Racist or Descriptive?

Photo by PoPville flickr user grit and whatever

“Dear PoPville,

This email was forwarded to me by the landlord of my current dwelling in Capitol Hill. The racist assumptions that the sender of this email expressed represent the type of ill in our society that leads to a 17 year-old being fatally shot by a similarly racist vigilante.”:

Sorry to bother you all, but I was just unloading groceries from my car (in the 100 block of 7th Street by the alley opening) and I noticed an African American male cross over from the Verizon building and walk into the alley. I’ve never seen him before and since it is a dead-end alley, I was a little suspicious. I went up to our deck to see what he was up to and he seemed to have disappeared. I didn’t see him in any of the backyards and wasn’t brave enough to walk down the alley myself and start poking into the garages. I continued to unload my car and saw him emerge moments later riding a nice, silver bicycle. I reported it to the police, so if you live in the 100 blk of 7th or 8th or the 700 block of A Street and back-up to this alley, check to see if you are missing a bike. If so, hopefully the police will track it down in the next hour and you can claim it. I’m sure this list isn’t comprehensive, so if you can share with any neighbors that live on this square that aren’t on this list, that would be great. Thanks!

160 Comment

  • Racist??? See something, say something. He called the cops on a person he deemed suspicious, he didn’t go after him with a gun. Let the cops sort it out.

  • lukecolorado

    So, did someone lose a bike? Would it be racist if he described the guy as white?

  • Its racist if you presume that the author would *not* have been suspicious of a white man she’d never seen before walking down a dead-end alley and then riding out on a bike. If you don’t make that assumption, its simply descriptive.

    • you’re being gender-ist!! why do you assume the email writer was a she? because he/she was unloading groceries? i’m aghast! TO ARMS!!

      • Hahaha, dang! You caught me. I apologize the the female community and will immediately seek treatment.

      • epric002

        just to be nit-picky, and b/c gender communications fascinates me, i would also *assume* the writer was a female due to the use of the following terms: “sorry to bother you all” and “…wasn’t brave enough to”. these language hedges are usually used by women, not men.

        • Isn’t that kind of like assuming the guy in the alley was suspicious because most crimes in this city are committed by African-American males? At least in principle I think it is.

          • epric002

            we don’t know that that was the basis of the assumption.

          • epric002

            also, i would agree that assuming the author was female b/c of groceries could be sexist. but sociolinguistic research (especially robin lakoff’s) indicates that women’s language can be identified from men’s in many ways, the first of which is hedges.

          • You’ve missed my point, I’m speaking hypothetically. You said you would assume something based on prior evidence, probability, tendency, whatever you want to call it. A similar logic would lead one to assume that the African-american male in the alley was suspicious because of his race. That is my point – if making your assumption is OK then I think you also have to say that the other is also OK. Feel free to disagree.

          • epric002

            anon 4:00- bear with me while i think/type out loud: why is it different that i assume gender (unknown) based on language choice (sociolinguistics), when (we assume) someone else assumes criminality (unknown) based on race (known)? i think it would be more comparable (apples to apples) if the author omitted race and only described a suspicious male, and we all assumed he was black. i think what i’m getting at is that gender/race are not used in the same way in these 2 instances: language –> gender; while race –> crime. right??? (omg, i think pentadic analysis just helped me work through this issue) does this make sense to anyone else?

          • Well, that’s not the point I was trying to make but that also works.

        • The OP said the email was from the ‘landlord’ as opposed to ‘landlady’.

          • epric002

            i have never used the term landlady. i use landlord for males or females.

          • 1) “Landlord” could refer to a woman.
            2) OP said the landlord forwarded the email, but it’s not actually clear that the landlord wrote it.

    • I think this is one of those situations where it’s *really* hard to know what’s in a person’s heart or head from a brief message that they probably dashed off on the fly. Maybe the person piqued the landlord’s suspicion because he was African American, or maybe it was because he was unfamiliar and came riding out of the alley (which doesn’t get a lot of foot traffic otherwise) with a bike. Maybe the landlord would have written “white man” in the note if the person had been white, maybe not. I generally think it’s not constructive to gratuitously throw out a racial description if it’s not relevant or if it doesn’t add anything to the message. (As someone else said, it might have been more well-rounded if the e-mail writer was able to add other identifying characteristics like clothing, height/weight, or whatever.) But not everyone things these things through, or self-edits while they’re writing. Although I suppose you could argue that there’s some sub-conscious racism at play.

  • saf

    Racist or descriptive is not the question.

    The description is what it is.

    Racist in the assumptions is the question. That is, was the person suspicious because the guy was black or because the guy was unfamiliar.

    As it is, it reads REALLY racist.

    • Yeah, I tend to agree with you. Not sure I know how to get around it if you want to describe the guy for the cops or the community, but I agree with you nonetheless.

