Dark Skin: A Mobility Impediment

D’Real Graham

A field officer used the infamous spotlight lamp to signal me to stop walking in Normal Park a minute before midnight. I’d not traveled far that cold November night before I was standing in the middle of swirling red and blue lights, with my hands up.

“Turn around,” an officer barked over the megaphone. I turned around, standing several feet away on the sidewalk, before the officer proceeded with, “Do what I say, and we’ll explain everything.”

I stood with my hands up for sixty seconds in cold silence before another patrol car arrived on the scene.

Questions and thoughts ran through my head. What is the purpose of this encounter? Why am I being targeted? Do not incriminate yourself. Prove to them that you’re not a criminal. Will I survive whatever happens tonight?

Remembering that I’d dressed well for an event earlier that day brought temporary relief. With squinting eyes, my hands up, and the patrol car spotlight detailing my barely broken-in jacket and shoes, I’d thought that the officers would have had noticed.

“You don’t have any weapons on you, do you?” The second officer arrived with more questions. “Do you have ID on you?” he asked. Before being patted down, I was told to spread my feet apart. “Do you have a medical marijuana card, by chance?” and “Did you smoke tonight?” were questions lodged while red and blue lights swirled. I produced an ID, kept my hands up, and prepared for more questioning.

Without an explanation, just a causal, “Thanks,” the two officers departed. I returned my ID to my wallet.

I am an almost-thirty-year-old African American. The officers were white. Yes, all three of us survived that November night in Ypsilanti, and the footage of this particular police interaction hasn’t gone social media viral. Why would it when similar scenarios happen so commonly?

The abuse of stop and frisk is a violation of individual rights, but it also poisons police and community relations. As recognized by the Department of Justice, the “experience of disproportionately being subjected to stops and arrests in violation of the Fourth Amendment shapes black residents’ interactions with the [the police], to the detriment of community trust,” and “makes the job of delivering police services … more dangerous and less effective.” —American Civil Liberties Union

I took a breath and walked on home through Ypsilanti—the city where I have lived nearly my entire life and worked hard with other concerned folk to improve.

Late-July 2016, out of some frustration with first responder maladministration, I ran a creative write-in campaign for Washtenaw County Prosecutor. I received a lot of support, mostly because I am not a lawyer. (One does not need to practice law in order to serve as County Prosecutor in Washtenaw County.) For one hundred days, my name, D’Real, filtered through social media and was screenprinted on t-shirts and stickers. Voters across Washtenaw County believed then what I do: it’s time to examine the functionality of civic and municipal offices, as well as how dominator culture affects the public health of its citizenry, including the African-American community.

I’ve used my voice at Ypsilanti City Council meetings, and have helped manage after-school programs in the City of Ypsilanti since 2012. In June 2016, I was appointed to serve as a City of Ypsilanti BLM/Police-Community Task Force subcommittee member, charged with studying human relations across the country.

I don’t tell you this because I am proud of being a team player in Ypsilanti. I tell you this because the officer who questioned me that cold fall night—a few weeks after the election in which I was able to earn 3,500 votes for County Prosecutor—didn’t register any familiarity with me. “Is that how you pronounce your name?” she asked, immediately after having mispronounced it.

Ypsilanti is the home to 20,000 people in about four square miles with a law enforcement agency that has resisted the public outcry to “ensure accountability of the Ypsilanti Police Department.” Imagine what’s happening in communities that haven’t made such a pledge. Can you imagine what happens in larger, more complex cities to citizens less prominent in their communities than I am in mine?

I learned the following week that I had walked near the scene of a reported abandoned car, which the police presumed to be stolen, and that the auto thief have yet to be caught. There is no description of the suspect on file.

When the officers bid me goodnight with “thanks,” they didn’t tell me that I’d walked near a crime scene. Imagine if they would have warned me that an armed thief had entered the area, and that I should remain alert on my way home. They didn’t ask whether I’d seen anything unusual on the street that night. They didn’t explain why they’d stopped me in the first place. They didn’t record the brief detainment in their official logbook—the encounter isn’t part of public record.

The officers did promise that they’d explain if I complied. That would have been a great start.

After nearly ten months of Task Force meetings it was suggested that a subcommittee be formed to examine the role of Citizen/Community Oversight in Police Relations. The Community-Police Relations subcommittee held three meetings—July 11, July 20, and September 6, 2016—with the objective of making a recommendation to the Task Force for consideration in moving toward the implementation of change.

The BLM/Community-Police Taskforce motioned to present recommendations developed by the subcommittee on BLM/Community-Police Relations Commission. It is the subcommittee’s recommendation that City Council launch a Community-Police Commission charged to ensure procedural justice across Ypsilanti proper.

