Opinion » The Rant

Put the Phone Down, Ladies!

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I've never been a victim of racism. I recognize it. I speak out against it when I witness it. But I don't know how it feels. There's no Virtual Reality Blackness Simulator, no curriculum of deep conversations and Ta-Nehisi Coates articles and Kendrick Lamar records that can duplicate the African-American experience. I can listen and empathize, but I don't really know what it's like to be Latino or Native American or Asian, either.

I can, however, speak to my own experiences as a 30-something white woman, which qualifies me to ask my fellow white ladies: Did no one tell y'all not to play on the phone? Because you're tying up the line and wasting everyone's time. Please leave your homes, make some new friends, and find another hobby besides busy-bodying. And for everybody's sake, stop calling the police every time you see a person who doesn't look like you out living life. Innocent people are getting hurt.

Just in the past few weeks, police have responded to complaints of black people waiting in Philly and golfing elsewhere in Pennsylvania, checking out of an Airbnb in L.A., shopping at Nordstrom Rack in Missouri, and grilling out at a park in Oakland. Two Native American teens were hassled on a college tour. These incidents are just the ones we've heard about. No laws were broken. No, it's not new, but the list of asinine reasons non-white people have to justify themselves to the police in 2018 keeps reaching new levels of shamefulness.

RONNIE WU | DREAMSTIME.COM
  • Ronnie Wu | Dreamstime.com

Some people need their telephone privileges revoked, starting with the Yale student who called the cops on a black grad student who dozed off in a common area in her own dorm. The alleged criminal catnapper was awakened by officers who had been told she appeared "out of place" in the building. I don't know how they do things in the Ivy League, but I was a pro napper in college — in my car, in the UC, in the newspaper office, in the library and probably some other buildings that have been torn down. Either someone "smart" enough to get into Yale couldn't deduce that a sleeping woman surrounded by books and papers is catching a few quick Zs between paragraphs, or ...

Things must be going pretty well in Philadelphia if police have the time and manpower to enforce Starbucks' loitering policy. That policy doesn't prevent patrons from buying the smallest cup of drip and availing themselves of free wifi all day long, but two black guys grabbing a table before ordering is a reason to get law enforcement involved within minutes? I stopped at the location at Poplar and White Station for an afternoon latté not long ago and saw a woman camped out at a table, eating a meal she'd obviously brought from home. I'm not talking about a purse granola bar, either. She busted out the Tupperware and aluminum foil, right in the middle of the coffee shop. I would have called CrimeStoppers if I'd known it was that serious.

Then again, I'm no angel — I've used the Starbucks restroom without buying anything in multiple cities. Once, I sat down and charged my phone for about 10 minutes while I pretended to wait for somebody. Does that mean I'm a fugitive? No, it means a billion-dollar corporation missed out on about $20. They'll live.

Of course there's always an excuse. Airbnb lady called because the people checking out didn't smile or wave at her. Rude, maybe? But not illegal! College tour lady called because the teens showed up late and didn't answer her questions — in other words, acted like teens. It takes a special kind of entitlement to call the police because a total stranger doesn't think they owe you their time.

Profiling isn't only dangerous, it's a waste of law enforcement resources and taxpayers' money. If I called the police whenever I felt annoyed or uncomfortable, every 6'3" guy who has stood in front of me at a rock show, every driver who doesn't stop at crosswalks, and every person who checks out with more than 15 items in the express lane at Superlo would be doing hard time. But I don't do that — because I'm not a monster, and the police aren't a concierge service.

Segregating public spaces is not the police's job. Helping white people get over their racial grievances? Also not the police's job, but maybe they should try. Start by saying, "Hey, thanks for calling, but have you considered that this is a you problem, not a them problem? Anyway, call back if you see a crime. That's more in our wheelhouse."

Jen Clarke is an unapologetic Memphian. Follow @jensized on Twitter.

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