Ever Been Arrested For ‘Standing While Black’? These Boys Have…

rochester-students-arrestedI once got arrested in high school for crossing the street to buy my vice principal a jelly doughnut during first period. The officer who ‘booked’ me didn’t care about my GPA, articulate speech, sound explanation, or anything else. He also didn’t care that I was walking back into school when he swooped in to arrest me. When I pointed out the Asian, Latino, and white students walking away from campus as he demanded I be quiet, he never even turned his head to look at them. He just cared about the color of my skin, or at least it felt like he did. So, I guess I was arrested for ‘walking while black.’

Well, three black teenagers in Rochester, New York were arrested last Wednesday when they were instructed by their basketball coach to wait for a school bus at a public sidewalk. After being told to ‘disperse’ (something you’d say to a gaggle of geese or a gang), they were each handcuffed and booked. Seems a little excessive right?

Well, that’s because it is. According to the Rochester Homepage, the three students of Edison High School were charged with disorderly conduct to which they have plead ‘not guilty.’ Apparently, local police thought it was disorderly for the boys to be standing on a public curb with a large group of peers awaiting pick up in a yellow school bus. When the boys tried to explain to the officers that they were following the directions of their coach to stand there, they were promptly arrested.

The police report mentions that “…Your complainant gave several lawful clear and concise orders for the group to disperse and leave the area without complaince [sic].” In other words, the cops told the boys NOT to follow the directions of their coach because their blackness was occurring in too large a proportion at an inconvenient moment. So, the boys were faced with the choice of listening to the directions from their coach and resisting the bullying from the police officers or listening to the police officers and missing the bus to their scrimmage game. What a quandary for these young men.

When the young men’s coach arrived at the scene, he implored the officers to allow the young men to attend their game. He was then threatened by officers who said they would take him ‘downtown’ if he didn’t refrain. Then, when the sergeant arrived, he sided with the arresting officer and threatened to take everyone in. Because, you know, all those black people in one place has just got to be a criminal act.

These young men were literally doing nothing wrong. In fact, they weren’t doing anything at all. They were simply standing on a sidewalk with their team on a non-school day awaiting a bus. Their coach did nothing wrong. But, he was threatened as if he were a child. The level of disrespect shown to him – as a grown man to whom the young men had been charged by their parents – harkens back to post-Civil War white treatment of the Zip Coon or the Sambo. The officers may as well had called him ‘boy.’

The last time this type of stuff was legal was back in the 19th century when vagrancy laws in southern states made it legal to arrest, possess, sell, or otherwise take possession of black people seen ‘standing while black’ in any public place. It seems we really haven’t changed much since then.

I wonder how many white people fear arrest while purchasing doughnuts or standing on street corners with friends. My guess is not too many. I am waiting on white outrage over this but I certainly won’t be holding my breath.

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Jenn M. Jackson

Jenn M. Jackson, PhD is a co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos. She is a native of Oakland, CA. Jenn is a radical Black feminist scholar who believes none of us are free until all of us are free.

4 Responses

  1. Laurie says:

    Well you will hear outrage from this white woman!!! My sons are black and this very well could have been them. My assumption…the boys were playin and having fun to pass the boredom and that sort of “rowdiness” always makes white people uncomfortable! We hear all the time that things have changed since we elected a black president, well no they have not! Precious boys …keep doing whats right and Ms. Jackson, please keep these things in the forefront of media. White privilege needs to be acknowledged if we can ever hope for real change.

  2. Thanks for visiting the site! It seems you have a personal connection to this story which drives your concern. Completely understandable. Sadly, many white people have no conception of white privilege. I completely agree that acknowledgement is key in changing the future.

  3. Heather says:

    I am saddened and deeply angered by this story as well. I am a white woman with two white children. I don’t see my son in this incident. I see his friends and teammates. I see young students listening to their coach. I see kids who must have been terrified…’Will they hurt me? Worse?’. I see other mothers’ hearts. I see my fellow citizens. I see other human beings, equal in the eyes of all things moral. All I can do about this is speak up. Share this with my son and and daughter. Explain to them that they were born into the most unjust of privileges. A privilege they couldn’t turn away from if they tried because they wear it on their skin. So if it’s wrong to have the privilege and they can’t deny it, what is their choice? To do what’s right and to love. Always love. That is all I know to share with my children of privilege. That’s the only answer I’ve got. My heart aches for these young men.

  4. Law Wanxi says:

    The world knows about this. It was on Chinese Government news a couple of nights ago and our friends at Автономная некоммерческая организация «ТВ-Новости» ran this on their English website.