Dear Neighbor, Stop Calling 911 on Anyone Who Doesn’t Look Like You

A white neighbor called the cops on black teens at a pool party, which ended with an officer drawing a gun on children. A white teacher called the police on a brown Muslim student who brought a clock to school. And a white employee at Starbucks recently called the police on two black men waiting for a friend before they ordered.

There is a lot of analysis on the culture of policing but little on why the police are called in the first place. Who is doing the calling? And why? In too many cases, it’s middle-class whites who’ve let their unexamined fears run wild.

Seriously, we all need take a breath and have an honest conversation with ourselves. It is simply not okay to allow our unexamined fears run riot when the cost is the potential incarceration or deaths of innocent people.

Anxiety is a hell of an issue to manage. But projecting our anxiety on anyone slightly different is not only wrong, but dangerous to the extreme — especially for folks with more melanin than you.

Photo credit: Rene Asmussen

Ask yourself, would you call 911 if the person in question were white? Are you really in danger? Is it really necessary to call the police — people trained to react to almost all situations as potentially life-threatening — in this situation?

If you sense actual danger, then yes, call 911. Absolutely. And without hesitation!

But we must make the distinction between our own unexamined biases, our own anxieties, and true danger.

We have got to do better. It has to begin with us. And for the love of all that is java, stop calling the police on people whose only “crime” is waiting to order your overpriced, over-frappuccino-ed coffee while brown.

Author of historical fiction set in the ancient world as well as books on mythology and history for kids.