White people calling police on black citizens is dangerous

Fiona Legesse/The Cougar

Lolade Siyonbola, a Black Yale graduate student, was napping in the common room of her dorm building when a white student called the police on her. Her story is another in the recent onslaught of high-profile cases of people of color being confronted by police due to so-called suspicious behavior.

People of color have always been subjected to racial bias in public places. As if shopping or driving while Black wasn’t enough, there’s a whole new list of situations where this label can  be applied.

Last month, two Black men were arrested for trespassing while they were waiting inside a Starbucks for their business partner. The manager called 911 a few minutes after they sat down without ordering anything. A golf club owner in Pennsylvania called the police on a group of black women for playing golf too slowly. The group behind them had no complaints about the speed of their game, but they were still asked to leave.

These common incidents show how people of color, specifically Black Americans, are painted in a negative and threatening light when the only crime they’re committing is existing. The interference of White people claiming the presence of African Americans is a threat to their safety or well being is a source of one thing, racism.

People of color deal with equality in several public settings like courts, restaurants schools and of course the police.

These incidents serve as high-profile proof of the persistent racial divide in this country. Racism is still a problem in America and the suspicion around people of color is a symptom of that.

We have to recognize that we put people of color in danger by calling 911 on them for no reason. It represents a larger problem of racism along with a disparity of police use of force between both White and Black Americans.

The woman who reported Siyonbola said she “had found a person who did not belong inside the common room.” The police interrogated Siyonbola for 15 minutes even though she opened the door to her apartment and showed her ID.  “I deserve to be here. I pay tuition like everybody else,” Siyonbola said to police officers who were interrogating her in a Facebook video. 

Feeling uncomfortable because of someone’s race is not a good excuse to call the police. It does not merit a response from the police since it is not an active scene of harmful or destructive behavior.  White Americans calling 911 for these minor offenses is a vestige of segregation. People who go to coffee shops, Ivy-League universities and golf courses are associated with wealth or sophistication. The White people who called 911 felt the Black people did not belong there for a reason.

These instances describe people of color being harassed with police intervention for doing things that anyone can do on a daily basis. Napping, sitting in Starbucks and having a few rounds of golf doesn’t merit police response. It is not the job of the average citizen to police public spaces, especially when the people involved appear to be doing nothing wrong.

People of color have to live with heightened scrutiny derived from stereotypes of criminal or behavioral deviance.  

High incidents of police brutality raise the tension between the police force and people of color.  White people endlessly policing public spaces is racism under the guise of protecting their neighborhoods. It is White Americans using the police to feel powerful over Black Americans.

It is time for the police to take calls made by White Americans who police public spaces less seriously if they’re made because they’re uncomfortable with Black Americans.

Opinion columnist Janet Miranda is a marketing junior and can be reached at [email protected]

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