Racism, pizza, a phone & police
This story/ rant could have a whole bunch of titles like:
- Being a decent fucking human
- Using your white privilege responsibly
- Do the right damn thing
- Guidelines for being white and acknowledging racism in volatile situations
Now the point of this post is not for you to come tell me I’m awesome. It’s a bit of a cathartic rant to quiet the rage in my brain. It hopefully helps some wrap their heads around white privilege. If you are a white dude and give a shit hopefully makes clear how you can use white privilege in some productive ways.
We are sitting in a Kebob & Pizza place, I dig this place. It’s off the beaten path in downtown San Francisco. Two of us sit eating coconut and drinking Coke, while waiting for another friend after work. When some altercation is happening outside. It looks slow motion, we try to ignore. But it keeps happening and one man slowly pushes the other down. I’ve watched plenty of things go sideways and I’ve intervened in a few fights in my life. It clicks and I walk out to intervene.
As I get there it’s the young staffer from behind the counter and an older black man yelling at each other. There is some older white man as well telling him to give the phone back. Now I’ve learned some de-escalation skills I walk hands raised, “Hey what’s going on?”
The older black man turns to me, “This kid thinks I stole his phone.. I just wanted my pizza… I just wanted my dinner.” He’s exasperated, his pizza is on the ground. My gut says shit he’s pissed because this kid accused him of stealing when he’s a grown ass man just trying to eat some dinner. The kid rants about his phone being connected to bluetooth and that’s where the music comes from, he must have taken it because the music stopped. The old white guy is yelling at him to give the phone back, man fuck this guy.
The older black man says, “Look if I took it, it’s on the video let’s go look and see.” We all start to walk back in, there is tension between everyone. He’s looking at me, like what the fuck is going on? Now I’ve spent some time around some shady folks, I used to work in some seedy places and never has anyone who has stolen something wanted to look at the video.
Now, old white dude is ranting about this man finding Jesus and giving the phone back. I’m pretty certain in all my learnings of Jesus this is not W.W.J.D., but who am I. I’m feeling pretty certain this is racial profiling and these two guys are being pretty unfair to this guy.
We are back inside, the old black man is trying to get the kid to show him the video. The kid is rambling, about the music, and his phone, some Samsung something or other. The older black man looks at me where is his video, I ask. “Can you get us the video?”
More back and forth, calls to the manager or owner. A Security guard shows up and he looks like Andy Warhol. Andy fucking Warhol, the humorist in me wants to point this out. He’s trying to figure out what is going on. Lot’s of question about the phone, police. I make clear again while old white man rants. “No one saw this man take the phone, it disappeared from the counter when we was here.”
At some point my friends come over. Asks the kid for his phone number, and she very cooly calls the phone. Oh damn didn’t think of that. So simply brilliant. I’m like, “Look I neither hear ringing nor is this guy vibrating.
Another security guard shows up either after or before the calling, he asks more solid questions. He and I look at each other basically acknowledging this is fucked up. He explains if no one saw anything the man is free to go, but tells the staffer he can call the police. He has seen the man and can also help give a description.
The kid gets angry and comes around the counter, the older man starts to walk back out the door. Why? Because he is free to go. The security guard warns him to not touch the man it could be assualt. He gets in front of him and puts his hand on him.
Both the security guard and I reach in. “You have to stop. You can’t touch this man!” We get them separated. We are all walking away from the store. The kid is still following. But, things seem to be getting better, I’m pretty sure it’s over this gentleman is going home.
I go back inside. I’m no longer in this. Back to some coconut and coke, catching back up with the friend. But then they are all coming back in. Walking back our way. The security guard announces he’s agreed to a search. We become witnesses sitting there. For some reason the damn kid comes over, the man gets heated. I would have been probably more heated long ago. Off and on this guard and I make eye contact and try to smile, I think reassure each other we want to help this man get home.
