“I was a freshly minted 26-year-old U.S. diplomat, stationed at the U.S. Consulate General in Mexico, just a few miles from the border. Ciudad Juarez and El Paso are effectively two halves of a single metropolitan area of over 2 million people, and the line between them is one of the busiest border crossings in the world. Residents of one side frequently drive over the border to shop, go to the doctor or dine at restaurants. All the diplomats working at the consulate visit El Paso frequently; some even send their children to school on the Texas side, and cross the border as often as twice a day for school activities.
If you’re working at the State Department, like I was, and traffic isn’t bad, your trip across the border usually just takes a few minutes. The border between Juarez and El Paso has two lanes set aside for “trusted travelers,” people who travel frequently into and out of the country and who’ve been vetted in advance by the U.S. government. This group, which includes business travelers and diplomats, carry a pass known as a SENTRI card, issued by CBP, which is supposed to allow “expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States.” You’re directed to special lanes and hold your card up to a camera a few feet in front of a booth manned by CBP officers. Most of the time the officers wave through travelers using SENTRI cards, so the whole process takes just a few seconds. But if the officers have questions about the identity of the travelers, or any other suspicion, they can flag them off to the side for additional questioning and searches, including putting the car through an X-ray machine.
This is called “secondary inspection,” and sometimes being picked out for secondary inspection is just arbitrary, like a random check by the Transportation Security Agency at an airport. It’s rare for U.S. consular officers to be regularly pulled over; in addition to having a SENTRI card, we carry diplomatic passports. Some of my fellow diplomats have told me they had not once been pulled into secondary inspection after living in Juarez for years. One told me he was always greeted with, “Welcome home to America, sir.””
“On one level, there was no obvious reason they were stopping me. I had passed extensive background and security checks to get my job and to qualify for a SENTRI card. CBP’s own website says that to get a SENTRI card, “all applicants undergo a rigorous background check and in-person interview.”
There was one difference between me and my colleagues who rarely if ever got stopped: The vast majority of my colleagues were white, while I’m Black. But I was a U.S. citizen, and a diplomat. I had taken an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” Could the color of my skin really be why I was being singled out?”
“Black women are disproportionately impacted, dying in childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women.”
“Many factors contribute to overall maternal mortality in the US, from underlying conditions like diabetes to a lack of adequate health insurance. All of these disproportionately impact Black women — Black Americans, for example, are 60 percent more likely than whites to be diagnosed with diabetes. And 11.5 percent of Black Americans were uninsured as of 2018, compared with just 7.5 percent of whites.”
“For Black women, “even when we get prenatal care,” Crear-Perry explained, “even when we are normal weight and not obese, even when we have no underlying medical conditions, we are still more likely to die in childbirth than our white counterparts.” In New York City, for example, a 2016 study found that Black patients with a college education were more likely to have pregnancy or childbirth complications than white patients who hadn’t graduated from high school.”
“Part of the issue is that providers treat Black patients differently from white ones. Black women and other women of color often aren’t listened to when they express pain or discomfort, Jamila Taylor, director of health care reform at the Century Foundation, told Vox.
Racist beliefs about people’s bodies and their ability to experience pain are shockingly widespread: Half of the white medical students and residents surveyed in one 2016 study, for example, believed at least one myth about racial differences in pain perception, such as the idea that Black people’s nerve endings are less sensitive than white people’s. The more myths someone believed, the more likely that person was to underestimate a Black patient’s pain.”
“Advocates have long been calling for greater access to non-hospital births, whether at a birthing center or at home, as a way to combat the discrimination Black patients and other patients of color can face in hospital settings. “Other countries that have better outcomes than we do create a system and a network of birth centers and home births that allow for people to make choices based upon their needs,” Crear-Perry said.”
“As calls to defund and abolish the police grow around the country, a new poll by Gallup finds that a large majority—81 percent—of black Americans want the same or increased levels of police presence in their neighborhoods. Just 19 percent of black Americans said they want the police to spend less time in their neighborhoods”
“We found that after controlling for education, crime, walkability, and many other metrics you might find on Zillow, homes in black neighborhoods are devalued by 23 percent. About $48,000 per home, about $156 billion in lost equity. Now, that’s the money people use to start businesses and to send their kids to college. In fact, that would have paid for more than 4 million black-owned businesses, based on the average startup costs that blacks had to start businesses. They would have funded more than 8 million four-year degrees at a public institution. It’s the money that people use to uplift themselves.
So throughout history, black people have been denied housing opportunities and have been subjected to predatory lending and other unsavory practices that have really disenfranchised them. And so when these police incidents occur, a lot of this frustration comes from not having an ability to influence policy. And a lot of that starts with a lack of homeownership.”
“The devaluation goes beyond housing. We also did a study examining businesses in black communities. To get a sense of the quality, we scraped Yelp data from all businesses and compared those in black-majority communities and in white-majority spaces. We found a similar finding: Businesses owned by people of color in black-majority neighborhoods actually scored higher on Yelp, but received less revenue because of the neighborhood’s perception. People will bypass quality in black neighborhoods simply because it’s the black neighborhood.”
“Watching things like that should help me sympathize with the people rioting last night.
So should my friend Fabian’s experience. When Fabian was 20, he bought his first car, a luxury edition Infiniti J30 Sedan. He’d saved up for it working as an airplane technician, transporting U.S. soldiers to war zones around the world.
Then, while pumping gas back in NYC, police officers approached him, demanding his license and registration.
He produced the documents and showed them that the car was registered in his name. But Fabian is black, and the police would not believe that the car belonged to him. They arrested him and charged him with grand theft auto.
He sat in jail for two days.
