My wife and I live in a nice lower-hills neighborhood in Oakland CA. We have teenage children and are a mixed race family. Our neighborhood has a problem that's dangerous for our kids.
The problem is the neighborhood email list.
The most popular list is hosted at Nextdoor.com. The problem is that often times when a neighbor (read white and over 60) sees a non-white person in the neighborhood, they immediately profile them as a criminal and then hop on Nextdoor and vent their inner racist, disguised as concern about crime.
I'm only exaggerating slightly when I say that you see things like, "there's a black person walking down the street, should I call the police" on our Nextdoor list. Or something like, "that looks like the guy who stole my UPS package". Followed by a commenter who says, "what's the description?" The original poster than responds with something like, "it was a black guy". At this point, one of the nervous Nellies calls the police to report that there is a suspicious looking "black guy" walking around the neighborhood.
Here's the problem.
The police come with a description that says the suspect is a "black guy" and nothing else. It does not say what he was wearing or how tall he was or facial hair or glasses or limp or if driving a car a license plate number...only the gender and race.
There are well over 100,000 people in Oakland who fit that description.
So now the police are driving into our neighborhood looking for a male black. Unfortunately for our family, our 14 year old son, "fits the description". Except for the fact that he's not a criminal and he lives here.
All of the sudden and seemingly out of nowhere, the police are now looking for my son. By this I mean that they might well stop him if they see him. Due to the fact that police (nationwide) killed 111 unarmed black males during the month of March (2015) alone, I'd rather he not have any interaction with them at all.
About 15 years ago I was robbed at gunpoint in front of our house by an African American male. I called the police and they swooped the surrounding blocks with three or four cars. They found no suspects.
If I had to do it again, I'm not at all sure I would call the police. The reason I probably would not call the police is because I now realize that doing so could easily put some innocent black person in harms way with the police and or get them wrongly imprisoned.
The message I have for my neighbors is that your profiling (i.e. useless physical descriptions fed to the police after you call them) will not only NOT help the police catch the real crook, but there is a very real possibility that your actions will bring great harm to an innocent person, like our son.
So next time you call the police, give them a real description of the suspect, one that will help catch the criminal and NOT put other innocent people at risk of harm. Include as many of the following as you can: gender, race, height, weight, color of clothing, type of clothing, glasses, jewelry, haircut, tattoos, scars and the like.
As a result of all this, we don't let our kids play in front of the house or walk in the neighborhood. Keep in mind, this is a "nice" neighborhood where houses cost almost a million dollars.
Thanks to the good work of neighborhood groups like the Neighbors For Racial Justice and others, Nextdoor had come out with anti-profiling language in their guidelines and the Police Department is getting some serious anti-profiling training. Kudos to reporter extraordinaire Darwin Bond Graham.