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Driving While Black - Profiled in the Hood

Part Two of Two

Black news from Pasadena - Commentary - Driving While Black - Profiled in the HoodIn the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, "Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage." When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him . . . When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. (Matthew 2:1-3 and 16, NRSV)

The children in this Matthean text were profiled – which resulted in their demise – simply because of their ethnicity and their age and what they potentially represented to the dominant authority structure. While King Herod was the one who sent out the decree of death, law enforcement officials carrying out his decree of profiling engaged in unjust acts of murder. Somewhat related to this account, particularly with regard to profiling is the "Driving While Black" (DWB) reality. Part of the DWB reality is that not only is one profiled and targeted by law enforcement, but Black males in particular have become targeted as potential rivals or threats within Black and Brown gang infested urban neighborhoods.

In 2002, Merlin Santana, a cast member of the Steve Harvey television sitcom, was shot and killed in South Central Los Angeles while sitting in a parked car. Santana, who played Romeo on the Steve Harvey show, was 26 years old. Although unclear as to the circumstances surrounding the shooting, this young man, no doubt, was targeted as a potential threat in the hood. Like Santana many, today, are being targeted and killed in South Chicago, New Orleans and other urban cities. I, too, have been targeted while driving through some of the neighbourhoods of Los Angeles. One evening after leaving a friend's house in Compton, I drove past a group of young brothers hanging out at one particular house. As I drove by, I began to hear some shouting with some movement toward my direction; as I continued to drive, I noticed a group of these young brothers beginning to run after my car. Having no desire to inquire what their interest in me was, I quickly sped off. What was it that incited these young men? Was I viewed and profiled as a potential threat to them? Perhaps this was a case of mistaken identity or driving the wrong kind of car? In that I was not from this area, I did not know them nor did they know me; neither do I think my friend was acquainted with any of them.

Some years later, a similar experience happened, this time while I was driving home from church through the streets of Lake View Terrace (a northern suburb of Los Angeles). As I drove my red Mazda 323 through the neighbourhood not too far from my church, I noticed an unfamiliar car tailing me after several blocks. This car was conspicuously suspicious with dark tinted windows, I then explicitly tried to shake this vehicle but to no avail. At one point during this cat and mouse affair, the other car sped up from my rear and attempted to flank the side of my car toward my driver's side door. I increased my speed and made a sharp turn down a residential street which finally shook them. I successfully made it to the freeway and made my way home safely. Again, what was it that triggered such an episode? I felt targeted and profiled in the hood. Was I subject to mistaken identity or was I a potential threat?

To many Black male drivers, DWB is a reality and classification comparable to the more noted legal classifications of driving, which rightly merit stops and citations, as well as sometimes engendering reckless driving: DUI or DWI (driving under the influence or driving while intoxicated), or DWL (driving without a license). While DWB may not be found in legal guides resulting in a driving offense, this classification has a long standing history as unjustly meriting de facto racism resulting in profiling. The other unfortunate reality of DWB is that it oft times results in being profiled in the hood which also may cost a life.

[Jamal-Dominique Hopkins Ph.D., is Director of J. D. Institute and C.E.O. of the Institute for Advanced African American Christian Thought. He is an author and lecturer. Hopkins is available for preaching, speaking or conducting workshops and seminars. You may contact him at www.jdinstitute.weebly.com.]



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