      • Hmm – I think that because this email is really saying ‘i saw someone unfamiliar poking around a dead-end alley and emerging with a bicycle. If you lost a bicycle, let me know, because I could give you a description,” the inclusion of the description does seem unnecessary. If it was saying, ‘i saw this guy, and think he stole my bike – have you seen him??’ then a physical description would be more pertinent. But since there’s no confirmed crime, at the moment, and the point of the email is more to find out if anyone’s missing a bike than to ask people to watch for one specific person, the description of the guy is a bit immaterial. Unless there was a crime, this description of the guy does seem to point a little bit to a notion that this guy, because of his skin color, may have been more suspicious than someone of another race… I agree that if some stranger was wandering my dead end alley, and came out w a bike, I might give my neighbors a heads-up, and maybe even the cops, but the phrasing and choice of descriptors doesnt do the writer of the email any favors…

  • how did the writer know the guy was america?

    • Yeah, I got scolded once by a cop. “We don’t say African American. We say black, because we’re describing a person’s appearance.”

      • tonyr

        I had to laugh when the Post (I think) reviewed Dirty Pretty Things and described Chiwetel Ejiofor as African-American

        • Yeah that’s the worst. I am white but I say black usually. My black friends say black. I do use the AA phrase at work or around people I dont know sometimes. I would never use it on an African because duh!

  • The person says: “I’ve never seen him before and since it is a dead-end alley, I was a little suspicious.”

    Sounds like he would have reacted the same if it was a white guy he had never seen before in a dead-end alley. I hope my neighbors react similarly if they see something suspicious when I’m not home.

    • Everyone who has posted here has made the same assumption that the landlord is white. Why has no one considered the possibility that s/he is non-white?

  • Stop crying wolf so often. It completely discredits when something is ACTUALLY racist. This person was simply being a good citizen.

  • It’s not really descriptive because he doesn’t say anything other than the fact that he was a black male. No height, weight, age, clothing description, just his race. If he was going to describe the suspect, he should have done so. Otherwise the fact that he was a black male just looks like a justification for his suspicion.

    • As a Property Manager myself, the general rule is residents enter through the front door and theives through the garage/rear. I can recognize the face of 99.9 percent of my residents, so he probably knows this guy has no legal rights to be in the garage in the first place. On a scale of 1 to racist this does not even register a 1. The fact the dude is black is as relevant as that he is a male. Unless you assume this fine gentleman is merely borrowing the bike for an evening stroll. If he doesnt recognize that guy, the guy then walks in through the garage to enter, and leaves on a bike, it seems like cause for suspicion regardless of his race.

      • The point is, saying the suspect is a “black male” is *useless* in a city with around 150,000 black males in it. Describe the suspect’s weight (approx), height (approx), length of hair, color of clothing, time of day THEN race and gender and you start actually providing useful lookout info…

  • My friend and I were sitting in her house in Ledroit Park when we noticed 4 white people walk down her driveway to the back of her house. We went to see what the hell they were doing. When we asked, “Can we help you?” They nonchalantly said, “Oh we really like your deck and wanted to check it out.” Now, as two black females we couldn’t help but take note of the entitlement mentality exhibited. If they were 4 black males just “simply checking out” your back yard I fear cops and guns would have been involved. The hypocrisy and entitlement of many in the white community is disturbing. Yes, the email has racist undertones. Good lawd.

    • I am utterly confused. How did your (completely off-topic) encounter with some nosy-neighbors turn into an ironic conversation about race & guns? Were they in the wrong because you imagined them being a different race? Or if they were a different race and you were a different race? It seems maybe a simple “Thanks for the compliment” would have been more appropriate than the above rant.

    • I’m sorry, I’ve had the same thing happen to me with people of both races. If they hadn’t left my property I’d have called the cops no matter what their skin color. Both times they had some innocuous sounding explanation, but it doesn’t matter, it is my property and they were not allowed to be on it.

    • I agree many white people are oblivious to what others have to deal with as far as drawing suspicion based on purely negative stereotypes. However, as a white person, I have also experienced people assuming race as a motive for certain actions far too many times. It feels pretty crappy as well, and don’t think anyone should ever just assume racism.

      By the way, my point is definitely not “white people have it just as bad.” So please do not read it that way.

    • You realize that you are the one that should have called the cops, right? ESP. If you thought they were suspicious.

  • I typed something but I erased it. This is ridiculous! this is what we have come to huh

  • No – I would not call this racist. As many have posted earlier, you saw someone you did not see before and then saw that person leaving with property. If you live there and have not seen that person then you are just reporting what you saw. I presume you would do the same if the person was of another race.

  • I tend to think that people that make racist assumptions are not good citizens.

    Here’s a perfectly fine example of someone being a good citizen:

    “Sorry to bother you all, but I was just unloading groceries from my car (in the 100 block of 7th Street by the alley opening) and I noticed an unfamiliar man cross over from the Verizon building and walk into the alley. I’ve never seen him before and since it is a dead-end alley, I was a little suspicious.
    If you did lose a bike, the description for the police I would give would be: 6’2, red shirt, blue shorts, African American, no facial hair. Contact me and I’m happy to give more details.”

