THE BLOG

Any Negro Will Do

08/28/2014 09:24 am ET | Updated Oct 28, 2014
  • Michael W. Waters Award-Winning Author of Freestyle: Reflections on Faith, Family, Justice, and Pop Culture; Founding Pastor of Joy Tabernacle A.M.E. Church in Dallas, Texas
ASSOCIATED PRESS

Any person who does not understand the fury and pain present within the African American community related to injustices enacted by some police need only to look to Forney, Texas, a small town located 20 miles east of Dallas.

One late August evening, Kametra Barbour, along with her two children and two godchildren -- all under the age of 10 -- were driving through town. Suddenly, their nightmare began!

Ms. Barbour was pulled over by Forney police officers who exited their vehicles with guns drawn. Each passenger was ordered to place their hands out the windows. Ms. Barbour was then ordered to exit her vehicle and to walk backwards, her hands lifted above her head. As she was being handcuffed, she cried aloud, and in distress, "What is going on? Oh my God, you will terrify my kids!"

An officer responded, "We got a complaint of a vehicle matching your description and your license plate, waving a gun out the window."

Only they had not.

Several moments before, a call was placed to 911. The operator was informed that four black men in a beige or tan-colored Toyota were speeding down the highway, the driver with a gun in his hand. Soon after, another call informed that the car was exiting the freeway. As she drove, Ms. Barbour happened upon that same exit.

Instead of stopping a vehicle matching the description from the 911 call, officers took creative license in their interpretation of the details. The beige or tan-colored Toyota creatively became a burgundy red Nissan Maxima. A male driver was creatively exchanged for a female driver. Four passengers creatively became five, and many of those passengers creatively transformed into children from adults. The small matter of the license plate number not matching became part of their creative ingenuity.

A dashboard camera in the police cruiser captured this unfortunate incident in its entirety. Had it not, it might be easily dismissed by those who refuse to recognize that such atrocities occur with regularity, negatively impacting the trust of the African American community.

Unbelievably, an even greater offense has been committed against the Barbour family. The Forney police department has rejected any admission of error in stopping Ms. Barbour, and they have not fully acknowledged the terror their actions caused this young family.

Or was it an error? Could it be that any Negro would do?

Could it be that, in a nation that has legalized racial profiling through such policies as "stop-and-frisk," the persecution of pigmentation makes African Americans indistinguishable from each other in the eyes of the law -- so much so that all are feared as imminent threats? How else can one explain how officers could be so incredibly wrong about such a clear description? Could it be that they saw a black driver on a dark highway, and that was enough?

Three years ago, while driving under the speed limit in Dallas with my uncle, one of my best friends from college, and my then-4-year-old son, officers pulled up alongside me, then quickly, behind me, lights flashing. I pulled over. As police approached on both sides, flashlights beamed into our vehicle. When an officer approached my window, he asked me a peculiar question: "What do you do?" The inquiry caught me off guard. I responded, "I'm a pastor."

Suddenly, it all became clear. I was driving my wife's vehicle. A practicing attorney, the back of her vehicle still donned a law school decal. The officers saw three black men in a vehicle bearing a law school decal and knew that the car must have been stolen. Each adult male in that vehicle that evening had earned a graduate degree or had completed graduate hours. One was in the process of completing a dissertation. However, no level of success or achievement has ever insulated the African American community from such disturbing encounters. Not that success or achievement should matter, as all people deserve to be treated with dignity and with equality under the law.

Unfortunately, on any given day, any Negro will do!

Our saving grace that evening was that two attorneys, my wife and another college friend, were trailing us. I shudder to think of what could have happened to us had those women not been present. I shudder to think what could have happened if the car Forney police pulled over had been occupied by one black man, or three black men, or even five black men as passengers. What could have been their fate?

It is a historic and tragic remembrance that many innocent black men and boys were lynched by lynch mobs after an accusation of rape made by a white woman. Whether or not the rape actually occurred was inconsequential. Lynch mobs were known to apprehend, brutalize, and then hang the very first black man that they encountered. Any Negro blood would satisfy their blood-thirstiness. In some cases, the lynch mob would grow to become a rioting mob leaving dozens of blacks killed and whole neighborhoods destroyed.

During the Forney stop, Ms. Barbour's young son exited the vehicle with his hands raised above his head and inquired, "Are we going to jail?" I weep knowing that even as a young African American child, with hands raised, that child could have been fatally engaged by police as a threat.

Four decades ago, the late, great Marvin Gaye inquired through lyric, as Ms. Barbour did that August night, "What's going on?"

The answer that we have awaited for so many years may have long been under our noses. When it comes to explaining certain brutalities, any Negro will do.