The police stopped two of my students the other night. They frisked one of my students, checked IDs, asked probing and intentionally offensive questions. There were no reports of crime in the neighborhood, no particular suspects being searched for.
These students were out for a walk, minding their own business.
We call this a "walking while black."
[For more on this phenomena, check out Tony Gatewood's experience http://www.facebook.com/notes/tony-gatewood/if-i-wore-jeans-and-an-american-eagle-jacket-would-cops-racially-profile-me/10150569430583037]
This is only the second time I've had my students stopped by the police while walking and I think it reveals how different my two mission fields are from each other.
In Virginia, while I was on Staff at Washington and Lee, one of my student leaders was stopped on suspicion of public intoxication. This sweet woman couldn't walk a straight line on her best day. When she walked down the aisle for her wedding, some of us teased her that she needed to install bowling alley bumpers to get her to her groom. She just weaved when she walked.
The night she was stopped by the police, this woman was sober. Actually, she was always sober. After the incident, she joked that she had three reasons for never drinking. First, she loved Jesus and couldn't reconcile underage drinking with obedience to him. Second, she had enough balance problems while sober. Third, though she was in recovery from her struggle with an eating disorder, she could never justify the calories.
What a difference from the incident this week!
My student at W&L found herself able to laugh the incident off. The police were kind to her and it made a good story.
My students in Miami will carry this frustration and embarrassment for a while. Something like this will probably happen to them again in the future. They weren't treated with respect.
It's tempting to come down hard on the police in situations like this. Or to shuffle around looking for someone to blame.
But incidents like this challenge me.
When my W&L student got stopped leaving her sorority, I found it an opportunity to examine and talk about prejudice against Greek students. Profiling. Perhaps God will use the incident from this week in a similar way.
Police power doesn't corrupt. It reveals. Opportunity for prejudicial action reveals what's really going on inside. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men who, for lack of opportunity, appear holy?
Join me in praying for the students who were stopped for "walking while black" this week.
And, if you get a chance, help me think through a constructive response. At W&L, I could laugh with my friend, give her a hug and it was in the past. In Miami, it doesn't work like that.
I'm trying to find prophetic language, wisdom and compassion.
What would you do or say to help the students who were stopped for "walking while black"?