    See the difference? The African American descriptor came out when they were explaining why the guy was suspicious, not when only describing the person. Keep in mind that we are not reading this statement in a vacuum. Racial Profiling exists in this world, and to give someone the benefit of the doubt when their words in black & white sugguest otherwise is ignoring a LOT of evidence.

  • So why include the race of the guy? Why not just say “I noticed a man cross over from the Verizon building and walk into the alley. I’ve never seen him before and since it is a dead-end alley, I was a little suspicious.”?

    • lukecolorado

      Because most crime in this city is committed by black people. That’s why he said it. If it was a white woman he wouldn’t have given it a second thought. Is that racism or just statistics and threat analysis?

      • What does that have to do with the way the landlord told the story? A while back, I saw two kids walking down my street casing cars. I called the police, and gave them a full description of the kids, including (obviously) their race. When my wife came home and I told her, I didn’t say “I saw two black kids casing cars”. I just said “I saw two kids casing cars”.

        So why did this guy include the race of the man in his story? It’s not enough of a description for anyone to be on the lookout.

  • I just want to know if someone is missing a silver bicycle or not.

  • Racist. Period. End of story.

    • But why? Seems to me you can’t back it up with any FACTS. Just because you say it is racist, does not make it so.

      • Because we live in a structurally and culturally racist society, that’s why. These racist attitudes are built in, and remain racist whether or not the author of that email “meant” them to be.

        To put it another way, how many unfamiliar white people do you think the author saw that day without giving any of them a second thought?

        • I don’t think anybody has any clue how many unfamiliar white people the author saw, and that’s the point. Did he see a bunch and caused no alarm? Did he see a white person walk down a dead end alley? Did he not see a white person all day long? Nobody knows, so don’t assume. Sure this society has a ton of racial disparities, intentional or not (probably both), but you can’t point fingers every time one person brings up another’s race. That does nobody any good.

        • You are being sterotypical and saying that the author is racist without even know the person. That puts you in the same category of discrimination. You don’t know if she saw other people and did not give them a second thought. And what does the person have to be white? There are a MANY different races in this area.

          • The critical race theory student in me must chime in here…people, typically, aren’t by themselves racist. It is the institutions, policies, and stereotypes that foster our understanding of oppressed groups that make these situations and ideas racist. Here, the author of the e-mail uses African-American to inform the receiver of the e-mail why she was suspicious in the first-place, which propelled her to follow this Black man into the alley. It’s not about being politically correct, but that by itself, what I just described is a product of racism because she is using stereotypes (including what I’ve seen on this thread citing crime statistics in DC) to propel her actions and perceptions of someone she doesn’t know. I don’t care if she’s a 62 year old black lady who does community service at her church. It’s still racist.

        • its a nice assumption you make anyway.

    • No not that easy… use your brain and come up with something better than that.

    • Where’s Al Sharpton?

  • Some that is described as African American is now considered racist? It is pretty bold to say that someone is racist in the absence of other intentialy or unitentialy information that was not discloded. Maybe the African American male presented himself as being suspicious through his behavior? Your legatimaticy of ignortantly calling someone racist is quickly lost…anybody read little red riding hood when she called wolf?

  • pablo .raw

    I was thinking “descriptive” until I realized the “description” is the race and gender of the suspicious person. Why does this matter? because if someone needs to identify this person (in case he really was doing something wrong) how are they going to recognize him?

    • Read V Street’s post.

    • Pablo – exactly my thought. An amateur APB doesn’t help very much if it doesn’t help you identify a potential criminal from 100,000 other people. How could this information be actionable?

      • I don’t buy this line of thinking at all. Every additional piece of information helps – maybe not much, but some. But really look at the numbers, identifying a suspect as either black, white or hispanic would rule out *at least* half of the city’s population – so it does differentiate the suspect from more than 100,000 people, at least on the citywide level. Neighborhood-by-neighborhood the story might be different, but not in Capitol Hill.

  • We just had a very similar argument on our listserv. Except on ours, it was someone going door to door asking for money and refusing to leave the doorsteps of people he was soliciting from. The person listed approximate height, clothing, that the person was male, that he was bald, and his skin color. The listserv lit up with accusations of racism, then there was a fairly long discussion similar to the one here. For some reason the posting on our listserv, where race was one of a list of traits, read much less racist than one that lists only that the person is an African American male.

  • Shame on the OP for describing the email author as racist. Do you also think its sexist because the suspicious character was male?

    A person unfamiliar to a local resident goes down a dead end alley and reappears with a bike. Calling the police and letting them deal with it is perfectly sane and logical response!!!

    These kind of actions do not lead to 17 year old children dying! Aggressive citizens with guns lead to kids being murdered!!

    This race baiting post disgusts me!!!

  • It’s possible that the fact that the person was black triggered or heightened the guy’s suspicions… but the e-mail seems pretty innocently worded to me. There might well be racist assumptions at work in the situation, but I don’t see racism in the wording of the e-mail.

