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It’s time to lock up Cornerstore Caroline and her ilk | Solomon Jones

It's no longer enough to shame them on social media.

Teresa Klein, dubbed Cornerstore Caroline, came under fire for her treatment of a young black boy in Brooklyn.
Teresa Klein, dubbed Cornerstore Caroline, came under fire for her treatment of a young black boy in Brooklyn.Read moreScreenshot: News 12 Brooklyn

If we've learned nothing else from the myriad incidents in which white people have called police on black people who were engaging in everyday activities, we've learned that African Americans have come to depend on laughter to cope with racism.

Laughter, after all, is the only reasonable response to those who would call law enforcement when a family barbecues with charcoal instead of gas, or when a child sells water without a permit, or when a boy inadvertently touches a woman with his backpack, or when a man tries to enter the building where he lives.

Black folks understand that, in many cases, these kinds of calls are driven by the racist assumption that blacks do not belong in white spaces, or by the harmful biases that assume black criminality. But after suffering through centuries of racism, we've learned to chuckle at these kinds of slights — even going so far as to give our tormentors nicknames like Cornerstore Caroline, Permit Patty, or Barbecue Becky.

Beneath the laughter, however, is the potential for danger, because when such people are entering our homes, denying us access, even shooting us in our own apartments, black lives are at stake. And if we truly want these incidents to stop, the perpetrators must be prosecuted for the crimes they commit when they make false police reports, harass law-abiding citizens, or make terroristic threats.

It's no longer enough to shame them on social media. If they don't face real criminal consequences, they'll continue until someone is killed.

And that's not hyperbole. Inviting police into a benign situation involving a black person is dangerous, because an unarmed black person is 2.5 times more likely than his white counterpart to be shot and killed by police. Even without the police, there is an innate danger when whites make accusations against blacks, since not so long ago, such accusations often led to a death sentence through lynching.

That's what I thought about when I watched the video of a white woman named Teresa Klein calling the police on a black boy who she claimed had just sexually assaulted her at the Sahara Deli Market in Brooklyn.

Video surveillance from the store indicated that the incident began when Klein was bent over in front of the store counter. The boy, since identified as 9-year-old Jeremiah Harvey, was with his mother and younger sister when he walked by and his book  bag accidentally touched Klein, who turned around and falsely claimed that the boy had grabbed her buttocks.

As the argument escalated, Klein and the family went outside. The boy's mother defended her children. But as Klein loudly said that the boy had sexually assaulted her, and called the police on her cell phone, the children began to cry.

That's when my heart broke, because watching this white woman rage against a little black boy was like stepping into a time capsule.

I was watching Teresa Klein hurl false accusations against a black boy in a New York deli. But, in my mind, I was witnessing a white woman named Carolyn Bryant tell lies on Emmett Till in a store in Money, Miss.

In the video, I was watching Teresa Klein frighten children as they tearfully clung to their mother. But, in my mind, I was witnessing enslaved children being sold off from their families in the American South.

In the video, I was watching Teresa Klein falsely claiming that she was a police officer, but, in my mind, I was reliving the terror of escaped slaves eluding the deadly slave patrols that were the predecessors to modern police.

I only wish Teresa Klein was a relic of American history. Unfortunately she's the reality of the moment. It is a moment in which the political and social climate of the country has emboldened white people who harbor resentment against people of color. It is a moment in which such people use police as a tool of racism.

I'm grateful that when Teresa Klein was raging on the street, a younger white woman confronted Klein and challenged her shameful behavior. I'm glad that when video footage showed that Klein was wrong, she broadcast an apology.

But even when Klein apologized to that little boy, she refused to apologize to the mother who stood up for her child.

Klein can afford such arrogance, because in too many of these cases, people like her lose nothing more than a job. That's what happened to Hilary Brooke Mueller after a viral video showed her blocking a black man from entering the building where he lived. 

But losing a job is nothing compared with losing one's freedom. That's why, next time we see a white person call police on a black person for nothing, we should demand that she be prosecuted for filing a false police report.

To borrow one of Donald Trump's favorite campaign phrases, "Lock her up!"

I bet they'll stop calling the cops after that.

Solomon Jones is the author of 10 books. Listen to him weekdays from 10 a.m. to noon on Praise 107.9 FM.