Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Pride and prejudice

My friend, Bob Lee, was giving me a tour of Houston's Fifth Ward one evening after feeding me home-cooked Creole gumbo. It was late, nearly midnight. Few cars were on the street.

"My brother, El Franco (a county commissioner for more than 20 years) got that community center built." Bobby said. "And he was instrumental in that project across the street." All through night, his pride in the neighborhood was showing. It was an eye-opening drive for me, even in the dead of night.

All of a sudden, Bobby was on full alert. "Cops," he said, looking down a side street.

"Now, George, if that cop pulls us over you be real careful to do everything he says. Don't look him in the eye. If he says lay down on the hood of the car, you lay down on the hood of the car. Don't mention Texas Weekly. Don't mention El Franco. Don't say nothing unless he asks you."

It wasn't fear talking. This had the ring of solid advice.

"But Bobby, why would a policeman stop us? We haven't done anything wrong," I said.

"Look at us, man. White guy, black guy driving around the Fifth Ward at midnight. To the cops, we look like drug dealers," he said. "Be cool or they will beat the s**t out of us."

This was coming from a man who is well-known in his community as a social worker and political organizer. Bob is "Da Mayor of Da Fifth Ward."

Fortunately, the police were not interested in us that night. But I will never forget it. Now I understand what's behind the phrase: driving while black. Profiling.

White people don't live wary of the police because they aren't routinely curbed and searched. Black people should not have to live worried about cops.

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