    Unless you’re thinking from the get-go “I’m planning on reporting this person to the police — I’d better take note of height, what he/she is wearing, etc.”, sometimes it’s hard to remember anything but the most basic descriptive factors. I’m not sure it’s helpful to — in an effort to be PC — omit what little descriptive information you might actually remember.

  • The title of this post reminds me of the “Is It Racist?” bits on Tosh.0.

  • So was this black guy naked? Was he bald? Generally if you pay as much attention to someone as the writer did you would notice maybe a shirt color, pants color, tennis shoes or flip flops. I really would like to know if the writer gave the same description to the cops, and if so, did they ask for a clothing description.

    The below story indicated why it is important to be VERY descriptive:

    My cousin was followed by SIX police cars at 11:00 pm on Saturday night from 1st & Rhode Island to the 7-11 at 7th & Rhode Island. Two drove the wrong way shining lights in his eyes. Once he reached the 7-11 he was greeted by another cop who followed him to 2nd & Rhode Island. He is a black man who works at Giant, he has locks, and dresses in tennis shoes (mostly Puma) and jeans. He has never committed a crime. Why was he followed? He has no children, takes care of our grandmother, but he wanted a late night snack, so he was profiled.

    • “indicates” & Oh yeah, he is a black male. In his 30’s….

    • what did the cops say to him?

      • Nothing, they just followed HIM. At this point I am ultra glad he does not have a drivers license or rides a bike. I get nervous for him. As former military, he said he knew not to make eye contact or else he would have been perceived as a threat.

    • To see six police cars in a six block span in a matter of minutes seems statistically unlikely unless there was a crime reported in the area. Is it possible that there had been some sort of crime (robbery, assault, rape, etc) nearby and the perpetrator was reported to be someone who might have had similar attributes (hair, shoes, skin) to your cousin? In that case, I don’t think six different police cars eyeing your cousin be considered profiling, but simply police on the lookout for a particular individual. I’m not saying that the scenario I have described is necessarily what happened, but based on the facts that you provided, my scenario would be plausible, and it wouldn’t necessarily constitute profiling.

      • Have you spent much time on H Street? It seems like there are always five or six cop cars that materialize quickly for any little thing. I was at Atlas Vet recently, watching as six cop cars pulled someone over, and the receptionist was shaking her head saying “why does this always happen here?”

    • When we were burglarized the cops said we must have had drugs in the house and went looking for evidence so they could lock us up. If my roommate wasn’t black and/or we weren’t in a predominately black neighborhood I think they would have responded to the burglary in a more normal manner.

  • The sender of the email was suspicious of the guy because he was black. It’s really that simple. The alleged facts: 1. he saw a black guy; 2. walk into a dead-end alley; 3. he saw the same guy riding a silver bicycle moments later. This equals a crime or is suspicious enough to call the police and put folks on edge about a black thief?

    He could have been just as helpful as he intended to be and he could have spare those of us who are sensitive to this type of subversive racism by waiting to see if someone on the listserv reaches out to that community seeking help with a theft or if he just had to say something he could say to the listserv “Hey, I may have witnessed a bike theft. The bike is [insert description]. Feel free to reach me if you have a bike fitting this description and I will try to give you a full description of the details including the person I saw leaving with the bike.” As it is his action, puts all the recipients on alert to look for any generic “african american male”, which consciously or subconsciously makes every black male look suspicious.

    • Boo-Exactly. Anger erupts when innocent folks are stopped/stalked/profiled by others simply by the color of the skin. I shared what happened with one of my Aunt’s she lost it. She said that if something “accidentally” happens then we will be the family to make the news. He has never been arrested, works hard and is profiled on a daily by the cops in our neighborhood. Have they the decency to introduce themselves or familiarize themselves with the “locals”? NO!! DC is only 60 SQUARE MILES. Yet we have more police presence than any MUNICIPALITY in the world. Contrary to popular belief the following agencies have the right to lock you up first then prove you are innocent later: FBI, Capitol Police, Park Police, WMATA Police, Postal Police, Housing Police, and MPD. We need to go back to neighborhood policing; there was a cop assigned to every block and you knew his name. He knew who was trouble and who was law abiding. Generalizations make people uncomfortable and living conditions unbearable for those whom are not the correct race….

  • What verizon building is near 7th and A? There are two 7th and A’s, within a block of each other, only one has an alley entrance, and it is a fully residential block with no verizon building that I am aware of.
    Otherwise, this may be my alley. But I don’t own a nice silver bike, and I’m not racist or descriptive.

    • 120 7th St NE is a Verizon central office. It’s near the intersection of 7th St NE and Constitution.

      • Really? I always thought that was some sort of apartment building. Good news, it was not my alley that not my bike may or may not have been stolen from. Thanks for the info.

  • Americans tie themselves into knots over race. It is as bad in DC as any place I have ever lived. Move on, people! The more we obsess over race, the more it looms in our imagination and holds us all back.

    • Please enlighten us on how you got over all the racism you have experienced so the rest of us who have been victims can get over it. I seriously want to get over racism and feel free from racism like you do. I look forward to your reply.

