From Starbucks To Hashtags: We Need To Talk About Why White Americans Call The Police On Black People

Don’t you fuck­ing walk away! Don’t fuck­ing walk away from me!” the 20-some­thing-year-old woman screamed as she fol­lowed after the 20-some­thing-year-old guy who just got out of her car. It was 2 a.m.; only the street lights were on, but the guy was clear­ly done with his girl­friend (prob­a­bly ex-girl­friend at this point) and was just try­ing to get inside the build­ing.

You fuck­ing ass­hole!” she screamed and ran after him, jump­ing onto his back for the angri­est pig­gy­back ride in his­to­ry. He tus­sled with her for a bit, man­ag­ing to slide her off his back with a thud. Then he kept walk­ing to the apart­ment, curs­ing at her to leave him alone. This was sev­er­al years ago — my friend Josh and I were awk­ward­ly watch­ing the whole thing. All we want­ed to do was move a few final box­es into my first apart­ment in Laurel, Md., but this Real Housewives of Potomac cutscene was block­ing our path to my sec­ond-floor unit.

I’m gonna call the cops! I’ll tell them you hit me!” the woman screamed, sit­ting on the grass and point­ing at her ex. “I’ll tell them you beat me up. They’ll get your ass.”

The man stopped dead in his tracks, turned around and gave her a look of shock, anger and then unmit­i­gat­ed fear. He was black. She was white. He knew exact­ly what she was say­ing, and so did I, and most hor­ren­dous­ly, so did she. When white peo­ple threat­en to call the police on black peo­ple — out of anger, out of spite, out of pure vin­dic­tive­ness — they are effec­tive­ly say­ing, “I’ll kill you!” They’re just using a legal exten­sion of white suprema­cy to do it. It’s high time we start con­sid­er­ing these big­ots just as much a threat as the police that they sum­mon to do their bid­ding.

This week, black America added “sit­ting at Starbucks wait­ing for a white friend” to the list of things that we can­not safe­ly do with­out fear of police vio­lence. Previous entries includ­ed sit­ting in your car, sit­ting in some­one else’s car, stand­ing on your front porch, stand­ing on your back porch, sur­viv­ing a car acci­dent, ask­ing for direc­tions to school and, of course, breath­ing.

As a black man in America who has been harassed by police more times than I can count, the viral Starbucks video didn’t sur­prise me at all. However, my anger is direct­ed not just at the cops but also at the cow­ard­ly Starbucks man­ag­er who made the call to the police to begin with. The men and women mak­ing these out­ra­geous and unwar­rant­ed calls to police, which result in the harass­ment, unfair pros­e­cu­tion and even death of peo­ple of col­or, need to be found, pub­licly shamed and pros­e­cut­ed to the full extent that the law allows.

No, I’m not talk­ing about Dave Reiling, the man who report­ed an actu­al crime in Sacramento, Calif., that the police used as an excuse to shoot Stephon Clark in his own back­yard. Calling the police to report an actu­al crime that the police over­act to is not the citizen’s fault, no mat­ter what col­or they are. I’m talk­ing about the hun­dreds of cas­es — that we know about — every year, where white Americans active­ly and know­ing­ly use the police as an exten­sion of their per­son­al big­otry yet face no con­se­quences.

I’m talk­ing about the white woman at the Red Roof Inn out­side of Pittsburg who called the cops on me because I dis­put­ed the charges on my bill and asked to speak to a man­ag­er. I’m talk­ing about the white woman who called the cops on me last year even though she knew I was walk­ing with polit­i­cal can­vassers for Jon Ossoff’s con­gres­sion­al cam­paign in North Atlanta. I’m talk­ing about the police offi­cer who fol­lowed me behind my house in Hiram, Ohio, ask­ing where I lived because he’d “got­ten some calls about rob­beries.”

In each and every sin­gle one of these instances, a white per­son used the cops as their per­son­al racism valets, and I was the one get­ting served. In each of these instances, I could have been arrest­ed, beat up or worse based on noth­ing more than the word of a white per­son whom I made uncom­fort­able. As sick as this all is, I still con­sid­er myself lucky.

Tamir Rice was killed at the ten­der age of 12 because a man who admit­ted to spend­ing the after­noon drink­ing called 911 to report a “juve­nile” that was prob­a­bly car­ry­ing a “fake” gun. Constance Hollinger, the 911 dis­patch­er, who failed to deliv­er that infor­ma­tion to the cops, got an eight-day sus­pen­sion but kept her job, and there was no inves­ti­ga­tion into the caller. Tamir Rice is still dead.

Then there’s Ronald T. Ritchie, who told 911 that John Crawford III was run­ning around Walmart “men­ac­ing chil­dren” with a shot­gun. Crawford, hold­ing a BB gun — sold at Walmart — in the open car­ry state of Ohio, was shot and killed by police. Despite clear evi­dence that Ritchie lied to the 911 dis­patch­erwhich is a crime, no charges were filed against him.

You can get arrest­ed for pulling a fire alarm, mak­ing fake bomb threats and mak­ing false claims of an alien inva­sion—why not a false police report that results in death? We should be push­ing for pros­e­cu­tion against these callers just as much as the cops who pull the trig­ger.

That’s why I knew Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson’s state­ment on the Philadelphia inci­dent was trash: “Our store man­ag­er nev­er intend­ed for these men to be arrest­ed and this should nev­er have esca­lat­ed the way it did …”

Either Johnson is lying or hasn’t been white in America as long as I’ve been black in America. Calling the police is the epit­o­me of esca­la­tion, and call­ing the police on black peo­ple for non­crimes is a step away from ask­ing for a tax-fund­ed beat­down, if not an exe­cu­tion. That Starbucks man­ag­er didn’t call the police in the hopes that they’d polite­ly ask two black cus­tomers to buy a lat­te or leave, just like the angry woman in front of my apart­ment wasn’t threat­en­ing to call the cops just to get her boyfriend to lis­ten to her. The intent of these actions is to remind black peo­ple that the ulti­mate con­se­quence of dis­com­fort­ing white peo­ple — let alone anger­ing them—could be death.

As hor­ri­ble as the real­i­ties of American polic­ing can be for black America, we can’t ever for­get that there are even worse peo­ple out there. They’re peer­ing out from the cur­tains of their house, infor­ma­tion kiosks and “lib­er­al” cof­fee coun­ters, sur­rep­ti­tious­ly dial­ing their phones, whis­per­ing the exag­ger­a­tions and Trumped-up fears that make America’s vio­lent polic­ing pos­si­ble. https://​www​.the​root​.com/​f​r​o​m​-​s​t​a​r​b​u​c​k​s​-​t​o​-​h​a​s​h​t​a​g​s​-​w​e​-​n​e​e​d​-​t​o​-​t​a​l​k​-​a​b​o​u​t​-​w​h​y​-​w​-​1​8​2​5​2​8​4​087