Jack Tame: Life on the street - it's black and white


The man held out his pockets, his back to a wrought iron fence.

He had baggy shorts and a tight, white singlet, basketball boots and stubble. One policeman pinched the dial on a hip-mounted radio while his partner ran through the man's possessions.

New York's controversial stop-and-frisk programme allows the city's policemen to stop and search anyone they suspect of anything. East Harlem, where I live, is a neighbourhood you'd kindly describe as gritty, and it's not altogether uncommon to see officers checking people's pockets or speaking to young men on the street.

In many ways I'm like the people they stop: the same age, the same height and in summer I wear about the same clothes.

But in a city where they stop and frisk half a million people a year, you're probably not surprised to learn I've never had any trouble with the law, despite frequently stalking the streets late at night.

Maybe it's luck. Maybe it's just a matter of time. Or maybe, also, it's because I'm white.

For most of the thousands who have taken to American streets this week, protesting the verdict in the George Zimmerman murder trial, it's the perceived racial injustice of Zimmerman's acquittal that rankles most.

Despite race having been excluded from the trial's evidence, a huge slab of Americans believe Zimmerman racially profiled Trayvon Martin, and that if Trayvon had been a white teenager, Zimmerman would never have questioned him in the first place. The two would never have entered conflict.

To prove Zimmerman's possible racial prejudice beyond a reasonable doubt may be too difficult a task in a court of law. But even if a nation's protests fail to result in federal charges, they've succeeded in at least highlighting the much wider issue.

It is the collective acknowledgement, among protesters of all backgrounds and races, of white privilege in American society: the collective acknowledgement of wholly unjust and widely prevalent racial profiling.

You remember that guy with his back to the fence, emptying his pockets for a couple of cops? He had one thing in common with most of the people stopped in New York City.

The guy was black.

But you knew that already.

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- Herald on Sunday

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