  • It’s interesting to me that there has been a lot of assumptions made about the race of the sender of the email. Where does it say that this was a white person and not a male/female of the black diaspora? If it was, does it matter and is it still racist? I only ask the question because it seems to me that, while important to have, most conversations about race are way oversimplified. It’s almost as if talking about it exposes how ridiculous it is that this is an issue we have to deal with in 2013, yet it remains so intractable. My sense is that this is an emotional issue better served by considered reactions than knee-jerk ones in hopes that any conversations facilitate communication and understanding over fear and calcification…

  • This seems relevant- http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ge7i60GuNRg
    It’s the inherent racial profiling that triggers the internal alarm, and yes, well-intended or not, it’s racist.

  • Is the landlord white?

  • The basic fact is that this would not have been reported to the police if the guy walking into the alley was white man. As an dark skinned south asian man, I am in an unique position facing various other stereotypes. I am sometimes mistaken for a black person and followed around in stores (several times at the CVS on 14th street, NW).

  • So everyone, including the person who forwarded the email to PoP, is assuming that the author of the email is white?

  • Not racist at all, not even a little, period, end of story. The race, and the gender, of the guy are both relevant for everyone in the immediate area to know. If they get this email, and then an hour later find themselves in that same alley, and see a black guy they don’t recognize from being in their neighborhood walk in and ride out with a different bike, they know to be more alert than usual about it and to call the police, as opposed to perhaps seeing a little old Jewish grandma with a walker walk (slowly) into the same alley, as someone with those two basic descriptors (race and gender) was observed doing something sketchy earlier that day. Would it have been helpful to give a better description? Sure – rough age, build, clothes, all good things to know. But you can change your clothes pretty quick (I do this at least twice a day) and age can be hard to tell from a distance. Probable gender, though, and race, don’t change (although I do know some very butch ladies and some very talented drag queens, so I say “probable” gender just to be safe here – you can get that wrong on first glance).

    And I know that white people and black people and little green aliens all kvetch about “racial profiling” and how it isn’t fair and blah blah blah. I’m pretty much over it. It is accurate to say that not all children born to women are male, but it is equally accurate to say all male children are born to women. It is accurate to say not all explosions are caused by dynamite, but it is equally accurate to say most lit dynamite causes explosions. And no matter how much we all want to be PC and say it ain’t so, in the District of Columbia in 2013, not all black males are criminals, but most crime is committed by young black males. It’s just a fact. Read through the “Look Out For (LOF’s)” in the DC emergency tweets. Over 85 of the last 100 that issued an LOF issued it for a “B/M”, or a group of black males, or a mixed gender group that included…. drumroll please… black males. We are talking about a group that makes up maybe 20% of the population if we look at black males between 12 and 40, but is in 85%+ of the last 100 police lookouts for criminals. That’s not “profiling”. That’s called “math”.

    • +1.

      Math is good.

    • So according to your “math” it is okay for law abiding male citizens who live in the District and are black to be followed/profiled/stopped? If so, then your math should include all hispanic men should be followed for fear of raping someone and all white men should be followed because they are child predators/serial killers. News FLASH – America is home of the free not categorically guilty until proven innocent.

      • Yeah, @lovesoldier, I do think it’s okay to follow and stop anyone, of any race, in your neighborhood that you don’t know and would like to know more about. And then once they stop, you face them, extend your hand, and say “Hi! My name is ____, and I live in the house over there with the blue door (pause to point to your house; substitute “blue” for another color name if your door is not, in fact, blue). I don’t think we’ve met yet! Do you live here in the neighborhood? What’s your name?” And then, magically, you will learn more about that person. And you might even learn that you both secretly love Twilight or Twix bars or that you both hate the Nationals or that you both have a dog named Sparky, and maybe now you’ve made a new friend who lives right in your neighborhood. Or, you may learn that he or she is surly and rude and foul-mouthed, and probably deserves some additional observation from a safe distance (plus another 200 feet after you think you’re at a “safe distance”, just to be sure) or by police, you pick.

        Either way, it baffles me how in the city this is considered strange. In the small towns I grew up in when I was very young, I think everybody walked right up to everyone else and said hello if they didn’t know them. Now I’ve certainly had neighbors who thought I was a little odd at first when I just walked up to them on the sidewalk and said “Hi! I just moved in over there. What’s your name?”, but now I know almost everybody on my block and the overwhelming majority of people on neighboring blocks. And they all smile and wave now. It’s kinda nice.

        • The writer CALLED the police. What you describe didn’t take place let’s stick to the facts not what COULD have happened….