Finally, a judge dismissed the case—using the same documentation Fabian had showed the police. They released him—without any apology.
The trauma still haunts him. Fabian says it evokes a sense of helplessness—a fear that “anytime there’s an encounter with law enforcement, getting arrested or even death could be the outcome.”
Yet, as I watch protesters (even two lawyers were arrested) throwing Molotov cocktails at police officers, and I see opportunistic young people looting stores, and my privileged left-wing white friends say things like, “the looting of our society by unrestrained capitalism is worse!” I get even more furious.
This country, and capitalism, has done more good things for disadvantaged people of all races than any society, ever.
Fabian, despite his terrible experience, says that living as a black man in America is a gift. He came here as a teen from Jamaica. America, he says, gave him opportunity he would never have had elsewhere.
“In a 2017 analysis of data from 20 states, researchers at Stanford University found that “white drivers are searched in 2.0% of stops, compared to 3.5% of stops for black motorists and 3.8% for Hispanic motorists.” After the researchers controlled for stop location, date and time, and driver age and gender, they calculated that “black and Hispanic drivers have approximately twice the odds of being searched relative to white drivers.” They were also twice as likely to be arrested. The study found that “black and Hispanic drivers are searched on the basis of less evidence than white drivers, suggestive of bias in search decisions.”
After surveying drivers in the Kansas City area in 2003 and 2004, Charles Epp and two other researchers at the University of Kansas classified police encounters based on the legal justification (or lack thereof) and the amount of discretion involved. They found that black drivers were no more likely than white drivers to report clear-cut “traffic safety stops” (e.g., for running a red light or stop sign, driving at night with headlights off, or exceeding the speed limit by seven or more miles an hour) but were nearly three times as likely to report seemingly pretextual “investigatory stops” (e.g., for an unilluminated license plate, driving too slowly, or no reason mentioned by the officer).
During investigatory stops, Epp and his colleagues reported, black drivers were five times as likely as white drivers to be searched. They were also more likely to be handcuffed and threatened with arrest, and more likely to describe the officer’s demeanor as rude, hostile, or insulting. Blacks perceived investigatory stops as less legitimate than traffic safety stops, while whites made no such distinction. The more stops black drivers had experienced, the less they trusted the police, an effect that was not apparent among white drivers.”
“No matter how you look at it, the American criminal justice system is riddled with biases. As the Washington Post’s Radley Balko cataloged, we know that black people are nearly twice as likely to be pulled over and more likely to be searched once they’re stopped even though they’re less likely to have contraband; and that unarmed black people are more than three times as likely to be shot by police as unarmed whites.”
“Let’s think about the Floyd case. Before we get to the killing, let’s think about the arrest. The store owner called the police and said that someone had tried to pass a fake $20 bill. The police respond, and what they do is virtually impossible to imagine happening to a white person. What they do is to approach Mr. Floyd’s car like he’s a violent thug. They order Mr. Floyd and the passengers to exit the car. One officer has his hand on his gun. They put Mr. Floyd in handcuffs. When he falls to the ground, they leave him on the ground in handcuffs, and then, as the whole world knows, they hold him down by his back and knee and legs for 10 minutes until he dies. I just can’t imagine that happening to a white person over a $20 bill.”
“Part of the evidence that the system was designed this way, and one of the reasons it recurs over and over again, is because a lot of the conduct that people of color complain about is totally legal. So I don’t think the case against the officers in the Floyd case is a slam-dunk by any means. The defense will be that their use of force was reasonable. And they have a case to make. They don’t have a great case, given that Mr. Floyd was handcuffed, but what they will say is that he was resisting arrest and they used reasonable force to subdue him. And obviously there comes a point where the reasonableness of that force is extinguished by the fact that his body is lying limp and motionless on the ground. But up until then, I think they have an argument that what they were doing was legal.
Outside of that case, in theory, the power that police have is unreal. I have a police officer buddy who comes and visits my criminal law class, and to demonstrate how much power he has, he invites my students to go on a ride-along in his car, to see what it’s like to patrol the streets of DC. He plays a game with them called Pick That Car. He tells the student, “Pick any car that you want, and I’ll stop it.” So the student will say, “How about that white Camry over there.”
He’s a good cop. He waits until he has a legal reason. But he says that he could follow any car, and after five minutes or three blocks, the driver will commit some traffic infraction, and then under the law he has the power to stop the car, to order the driver and the passengers to get out of the car. If he has reasonable suspicion that they might be armed or dangerous, he could touch their bodies, he can frisk them, he can ask to search their car. And it’s totally legal. That’s an example of the extraordinary power that police have.”
“A hundred years from now, when people want to know what it was like to be alive in 2020, the Ferguson report is one of the things they’ll look at. It’s this amazing synthesis of data and stories. The data includes the fact that every single time the police used a dog in Ferguson, they used it against a black person.”
“So there’s one story in there in which a woman calls the police because her boyfriend’s beating her up. By the time the police get there, he’s gone. The police look around the apartment and they say, “Does he live here?” And she says, “Yes, he does.” The police say, “You’re under arrest for occupancy permit violation, because his name isn’t on the lease.” When that happened to another woman in Ferguson, she said she would never call the police again, she didn’t care if she was being killed. Again, this is how the police do black people and brown people. They don’t treat white people like this, certainly not as systematically as they do black and brown people.”
“I think a lot of people go into the work because they really want to help communities, and they really want to make a difference, and this belief is based on my experience as a prosecutor working with police officers of all backgrounds and of all races. So I don’t think that police officers are especially racist. But I do think we give them tools and authority in a context that leads them to deploy it unjustly against people of color.”