Driving While Black: Part II


            The more things change, the more they stay the same.  For a country that recently reveled in the racial unity that existed among all Americans after the historic presidential election in November, it is now apparent that some have not received the memo that bigotry, ignorance and racial profiling should be a thing of the past.

            According to the Houston Chronicle, on December 31, 2008 police from the affluent Houston suburb Bellaire, Texas received an erroneous report that the 2004 Nissan Xterra that Robert Tolan, 23, was driving home from work was stolen, confronting him at the Bellaire home of his parents.  The confrontation resulted in Tolan sustaining one non-life-threatening gun shot, while two others shots fired by Sgt. Jeff Cotton fortunately missed the victim.

            “We want the district attorney to charge this officer,” said Tolan’s attorney Geoffrey Berg.  “There can’t be an explanation that can justify what the police did to this kid.”

            What the Bellaire police officer did to this young man, son of former Major League Baseball player Bobby Tolan, if proven true, is simply another disturbing case of racial profiling, which should have no place in 21st century America, but unfortunately is commonplace for African American men like Tolan and Sean Bell.

            Tolan’s family told the Houston Chronicle that Tolan and his cousin Anthony Cooper, were lying on the sidewalk of his parents’ home after being wrongly confronted by the officer when his mother Marian Tolan came out to explain to the officer that the car belonged to them and was not stolen.  When an officer became physical with his mother, Tolan attempted to get up to protest, at which time he was shot by Cotton.

            Berg believes that it was simply another case of racial profiling and the Tolan family hinted they would seek legal action as a result of the incident.  “There’s no doubt in my mind that if these had been two white kids, they never would have been shot,” said Berg.

            Unfortunately, for many racially-insensitive individuals, the thought of affluent African Americans is completely unfathomable.  They simply can not believe that African Americans can achieve the same wealth that they have accumulated, or afford to live in the most affluent neighborhoods and send their children to the best schools that money can buy.  If they see anyone in their community that does not look like them, the police are immediately called and incidents of racial profiling occur.

            During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, many Whites could not understand why African Americans would want to move into White neighborhoods and attend school with White students.  The answer was not that they wanted to be around Whites, but that they wanted to be able to have the option of going to the best schools and best neighborhoods if they were qualified.

            That desire to want the best for oneself and their children is true for all people because the common denominator for Black people, White people or Asian people is the word “people,” and all people essentially want the same things out of life.  Unfortunately, people who practice in this ignorance of racial profiling fail to realize this simple fact.

            Bellaire police officers say they routinely patrol the neighborhood streets looking for anything that appears suspicious.  Ironically, for me I was once seen as that suspicious person dribbling a basketball down the streets of my parents’ affluent neighborhood as a 13-year-old in 1992.  The officer, B.P. Evans, informed me that a few houses had been broken into in the neighborhood.  When I asked him what that had to do with me, he responded that he stopped anybody who looked suspicious, which is the typical excuse for racial profiling.

            Unfortunately for African American men, it always seems that suspicious people only look like us and the victims of racial profiling seem to look the same way.

Smith is publisher of Regal Black Men’s Magazine.

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