          • @Anon5:36 – I answered the question that @lovesoldier asked me; I wasn’t speculating about what *could* have happened, although I stick by my commentary to extend to the OP’s situation. And YES, the police exist to handle situations that citizens can’t (or in some cases, won’t) handle. That’s why they are there, and why you should call them if you think you need them. And the police, if doing their job correctly, would engage the citizen in a similar conversation. “Hi, my name is Officer ____. Do you live here in the neighborhood? I’ve had a call from a concerned citizen about some suspicious activity in this alleyway. Did you see anything suspicious?” If the guy lived there, and owned the bike, or was visiting someone who did live there, he would say “Oh, I live in (or was just visiting my friend who lives in) that house, and no, I didn’t see anything, I was just going to the store” or whatever. I’ve had officers ask me that sort of thing many, many times over the years. I always tell them that I appreciate their presence in the neighborhood, and often bring up another concern – “Oh, by the way, I don’t know if you know but we’ve had four cars broken into in this alley in the last six weeks. Could you please keep and eye on that?” I know almost all of the officers in my PSA by name, and I’ve met a couple of their families when I’ve also mentioned “Oh, by the way, I’m having a cookout in the back yard on Saturday – feel free to come by if you’re off duty and bring a friend or bring your partner, and *certainly* come by and let me know if any of the neighbors think we get too loud!” I never assume it’s about me personally, because most of the time, it isn’t, and if it is, then they’re just doing their job.

            @Anon5:37 – I’ve met many many people of all races and ages in Georgetown. They’re mostly nice folks. Maybe *you* should try saying hello to them sometime. I’ve found they *always* like it when someone compliments their house, and almost every house over there has some feature to compliment.

        • ShawGuy, please go ahead and try doing just that in Georgetown and see how far that gets you.

    • How about a word on the unemployment rate and the access to a good education?

    • I fear the “math” may be skewed because our laws are not applied consistently by the police. I am a white male who “breaks the law” on a somewhat regular basis (ie. i will drink a beer on my street, I will smoke a J every now and then, i have doctored parking permits in order to avoid tickets) but my “crimes” go unnoticed (as they should…aside from the parking permit thing, i don’t believe drinking a beer or smoking a J are immoral). However, if i lived in a different neighborhood or attracted more suspicion because of my race, it’s fair to assume that the chances of me getting into trouble would rise.

      • justinbc

        I doubt they issue “lookout” reports for “guy drinking beer on porch” level crime, which is specifically what his statistic was relating to.

  • Descriptive.

    What is with everyone? This isn’t Mississippi burning in the 1950s – no matter how much you want to believe that.

    • Just because there isn’t lynching or other racial violence, doesn’t mean there isn’t racism. Do you really think the writer would have done all that if the stranger had been a white person?

      • let’s see, a person acting suspicious in my alley? they disappear, then appear with a bike and they ride off? yeah. i’d call the cops regardless of the race.

  • I seriously doubt the writer would have been so pro-active if the “stranger” hadn’t been black.

    • The statistics and math of property crime cases solved or with a witness to provide a suspect description in DC make it pretty clear he doesn’t *need* to be as pro-active if the stranger had been white, or female, or elderly, or better yet all of the above, so of course he wouldn’t have. Black women in DC do not commit as high of a percentage of crime as black men. That makes black women less “suspicious”. White men in DC do not commit as high of a percentage of crime as black men. That makes white guys less “suspicious”. The elderly in DC do not commit as high of a percentage of crime as young men and women. That makes the elderly less “suspicious”.

      Statistics are facts. It’s math. Now, this does NOT mean than nobody *except* young black men commit crime. Many, many crimes are committed by other races, genders, and ages every day. But it means that about 85 times out of a hundred, if a violent crime or a property crime took place in DC and there was a witness, they reported a young black guy as one of the perpetrators. If I knew that 85 times out of 100 cab rides would result in a car crash, I’d NEVER ride in another cab again. If I knew that 85 times out of 100 that I walked under a maple tree a bird would poop on my head, I’d cross the street to avoid walking under one. And since I know that 85 times out of 100 that a violent or property crime is committed in the District the suspect is a young black male, I am particularly aware of that fact when I see young black males in my neighborhood, where I know pretty much everyone, that I do not yet know.

      Now, I may handle things differently than most. I walk right up to the guy and say hello, introduce myself, and ask their name. If it’s a neighborhood guy, I’d like to know them for the next time I run into them outside, because I like to say hello to my neighbors when I see them. I think it makes my neighborhood feel more friendly. If it’s a kid who’s up to no good, it usually scares the crap out of them that someone is paying close attention to them and they flee, fast, and don’t come back. But I still pay more attention, and statistics tell me that’s a smart idea. I didn’t spend all those years learning math in high school and again in college at a couple hundred bucks a credit just to disregard it because I felt guilty acknowledging numeric facts and was afraid they might hurt someone’s feelings.

      • If – as YOU say – black males are committing high percentages of the crimes, how can this note be useful? Even if you’re saying that it’s likely true that your robber was black, what’s the point?

        It’s like saying a horse won the Kentucky Derby.

        It doesn’t help me know WHO stole the bike and what to do next.

        • “If – as YOU say – black males are committing high percentages of the crimes”

          Is this a debatable fact that black people commit most of the crime in D.C.? The numbers don’t lie and it’s not racist to say so. It’s like someone in Idaho saying “If – as YOU say – white males are committing high percentages of the crimes”.

