Four black, male Philly educators — all victims of racial profiling — tell their stories
In the last two months, four black, male Philly educators were racially profiled in the city. The men, and experts, said the cases are part of a bigger trend of authorities targeting black people.
Quamiir Trice was getting food for his girlfriend when the police pulled him over and yanked him out of the car.
Ismael Jimenez complained about noise in a movie theater, and the next thing he knew he was surrounded by security.
Will Mega was stopped on the way out of a Lowe's store and asked to show proof that he had paid after making a purchase.
And Benjamin Slater had just gotten off a roller coaster at Dorney Park when a security officer detained him, saying he "fit the description" of someone who had been rummaging through purses and bags.
All four men are black educators in Philadelphia — three are teachers and one is a dean of students — and all are complaining about the same thing: being racially profiled, stopped, detained, or harassed because of stereotypes associated with the color of their skin.
The men sat shoulder to shoulder beneath stained-glass images in a Germantown sanctuary last week, told their stories, and announced a forthcoming anthology of racial profiling anecdotes.
They want to make sure their cases, all different in details but identical in essence, are not viewed as isolated incidents but "as a narrative," said Jimenez.
For many black people, episodes of racial profiling can happen anywhere, at any time, while people are doing anything: sitting in Starbucks, golfing, selling water, or going to the movies. And the episodes aren't always initiated by police.
Racial profiling cases have gone viral on social media on a regular basis, often with the same scene unfolding: Black person or people do something; white onlooker suspects illegal, aggressive or dangerous behavior; white onlooker confronts black person or people and calls police.
On social media, people have handed out such nicknames as "Permit Patty" and "BBQ Becky" to onlookers, employees, or business owners, many times white, who call the police on black people.
To those people, Sabra Townsend asks: "Why are you calling the cops on people for living?"
At the panel, Townsend, a lead organizer with Parents United for Public Education, an education advocacy group, said there are people "learning and thinking and believing that … someone is less than them."
"And they make stupid decisions as a result," he said. "We're assuming the worst of people and that's never good."
Trice knows what it's like to have the worst assumed of him. The fourth-grade teacher, recently featured in the Inquirer, changed his life's trajectory, going from being locked up for selling crack at age 16 to becoming a teacher and meeting President Barack Obama.
But, he said, none of that mattered when he was pulled over.
"It's normal for you to believe a 'guy like me' would commit a crime," Trice said at the panel, and that's the problem. There are still times when he has to "prove" himself, he said.
"It's confusing to a lot of people, what a successful young black male can look like in this world."
While Trice spoke, Kendra Brooks listened intently from a pew. Brooks, of Nicetown, followed all four cases closely. These situations are familiar to her, too.
When asked how many times she's been profiled as a black woman, she exhaled: "So many times." When she travels for work, in hotels, airports and restaurants, Brooks said — "take your pick."
However, in those situations, she said, she takes extra precautions, monitoring her tone and being cautious.
"When I'm traveling by myself, as a woman of color, I have to be aware of everything because I promised my kids I'm coming home, no matter what happens."
This is why I'm going to law school!!! The same day that an positive article comes out about me, I get pulled out of the…
Posted by Quamiir Trice on Thursday, July 12, 2018
A racial analysis of police stop-and-frisk encounters in Philadelphia during the first half of 2017 found that as many as 20,000 people were stopped without a justifiable reason and that there were racial disparities in those stops.
The rate at which police stop blacks is "vastly higher" than in New York and some other major cities, the analysis said. Black people made up 69 percent of stops from January to June, the American Civil Liberties Union said.
>> READ MORE: Study: High rates of stop and frisk even in Philly's lowest crime areas
>> READ MORE: Analysis: Blacks stopped at much higher rate indoors in Center City
There's a tendency to deem racial profiling episodes as unique when, in reality, the profiling is a continued, historical trend, experts said.
Chad Dion Lassiter, a national expert on race relations, said black people "have always been under suspicion and have always been under surveillance" by law enforcement. The only difference in the modern era is "more technology that can highlight it."
Lassiter leads the state's Human Relations Commission, which hears statewide complaints about racial profiling and other forms of unlawful discrimination.
"This surveillance and this suspicion is rooted in the historical fabric of how we've gone from slave catchers to slave patrols to police patrols," he said.
However, there are solutions, Lassiter said.
"Police departments have to be trained in anti-racism training," Lassiter said. "Anti-racism training gets to the underpinnings of white supremacy, white privilege, institutional racism, and what white superiority is … it deals with the white supremacist ideology."
That ideology, if not changed, will have implications for future generations, Jimenez said.
"I have four black boys that will grow up in this society and unfortunately have to experience a reality which looks at them as a threat, just by the way they look," Jimenez said.
Oftentimes, profiling is associated with encounters initiated by law enforcement, such as stop-and-frisk, but these widespread incidents circulated on social media reveal profiling in everyday situations.