A guest post by EJS supporter Lyda Phillips.
A few days ago the following message appeared on a neighborhood listserve here in East Nashville:
2ND black male
1025 this morning, med complexion, slim build, clean-shaven, 5’8, wearing white sweat pants & no shirt, went up on rear construction site @1905 Boscobel. Walked toward community center. Could be juvenile. 3rd black male light completion, slim build, no shirt, floral spandex pants, walking down S. 19th.
Within seconds a, well, spirited conversation ensued. For context, East Nashville is now one of the most inclusive neighborhoods in a deep blue city, with a new female mayor, who is proud to call herself a progressive.
As someone observed after the 2012 election, the South is actually a sea of red sprinkled with an archipelago of dark blue urban islands. In 2016 Trump won Tennessee by 20 points, sweeping all but four counties, where he lost by equal margins. Those counties represent the four largest cities in the state.
So, when this message appeared it was no surprise to me that someone instantly pounced.
Ross: Maybe I missed this part, but what is the concern?
And they’re off (I have cleaned up grammar and typos and deleted last names):
Original poster: Trespassing on the property, potential theft, potential assault on construction worker.
Ross: You described a third man simply walking down the street and indicated his race. This smells wrong to me. If you want to report a crime, call 911. But this is a welcoming community and I find your messages are running counter to that.
Michelle: I agree.
John: I also agree. Yes, vigilance is key to neighborhood security and safety, but I consider the original posts to be, even if unintended, racial profiling.
Original Poster: You missed yesterday’s post where the 1st black male was going thru our yards, started to come up my drive, & when I stepped out, he ducked & continued down toward the community center. The 3rd was definitely a juvenile.
For a little more context, the alarmed white woman chose to purchase a house on a lovely block in East Nashville, just steps away from the local community center, where kids from all over East Nashville come to play basketball and do other things kids do, like make a lot of noise.
Connie: I was addressing the FIRST post … the additional posts did seem to be mentioning people simply walking … not sure of why the person posting was alarmed?? The first one the person clearly should not be walking through back yards … in the other posts it seemed to be maybe just nervous reactionary posts?
Original Poster: Did you miss the part where he went onto a construction site, scaring the worker who was to call the police? This same house had materials stolen from it earlier. Did you miss the part about walking thru our yards?
David: It’d be a bit foolish to try to assault a construction worker, who would have many tools available which could be used as weapons. Maybe he was going to ask about a job? You always seem to assume the worst of people, especially black males.
And then, predictably for around here, the obligatory “just stating the facts” racist pipes up.
Stephen: You people that complain about racial profiling are so damn ridiculous. If you are Black and someone is trying to describe you to law enforcement or the community at large then it’s entirely appropriate to describe someone as Black or African American. If you’re White then you would say there is a white person or Caucasian person. If you’re Hispanic you could be described as Mexican or Brown or Tan or Hispanic or Latin. Same goes for Asians or other ethnicities or nationalities. The point is that it’s not racial profiling to describe someone’s physical attributes as our eyes see them. How the hell do you expect someone to find someone or notice someone without describing the most obvious physical attribute?! Another Fact that you people need to come to grips with is that the vast majority of the daily petty and serious crime in this area [is] committed by black people period. So it’s not that people are racially profiling they’re just calling it like it is! Maybe if black people would commit less crime in this area and more white and Hispanic people would start committing crimes you’d be reading posts describing white or Hispanic people committing crimes!!! Maybe people would be less suspicious of black people in the area if they weren’t committing crimes in the area every single day. Buy a police scanner and just listen to it for a few days and you’ll see what I’m talking about. Stay safe people. I’m so tired of politically correct bullshit.
David: Better check your prejudice, Steven. Truth is that simple trespass, mere presence on private property, is not a crime. The crime is criminal trespass, but for that you have to prove intent to commit a separate crime. There is a concept of “right of passage”, which allows a person to pass through private property while on the way between public spaces. This is legal unless the property has posted “no trespassing” signs every 10 feet at the perimeter or a perimeter fence. Since these people proceeded to the community center, I don’t see that they did anything wrong other than “walking while black”.
Karen: It is something wrong when black male can’t walk in a neighborhood [without] someone finding an issue with it! I see white males doing the same exact thing, but I don’t see that being reported in the same manner!
George: Let me get this straight…. you saw black teens walking and felt the need to tell everyone because you were worried? Jesus…
Stan: This post is not in keeping with our inclusive values on the East side. These values existed way before the deluge of money and popularity started threatening them. East Nashville is a safe zone for everyone except those who threaten our inclusivity.
Betty: Saw black male on Gartland between 16 and 17th on Sunday about 11:30. Spoke to him said he was from New York and had bought a house on the street.
Clay: It is not illegal to be black and walk in East Nashville. Even without a shirt. Even in the alley. For the person who witnessed someone with a handgun looking into parked cars, that is cause for concern. Assuming that someone you saw today is in some way affiliated with a person previously seen with a weapon and/or looking into cars is a dangerous assumption. Black people walking through the neighborhood is not a cause for concern. I find these posts to be depressing and unhelpful.
EMMA: I’m sorry but do you ever see posts titled “another white male”?? No because people don’t racially profile white people. You could have titled something “possible trespassers.” Your posts are very disturbing to me and I can only imagine it making folks in this neighborhood even more uncomfortable if they are brown or black. Be considerate of this.
This thread roared on for more than two days, in the same vein. The entire thread has now been removed, but residents of color, many of them long-time residents from the days before this became a hip neighborhood and gentrified began to post on day two. They described lifetimes of racial prejudice and profiling. Others weighed in with gratitude that this debate had prompted a frank discussion of race.
I myself was heartened to hear my neighbors jump so quickly on a poster who clearly has no awareness of her implicit bias. Yet as one of the posters said, it is sad and depressing that so many people still are aggressively unaware of their inherent view of anyone who doesn’t look like them, or have the same income, as The Other, and therefore inherently disturbing and dangerous.