          • I think the statistic is being used to justify the profiling here (assuming that there was profiling). Just because stats say blacks commit a lot of these crimes doesn’t mean we start suspecting every stranger who is black. That is ridiculous.

            That said, the description is vague and does sound racist. Nearly 25% of DC is made up of AA males (assuming 50% AA population and 50% M/F ratio). Granted that this person was suspicious because they hadn’t seen this guy before and granted that he may have been doing something shady, but if the bike was actually stolen, are we to report anyone meeting that description?

      • I think you missed the point. The writer called the police. If I were a black man, and I was approached on the street while riding my bike by uniformed officers and treated like a criminal because the guy who called the police didn’t think enough of the offender than to describe him as a black man who is riding a silver bike, I may be more than pissed off. If you have never been asked to spread eagle, with your hands held in the air, drop to your knees, interlace your fingers, in broad daylight for all your neighbors to see. Then you might not get crime is not about statistics when you are face down on the concrete being wrongly accused. Point of the post, get more than the race of the person you THINK is committing a crime, it may help your neighbors from eating dirt unneccessarily.

        • +1 I don’t understand why people do not get this. Probably because it has never happened to them.

          • I am a white guy in my 30’s. I couldn’t fault you for assuming, based on my race and nothing else, that I have never been stopped and detained by the police when I was just out in public minding my own business. But you would be wrong. When I was in my early 20’s, I was in a bookstore with my grandmother when the police spotted me, mistook me for somebody else who allegedly looked like me and allegedly had been seen stealing from the store earlier in the day, took me away and detained me for 2 hours. It was f*cking humiliating, and to my near-80-year-old grandmother, horrifying.

            The odds are in your favor when you meet a white man and you assume, based on his race and nothing else, that he has not been detained by the police for no reason, just like the odds are in your favor if your property is stolen and you assume, based on crime stats and nothing else, that the thief was black. Both assumptions are correct often enough, on a percentage basis, that in a cold and calculating sense, they are pretty useful. However, both are also wrong often enough, not on a percentage basis but in raw numbers, to call into question whether the benefit of making that assumption outweighs the risk.

          • p.s. I realize that this happens much much much more often to people of other races than it does to people of my race. That is unjust, wrong, and just plain f*ed up. The point of my previous post was just to note that you need to be careful about what you assume. Whether all of times that you assumed and were right justifies or excuses the time when you assume the same and are wrong is a matter of opinion, not fact. Your call.

      • Math! Do people understand that there is difference between 85 out of 100 robberies are committed by AA males ( in DC?) and 85 out of 100 AA males commit robberies. If 85 out of 100 times that you interact with a AA you should expect to be robbed then the cab analogy works. AA are treated like the later statistic. Also people are doing the wrong math. The math the needs to be done has to do with unemployement rates, an upside down criminal justice system that is more lenient on the majority population and an educational system that fails our country and gives poor prople the option of dying overseas, low earning jobs or a life if trying to get over. The problem is people act out of fear and ignorance. Most of us don’t have the real experience to draw from. And I mean from either being a victim or to reach out beyond stereotypes and not assume the worst. It is obvious to anyone that is not prejudice or racist and reviews the email that it’s the race that is the focus. If you can’t see that you are in denial about how you really fit in the saga of race and class in the USA. Why not be like the old South Africa and require AA men to carry papers or ware a badge clearing them for any perceived suspicious behavior and then we can all go about business. We’d certainly be able to get the milk in the ice box faster. Lawd knows no AA man could be on a nice new bike unless he stole it cause he aint got the right education for the right job to be able to buy the bike let alone have any need to be in the Capitol Hill area. Hmmmm I wonder what he was wearing? Well he could have been coming from the gym! Doubt it. I’d like to know how many people who don’t think the situation was prejudice watch fix news.

  • If wandering down a dead end alley that’s not “yours” is suspicious behavior I should have had the cops called on me by now. I love exploring random alleys and have, in fact, probably wandered down the one in question.

  • why don’t we just go ahead and assume everything is racist, and rather than stoke the fires of accusations and denials, we try to figure out how to overcome it? it feels like the more we talk about racism, the deeper people dig into their stubborn positions and nothing ever gets resolved.

    • so why don’t you start and give out a suggestion or two on how to overcome it?

      • i suggest that you don’t ever call a person a racist. that completely ends any productive conversation. instead, focus on what you perceive to be the racist action or words in question. maybe that seems like a small difference, but i believe it is very important. once you call someone a racist, you both have lost.

        i think its also important to think about and recognize the difference between racism, ignorance and bigotry. they are not the same, though they can be related.

  • I was the only white person in a chinese restaurant and the lady serving the dish brought me a fork and my chinese friends were brought chopsticks. As a white male this is about as bad as we have it in this country.

    • I am glad there are people in this community that see the point in this discussion, and understand how some stereotypes are funny while others are derogatory.

  • There is a lot of misdirected anger here. Why aren’t people pissed at the abundance of young black males who commit crimes in this city? If young black males didn’t commit crimes in such overwhelming numbers, people wouldn’t be suspicious of unfamiliar black males in their neighborhood.