Until the Ypsilanti Police Departments takes responsibility for its day-to-day operations, the responsibility will continue to lie with the community—with women and men of color in particular—to quietly endure interactions like mine and their aftermaths, to comply without explanation in the face of police mistrust, and to wonder whether our names and faces have been marked suspicious on lists we are not permitted to see.

Meditations on Masculinity

Patricia J. Williams

Suffer the Little Children

I take my son to the playground several times a week. At two years of age, he requires lots of exercise before either he or I get any rest. If I go to the playground closest to my house, he is almost always the only black child there. This alone makes the playground political. Two incidents, for quick examples, happened on two consecutive days: On Monday, my son went over to the benches to play with a little girl who lives on our street. He sat on one end of the park bench, she on the other. They laughed and swung their feet back and forth as though they were trying to see who could swing their legs harder. Another little girl of about three ran up to the little girl with whom my son was playing and tried to drag her away. She told her to stop playing with him and she told my son to go away. She whispered in the neighbor girl’s ear and they both looked at him with sober faces. But the leg-swinging game was too much fun for the first little girl, who, after all, knew my son, and she went on kicking her legs—though considerably subdued. The second little girl gave up and ran to her mother who was standing within earshot, and said, “I don’t like that little boy. He’s scary.” Her mother advised her, “Well, stay close to me then.”

On Tuesday, we arrived at the playground and my son ran immediately to the sandbox. There were two little girls of about four already there. The moment my son got into the sandbox, one of the little girls started screaming: “Get out of here! Don’t you get near me! Go back to where you came from! Get out! I said get out!” My son was startled—his face literally crumpled and he burst into tears immediately. He came running over to me, threw himself into my arms and sobbed on my shoulder as though his heart would break. I held onto him tightly, trying desperately to figure out some adult response or neutral intervention, but still the little girl kept screaming, waving her plastic shovel like a can of mace: “I said get out of here and don’t you ever come back!”

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EMU as Sanctuary

sanctuary

Eastern Michigan University’s Faculty Senate and union have issued a joint resolution to declare EMU a Sanctuary School. Please sign your name to convey to the Administration the urgency of making the university a safe space for all its students, and share widely with family, comrades, and coworkers.

Tot’s Spot

There’s a new chef in town! We sat down to learn about Tot’s Spot with its creator, Ta’te Hinds.

What are the origins of your culinary practice?

My love for cooking goes back to the 5-year-old me watching Emeril Live with my grandmother. The first time I heard him yell BAM! as he tossed seasonings in the skillet, I knew that I wanted to be a chef. After that, I made it my mission to get into the kitchen whenever the opportunity arose. I’ve taken culinary courses throughout high school and college. Currently, I am a culinarian for The Ross School of Business, which allows me the opportunity to work under amazingly talented chefs and learn new techniques every day.

Tell us about the menu you’re currently working with.

As of right now, Tot’s Spot is only making chicken & waffle sliders with a side of Cajun seasoned fries. This happens to be one of my favorite guilty pleasures and I wanted to share it with the world. With increasing popularity, we plan to expand the menu, but chicken & waffle sliders will always be available.

What are your dreams for Tot’s Spot? Or do you envision it more as a temporary experiment/intervention?

Tot’s Spot started as an experiment with my best friend and business partner, DeAndre Slappy. We received so much unforeseen love and support that we’ve been opening every Saturday since January 28. We like the idea of having a pop-up restaurant but a food truck is our ultimate goal.

There’s a recognition among many folks that Ypsilanti is lacking in Black-owned and -operated eating establishments. What kind of supports do you think Tot’s Spot—or any other new dining/drinking project originated by people of color—needs in order to successfully begin to address this lack?

A chance. If people just gave us and others a fair chance they might find that they enjoy the food and/or the people running the operation.

When’s the next time we can eat at Tot’s Spot?

This Sunday we’re having a meet-and-greet mixer during Beezy’s brunch hours, 11 a.m.–3 p.m. The main focus this week is to win over some new customers by offering samples, the opportunity to pick our brains a little bit, and give some suggestions for future menu items. We don’t have a set price for this week’s mixer but donations are suggested.

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MI Curious? Indeed.

From Michigan Radio’s website:

Ask your question below!

Is there something you’ve seen or heard and thought, “I wonder what that’s all about?”

Well if you drop your question in the form below, we just might find an answer! All MI Curious stories originate with questions submitted by the public. Each month, we vote on what question we should dig into next!

So fellow Michiganders, what are you curious about?

Question 4, Mr. Schram.

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