’t mean to be black. It just sort of happened.”

I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately in the wake of the Michael Brown shooting and the Ferguson riots. I figured that I’d probably be writing about it sooner or later. And in accordance with the #IfTheyGunnedMeDown hashtag, I even prepared myself a little graphic wondering what picture of me, a highly educated black man, the media will choose to run once I’m inevitably slain by the police. And let’s face it, I’m addicted to chocolate chip cookies. I still buy them at convenience stores all the time. Sooner or later, it’s going to happen!

Earlier today, I saw a tweet by one of my personal heroes and favorite poet, Chuck D (@MrChuckD), where he showed a screen cap of the breakdown of stops and arrests in Ferguson:

Chuck D is referencing a graphic posted by St. Louis Fox affiliate, KTVI in a news story a couple days ago. So, looking at the graphic, and seeing the disparity of traffic stops and arrests in Ferguson, I wondered “wait, just how bad is that racial profiling.” The KTVI story claims that they were posting the raw data they derived their graphic from on their website. It wasn’t there, but luckily the Ferguson Police Department does publish it, so I was able to pull it myself. I am attaching it here for anyone who does want it. So, while Missouri only has a black population of 11% (on par with the national average), Ferguson itself is 63% black and 33.7% white. With a driving-age population of 15,865, that means the 4632 blacks that were stopped by the cops last year literally represent 46% of the black population (as opposed to 11% of the white population). The chart shows that 10.43% of black stops result in arrests (compared to 5.25% of white stops) but it doesn’t point out that this means that literally 4.6% of the black population of  Ferguson gets arrested for traffic violations as opposed to 0.7% of the white population. This would almost point to the fact that it is simply more economical to stop black people… except that their data clearly shows that of the searches, they’re far more likely to find contraband when searching a white person (34%) than a black person (22%). In other words, the data suggests that by racial breakdown, their white population is 1.5x more likely to be breaking the law but only half as likely to be arrested for doing it if they are caught. If you factor in the disparity of stops and searches in the first place, then despite white law-breaking being 1.5x more likely, blacks are about 26x more likely to be caught. Yay statistics!

Then, the news broke about the footage of Brown robbing the convenience store. Well, if that’s not proof of a black man being a savage ruffian, I don’t know what is! Someone shoot the bastard!

Yeah… let’s not.

So the footage the Ferguson police department released here shows… uh… someone roughing up someone. I guess. Well, really, it kind of shows someone pushing someone else and then walking away. Maybe it’s Mike Brown, maybe it’s not. He’s not obviously using any sort of deadly weapon or anything. I don’t know the guy, maybe he was a huge asshole who was running an underground cigar smuggling ring, completely financed by roughing up convenience store employees.

Or, maybe that’s just some black dude on some grainy security cam footage. It’s hard to say.

What I do know is a story, funny but more indicative of how police searches work, starring me when I was a teenager. It goes like this.

Once upon a time, I was 15 or 16 years old and walking from my house to my job at the comic book store. I was stopped by a police car who asked me who I was and where I was going.

Mav: My name is Christopher and I’m walking to work.

Cop: Where are you coming from?

Mav: My house. 315 W. 31st Street.

Cop: Are you sure your name isn’t Johnny?

Mav: Pretty sure, sir.

Cop: We got a call a couple minutes ago that a african american male, name of Johnny, matching your description, approximately 6′, 30-35 years old, beat up his girlfriend and fled on foot headed this way from West 7th street.  Are you sure that isn’t you?

Mav: Yes sir, pretty sure.

They questioned me for a couple more minutes, including checking my ID. I’m 5’8 now… maybe 5’6 then and I sure as hell couldn’t pass for 30. And how they thought Johnny had gotten 2.5 miles south on foot in 5 minutes is beyond me. But you know, he matched my description… black. All things considered, I guess I was lucky. This was 25 years ago and the cynical part of me says that it was way more acceptable to just shoot a kid for being black in that pre-internet time than it is now. This is why I always follow the tried and true rules of “how not to get shot” that I learned as a young man. If you’re not familiar with the protocol, The Onion actually published them yesterday. I will let you read the entire list for yourself, but let me just excerpt a couple of them:

  • Try to see it from a police officer’s point of view: You may be unarmed, but you’re also black.
  • Revel in the fact that by simply existing, you exert a threatening presence over the nation’s police force.
  • Be as polite and straightforward as possible when police officers are kicking the shit out of you.

I continue to be amazed by the fact that at some point, the Onion just decided to stop being satirical and now just posts completely factual and accurate news.

And that’s the thing that really gets me. People are wondering now if “oh my god, maybe that kid wasn’t as innocent the media has been making him out to be for the last week.” and you know, he probably wasn’t. Here’s why. He was 18 years old. Being an 18 year old male in America means you are likely up to some shenanigans from time to time. 18 year olds have shit for brains. It really doesn’t matter what color they are. I remember hearing a lot of people arguing this over Trayvon Martin as well.

But that’s the thing. I don’t actually care. For all I know Martin and Brown were hardened criminals plotting the overthrow of the US government and assassination of millions. But at the moment of their respective deaths, neither was really much of a threat to anyone. The Ferguson police department’s official statement is basically that Brown and his friend struggled with the arresting Officer (Wilson), over his gun. The gun went off. In the ensuing chaos, Brown escaped and Officer Wilson grabbed the gun and shot him to stop him getting away. In other words, Wilson knew Brown was unarmed because he had the gun… you know… to shoot him with, If we take the Officer Wilson at his word, then if he hadn’t fired at Brown, we would have lost track of a dangerous unarmed criminal who was escaping with $49 worth of cigars. Well, that makes it worth it… justice was served.

