Imagine you are walking down the street, minding your own business, listening to your iPod, when you notice a cop car pull up close to you. Naturally, you look back. You continue to walk but feel the car has slowed down to your pace, so you look back again. Before you know it, your nightly stroll has landed you up against the police car while an officer holds your hands behind your back, begins frisking you and threatening to throw you in jail.
You looked suspicious and they’re just doing their job.
On June 3rd, 2011 this is exactly what happened to Alvin, a 17-year-old Harlem student–this and much more. It’s hard to imagine that in a democratic society which prides itself on equality and freedom of speech, a hate crime of this nature would occur and almost go unnoticed. After all, racial profiling is a term criminals, visible minorities and poor people made up, isn’t it?
It’s not. Your ethnicity, attire and neighborhood can–and often do–determine your rights, even if you are a law abiding citizen. I really encourage you to watch this video capturing Alvin’s unfortunate encounter with the NYPD. Alvin was able to record this disgusting incident, but I wonder how many a month, week and day slip through the cracks. And why wouldn’t they? This is the nature of the beast. It’s ‘the chain of pain’, as I like to call it–the officer feels a significant amount of pressure from his superiors and in an effort to avoid repercussions and in hopes of being promoted, he/she chooses to perform unjust acts on innocent individuals. ‘Stop-and-Frisk’ (or 250s), as coined by the NYPD, gives officers the right to do just that, whenever and to whomever they see fit.
But this doesn’t affect you and I, so why should we care? And even if we care and want to make a change, what can we actually do? I believe there is power in transparency. That social media is a platform for a unified voice which can–and always should–stand up for justice and human rights. Silence is often the propeller of crime. You and I may not have the power to change the world, but social disorder, whether online or on the streets has a hand in exposing the wrongdoings of those that are supposed to be protecting our rights.
Racial profiling is real. Yes, sometimes it’s exaggerated, sometimes it’s misused, sometimes it’s irrelevant. But too often it is at the core of inhumane acts that occur in our communities, to people we may or may not know, but people nonetheless. And our job as members of this society is to not only be aware of what goes on in our world, but to care about our fellow humans – care about their basic rights, their dignity, their safety.
Most of us can only imagine what it feels like to be treated with such disdain. To be harassed, publicly humiliated, physically abused and called names based on the color of our skin. And the more pressing issue here is that this kind of behavior provokes and promotes criminal acts. Shouldn’t the NYPD be setting an example for these young teens instead of making it so painfully obvious that whether they take the right path or the wrong path in life, they will be treated like criminals anyway?
It’s a sad reality, because the system creates criminals when its purpose and intention should be to decrease crime. It’s backwards. It’s unfair. It’s cruel. My blood boils and my heart aches every time I listen to Alvin’s secret recording. If we can’t put an end to racial profiling just yet, let’s at least make a lot of noise. Let’s shed enough light on this issue so it can no longer be ignored or swept under the rug.