Mentally going through the truth of what is happening he’s being accused because he’s a black man. This security guard is doing his best to de-escalate. I do think about privilege and profiling and if I’m racially aware of all this what is real responsibility. I think to myself, it’s to hang near by and make sure he gets out of here ok. Looking back I could and probably should have been more vocal in getting him out of there sooner.
Then three undercover cops roll in badges out. Two white, none black, and we all know how this could go. The bigger guy I expect to be a bro actually seems pretty reasonable. Looks at me, “Why are you here?, or What’s your connection or something”. “I’m just making sure he’s ok. The police are questioning them both. The cop and I step away. “Look I’m pretty certain he doesn’t have the phone. He just wants to go home and probably eat his dinner.”
White male privilege:
I will never know this kind of injustice. The likelihood of me being accused of stealing a phone fairly low, the likelihood then of people thinking they can hold me also low, likelihood of security guard telling the kid he’s wrong high, the likelihood of the police just dismissing this right away high, the likelihood of me being hit, tazed, or killed by police low.
Just far enough to listen and watch the police and not close enough to put them on edge. The one I’ve talked to says to him he doesn’t want to search him. There is no visible evidence he took the phone and he has no right. I wonder how this would have done down if we weren’t there and staying?
Then two more white police walk in. Damn five police for one older man and a fucking phone. Well this has all the makings now of one of them losing their cool. At some point two more white police show up, wow slow day guys?
Our other friend shows up. Tries to joke about it as she often does. We all talk and I listen, mostly just to the police.
It seems like the one that was cool at first still wants to just end this. But the stereotypical tall aggressive cop seems to take over. For some reason he’s now searching the man. He pulls out the man’s phone and asks him about it. The man is pissed yes that’s my phone I’ve told you guys five times. The cop snaps a little. I’m feeling on edge because this man has been nothing but compliant in ways he legally didn’t need to be and this cop seems to be provoking him. They find…
Wait for it…
But continue to hold him. I’m wondering now did they finally see the video? That’s the only thing that can explain it to me now. We’ve passed the normal profiling and racism time and they haven’t provoked him to an excuse for their own violence. There must be some video… Time goes by, the undercovers come back in, “We looked everywhere. No phone we need to let him go.”
Somehow, in letting the man continue freely as is his right, no one apologized that I remember. In a lapse of policing, no one removes this damn kid from the man’s path out. I am stepping toward the man to walk out with him. He steps at the kid, angry, “I want you to pay for dinner!” And something else, finger raised he points into the kids chest. I reach into separate along with the big cop. Big cop begins to berate the man. “ You fucking idiot what are you doing?” He shoves him in the back. Keeps swearing at him. I’m a step behind. Shit my adrenaline is cranking again, this asshole is hitting an older man who has been twice accosted by this kid. He shoves by the door I step around and put my hand on the man’s back. I rub his back to calm him down and bring us together and wall us away from the police.
We talk I tell him I’ll testify if he decides to press civil charges. He says, “I’m just not that kind of guy. I don’t know what happened. I didn’t mean to push that kid. Should I go apologize?” I reply, “You don’t need to apologize. Considering you were harassed by cops and accosted by that kid you handled that well. I might have punched him if I were you.” He’s nodding his head, “I’d like to apologize but I can’t go back can I?” I shake my head. “No, no you can’t it’s going to be ok.” We exchange numbers, look let’s just get dinner soon. Even if you don’t file a civil suite we could just sit down and make dinner. (I know we can never actually make this moment up for him, I’m not that naive.)
He thanks me, thanks me for just staying and being with him.
Nothing heroic happened. But in a system built around white supremacy and systemic violence and oppression directed at black people, once you have such knowledge you need to stay. There were about 30 moments that could and in a law of averages would have gone sideways if we didn’t stay. I don’t know if I hadn’t put my arm on him if they wouldn’t have berated him to the point of response. To the point they could, as often happens declare threat finally.
So if you happen find yourself in similar situation, you stay. Especially if you are a white male and enjoy the perverse privilege and safety your birth bestowed on you, you now have an obligation to stay. I bestow that on you because you’ve read to here and now you know.
Be well friends, be well,