photocred: Tarringo T. Vaughan

Where The Profiling Starts

As a black male, I have unfortunately become accustomed to the psychological angst caused when I walk by a police officer in public or pass by one while driving. When the “boys in blue” are passing me on a two-lane street or a somewhat unoccupied road, I usually resort to some bodily-mechanical inclination that forces my balance between focusing on the traffic ahead while looking into my side and rear-view mirrors until the cruiser is out of my sight. I don’t know why I started to do this: it certainly wasn’t because I was pulled over on a warm sunny day by an officer who decided to buss a U-turn and pull behind my speed-limit-moving Lexus and then light me up for no other reason than to offer me a warning about the condition of my plates. My plates at the time hadn’t lost a speck of paint. I was on my way to work to teach kids and stuff like that. I already had this feeling as a teenager when I was once again slowly crept up on and once again lit up while driving my pops to the liquor store. The cop gave me one of the dumbest rationales for pulling someone over that I had ever heard at that time. Because I said I was “taking my father to the liquor store so he could buy a few beers” (and return to our house to watch some football on a Sunday), he retorted by lecturing me about drinking and driving. The connection between driving to the liquor store and driving intoxicated is an easy one to offer commentary on. It is just that his connection made no sense. Either way, he let us drive off without even looking at my license. But my “spidey senses” were tingling that day even before being pulled over. Just the mere presence of always seemingly being targeted must have started way before I got my license. So when and where does profiling start?

 

After getting profiled and pulled over on my way to work, I stepped into the school and taught my students as usual. My fellow teachers did their jobs as well. The circumstances of my position require me to tell students to take their hat off when their hat is on. It requires me to tell kids to stop speeding through the hallways. I even extend the circumstances of my position to include telling students to be quiet when I deem they are too loud for my liking. But over the years, I have noticed that some students are “stopped” even when they haven’t broken any rules: no hat on but still stopped, not running but still stopped. Stopped. Questioned. Let go with or without a “warning”. Just left to wonder, what the fuck? News flash: it isn’t just the curriculum that teaches students. I drove to the store with my dad and felt uneasiness about being in the presence of authority as soon as I saw the cop car. This happened way before police co-existed in my reality. So when and where does this profiling start? To perhaps word it more accurately, when does this feeling about being profiled start?

 

You have my answer. When students are accosted for no reason other than they are “noticed”, they start to develop internalized mechanisms in order to protect their self-worth and safety. Just as “authority” notices them, they begin to “notice” authority and adjust their natural routines accordingly. After time, it begets a lose-lose situation. Resentment, betrayal and a loss of trust in the “system” occur all at the same time. School is more than just the curriculum, kids. This dynamic does not happen over one-off, water-break instances. This psychological trauma gradually happens again and again over time. I look into my reflective mirrors in the presence of cop cars, not because of my disingenuous relations with police (one of my best friends is a cop), but because systemic experiences have led me to believe that I shouldn’t be comfortable when that type of authority is around me. The type of authority I am referring to are the ones that notice you for no other reason than because, “you fit a profile”. Cop, teacher, cop, teacher. Maybe (but hopefully not) that is what the police want. It shouldn’t be what school offers to our children.

 

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