LeVar Burton (@levarburton) once discussed “how not to get shot by the police” on a news panel where another (white) panelist explained how white privilege works.

So for me, that’s what it really comes down to. I don’t actually care what Brown did. At the end of the day, there just wasn’t really a good reason to shoot him and the cop who shot him knows that. And that’s what really bothers me.

I want a fucking cookie.


28 comments for “On being a suspicious looking black male…

  1. August 15, 2014 at 4:19 pm

    You are very suspicious looking, eating that damn cookie!

  2. August 15, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    And a bottle of aquafina.

  3. Melanie
    August 15, 2014 at 4:30 pm

    We live in a society where some people are unabashed to say that they are anti-equality. It is horrifying.

  4. August 15, 2014 at 4:44 pm

    It’s amazing when, for example, crawling dating profiles on a site like OKCupid, just how many people are willing to admit things like:

    Q: Would you consider dating someone who has vocalized a strong negative bias toward a certain race of people?
    A: It depends on which race
    – OR –
    Q: Do you believe that there exists a statistical correlation between race and intelligence?
    A: Yes

  5. August 15, 2014 at 4:50 pm

    Also, you look really suspicious in that shirt and tie. Everyone knows that black people dress like rappers. And everyone knows that people who dress like rappers are dealing drugs.

  6. August 15, 2014 at 4:52 pm

    Jeff: To be fair, when I was almost arrested for eating the cookie I was wearing a basketball jersey and therefore clearly a gang member.

  7. August 15, 2014 at 4:58 pm

    I gotta say, no matter the setting, you’re a very suspicious individual mav.

  8. August 15, 2014 at 5:02 pm

    Link: I’m trying as hard as I can, but no matter what I do… still black!

  9. August 15, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    “the 4632 blacks that were stopped by the cops last year literally represent 46% of the black population (as opposed to 11% of the white population)” – I lost track of the rest of the statistics, but this is soul crushing.

  10. August 15, 2014 at 5:14 pm

    You got what you deserved, Mav. Who ever heard of a black guy liking baseball?

  11. August 15, 2014 at 5:15 pm

    Also, what’s up with that Lucha Libre dude in the pick behind you? Very kinky.

  12. August 15, 2014 at 5:19 pm

    Jeff: dude. The Cavs are basketball. *sheesh* white people!!!

    And the “Lucha Libre” dude is Bull Dozer. It’s one of my prowrestling shots. He was my tag team partner at the time.

  13. August 15, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    That was supposed to say “basketball”, but my brain totally betrayed me. Probably for good reason.

  14. August 15, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I’m suspicious of anyone in a suit and tie. Check that, I’m suspicious of any *man* in a suit and tie. Dammit, there goes my errant sexism again.

  15. August 15, 2014 at 6:26 pm

    Cav’s being basketball is definitely debatable for a significant percentage of time of the franchise’s existence.

  16. August 15, 2014 at 6:36 pm

    Arik: That incident was 2007. The Cavs were in the NBA finals.

  17. August 15, 2014 at 6:37 pm

    No — they qualified for the NBA finals that year — they forgot to show up for the actual finals 🙂

  18. August 15, 2014 at 6:39 pm


  19. August 15, 2014 at 6:44 pm

    The closest I’ve come to understanding the situation was when I was pulled over twice for being a Cowboys Fan in Pittsburgh during the run up to Super Bowl XXX. Even White Privilege didn’t help me there.

  20. August 15, 2014 at 6:45 pm

    Arik: that’s different. You were asking for it! They should have tazed you!

  21. August 15, 2014 at 6:46 pm

    I wasn’t stupid enough to wear my jersey after Larry Brown became Neil O’Donnell’s favorite receiver…

  22. August 15, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Nice use of data. I was trying to find rates of police killings (both justified and unjustified) by year and race, but came up empty. The FBI must keep track of things like that. But the quantitative data does not give the full picture. My experiences being stopped by cops as a single white driver or with another white person are completely different (i.e., much more pleasant, to put it mildly) from when I was pulled over with a black person driving (with you– I felt like we were under suspicious for mass murder!). Clearly, something must be done. Some things I’ve heard are civilian oversight committees, putting more cops on the beat, make sure cop demographics are more reflective of populations. But maybe one requirement should be for each white officer to ride around with a black driver until they get pulled over, so they can experience a bit of what it feels like to be on the other side. And require this training every x years so they don’t forget.

    1. mav
      August 15, 2014 at 7:39 pm

      Steph: I ended up not linking to it when I wrote this, but one of the suggestions I have seen while I was gathering sources that I might want to reference in the last couple days was this one from TIME which basically suggested that cops should be forced to wear active recording cameras at all times:

      The suggestion has actually been made by the ACLU before as well. Here’s the Washington Post talking about it last year:

      I think it’s a good idea. Even aside from the deterrent of “hey, maybe I shouldn’t beat that guy up, since I’m being watched” it would provide the cops with video evidence when they’re trying to… you know… prevent actual crimes and stuff. You know… between beating up negroes and sprinkling crack on them.

  23. August 15, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    I think you look sketchy with or without the tie !! Lol

  24. August 15, 2014 at 9:57 pm

    Rod: Yeah, like I said, that hashtag was the first thing I started thinking about when I started planning this a couple days ago.

    Toni: Yeah, I’m sure the SketchFactor app I talked about the other day has a big red X over my house.

  25. August 16, 2014 at 1:38 pm

    So, somehow I never saw the cookie story before. Although this is a serious subject, I feel the need to point out that the somewhat annoyed awkwardness of the cop in that photo is a thing of beauty.

  26. August 16, 2014 at 6:10 pm

    I love that pic, too. To me, it looks like the cop is thoroughly enjoying the irony of the situation.


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