    • That was part of the Zimmerman defense … and it worked.

      • Sounds like you didn’t actually pay attention to the trial….

        • Looks like you didn’t pay attention to one of the jurors’ interview with Anderson Cooper. The defense didn’t explicitly use this, but it seems to have played a part in the jurors’ decision that it wasn’t racially motivated.

    • We are pissed! That does not mean law abiding people should be judged because of something somebody else does. So after everything I accomplished I should be judged by the actions of others not even related to me. I’m already guilty simply because of my skin color?

  • Hm. I feel like someone talked about this recently, but who was it? OH that’s right! The president of the United States of America! “And the fact that a lot of African American boys are painted with a broad brush and the excuse is given, well, there are these statistics out there that show that African American boys are more violent — using that as an excuse to then see sons treated differently causes pain.” http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/19/obama-trayvon-martin-speech-transcript_n_3624884.html

  • My earlier post was for all the people screaming “STATISTICS!!!!”

    As for whether this post is racist or not, I’d say, it’s leaning in that direction.

    As it’s written it is puzzling that the only detail you get about the possible thief is that he is black. And seems like they watched him for a good while, long enough to see them walk all the way into the alley and come out on a bicycle sometime later and yet, all we get is black guy. Not a black guy with a scar or a black guy with an eye patch and a limp or a black guy in a white t-shirt, black jeans and Sperrys, just, a black guy. So if anyone sees a black guy, any black guy, on a silver bicycle, well, THIEF.

    I think I get tired of people refusing to acknowledge that they may not be racist and yet, they can do stuff like racial profiling based on stereotypes and subconscious beliefs. It’s like admitting that is hard to do. But, admitting it would go so far in helping with the much-needed conversation on race. A good chunk of black people (not all, cause obviously I can’t speak for all black people) just want folks to ADMIT THAT and stop screaming “SHOOTINGS IN CHICAGO!” or whatever. You want folks to stop being mad? Stop acting like what they are telling you is stupid.

    Anyway, I’m fairly sure the point will be missed here so I’m stop now.

    • That’s actually not true. What they wear matters too. I am brown, well educated, and have a decent job and was racially profiled by white people in an apartment complex in NW DC when I hadn’t shaven for a couple of days and wore a sweatshirt.

  • I think when you live in a city you lose the luxury of being PC. You know that 95% of robberies and violent crimes are committed by black men so you profile accordingly.

    The writer made it more awkward by just describing him as African American. Just say it was a guy and then give a fuller description that includes height, weight, age, and clothing along with race. Then it sounds like you weren’t just seeing race.

  • How old is your landlord? I ask because older people have a tendency to mention race even though it should be irrelevant. I was just talking to an elderly woman about joining an organization she co-chairs… while telling me the history she said that she and a black woman started it a few years ago, and then they brought on a young lawyer and a Chinese woman. Modern political correctness would say don’t mention the race, even if you’re praising the person, but old habits die hard.

  • The problem with these “descriptions” is that they are not descriptive enough. As a physical description, African-American includes everybody from Micheal Jordan to Rashida Jones.

    • Which is precisely what I was getting at in my post. If this has said a black guy with a limp in a brown jacket and leggings, then, OK, but something about “a black guy” sounds too much like “any black guy” to me.

  • both racist and descriptive… descriptive because the man is black. racist because OP assumes he’s a thief. so over this.

  • I find it odd/suspicious when I see anyone walking through an alley (sorry, Caroline). Not necessarily suspicious enough to call the police, but the way my alley is structured, it’s not really an effective shortcut from anywhere to anywhere else. So I really do wonder when I see people walking *through* the alley (not just going into the alley to take out their trash or whatever) why they’re there, if not to case people’s houses/backyards.

    • I hope I never walk into your alley thinking it’s a shortcut by mistake. Didn’t realize it wasn’t allowed.

    • I guess you don’t appreciate the character and history that a lot of alleys have. They make for interesting detours, and they’re great for portrait photography (they often have soft diffused light, and neat backdrops like garage doors with peeling paint).

      There is actually an alley stop on the Barracks Row Heritage Trail, not very far from the place that this black man sighting took place.

  • Being observant is critical to preventing crime. Part of being observant is noticing things out of the ordinary, e.g. I have never seen this guy in the alley before, or I think that bike belongs to my neighbor and that is not my neighbor.

    It is more unusual for me to white people in my alley than black people. Am I profiling them because I notice that I have never seen them before?

  • justinbc

    Nowhere in that note does it mention the author’s race. Maybe you’re all racist for assuming he/she is white and therefore more likely to profile? This could easily been written by an old black lady who was trying to be descriptive but has poor eyesight and couldn’t get all the relevant details about the person you’re all upset the author excluded. Get over yourselves, this is not racist. There are however many things that still ARE, so focus your attention more on those and quit fishing for it in the most remote of situations.

  • did a bike get stolen or not? There must be some way of finding out. Now I’m curious.

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