by Doug Brown
This is nothing new, nothing unique. It happens all the time, here and elsewhere every day.
We're just posting this to highlight what happens far too often — people of color having to deal with police scrutiny for simply existing in public because others didn't want them in the neighborhood.
We recently stumbled onto an incident in Lakewood last Friday evening where two residents — neighbors — called police to report a small group of "suspicious" black men.
Their crime? Hanging out together in public, going into a store, and hanging out some more outside. (Update: A couple people from the neighborhood let us know that the "suspects" were artists in town from Milwaukee and were supposed to perform at the Bevy at Birdtown.)
"It just don't feel good," said the first caller, who explained she went past them four times before she called 911 to ask them to send a patrol car there. She was worried because the store owner has an "open door policy" for his business and these black men were obviously criminals intending to do harm. "I think, you know, just the police presence, maybe they'll go away and won't come back. I just don't like it."
Lakewood police logs show the first call came in at 8 p.m. last Friday. She stayed on the line for six minutes, switching her worries midway through to a separate group of black men who sometimes walk down her street as they are headed elsewhere. The dispatcher for Lakewood police, which by all indications handled the situation as good as they could, was patient throughout, and describes the call and the police response as such:
check the area, comp said there was 3 blk males standing on the ne corner and that didn't sit will wet her and there was a grp of 5-7 blk males walking nb on Winchester towards detroit the comp said she did not like and she will [call] again when she sees them.
Checked the area, there are about 30 people outside, no one looks suspicious or doing anything out of the ordinary
Take a listen to that call here:
We don't know anything about the caller — phone number, name, age, ethnicity, address, or anything else — but we do know she thinks police need to respond because black men are around.
"There are three black males that are hanging around the northeast corner of Winchester at Madison," she says as she's connected to police. She's worried what they'll do to store. "Can you kind of just send a car, you know, just in the area and maybe they'll leave."
The dispatcher asks "What are they doing besides standing on the corner?"
"They're standing on the corner and I think they went into his store," she says, with full confidence that this is a good reason to call police. The first time she went around the block, they were in their car. The second time she went past, they were standing near the side the building. Third time: they must have been in the store. Fourth time — yes, she went by four times — they were outside again. "Why are you hanging around on this corner, you see what I'm saying?"
She continues further.
"These guys, they're just hanging out on the corner of Winchester and it just don't feel good. Maybe, you know, the police would just ride by them and just put their presence by them — maybe they'll leave. I'm thinking they up to something"
"They've been down there for the past half an hour — they're not doing nothing, just hanging around"
Nearly three minutes in, she adds another complaint about a separate group of black men who sometimes walk or ride bikes down her street, and suspects they're in a gang despite being unable to describe any crime they've committed except sometimes walking in the street.
Dispatcher: "When they're coming down the street, are they doing anything?"
Caller: "No, they're just walking… So next time they come through, I'll call you guys"
At the end of the call, she switches back to the original group, hanging out outside.
"I think, you know, just the police presence, maybe they'll go away and won't come back. I just don't like it."
As noted in the police narrative, they sent a squad car by: "Checked the area, there about 30 people outside, no one looks suspicious or doing anything out of the ordinary."
The woman had her neighbor call police again an hour later, as noted in the call log:
3 BLK MALES SITTING IN THE VEH—COMP WAS ADVISED BY HIS NEIGHBOR—THEY THINK IT'S SUSPICIOUS AND THEY ARE CONCERNED FOR THE STORE OWNER ON THE NE CORNER. CHECKED THE AREA, NO VEH MATCHING DESCRIPTION. SPOKE WITH OWNER OF BIRDTOWN BEVERAGE AND HE CHECKS OK.
The man's call lasts just more than two minutes, but it's dripping with similar unfounded paranoia of black men and the confidence that it's a legitimate reason to call police.
"There's a suspicious vehicle with three youth — uh, three gentleman that's been hanging out there for about an hour on the corner of Madison and Winchester," he says.
"Okay…" says the dispatcher, the same one who took the previous call.
"And they keep getting out of their little minivan and they're hanging out at the corner, they just look real suspicious. Even my neighbor told me about it and she asked me to check it out, and they've been there for over an hour. She was concerned about the store owner at that one beer store."
"I know she gets a little nervous," he says later of his neighbor, trying to sound reasonable, toward the end of his call, "but I drove past and it looks suspicious because they're just hanging out of the van with the doors open, and they're just hanging outside of it."
He called police back when they left, again giving the car's license plate and the direction they were headed, hoping police would follow.