Fundraising While Black

An incident this week in Arkansas is just the latest example of a depressing and dangerous trend.

This week in Arkansas we saw another example of African-Americans being treated in a way that clearly wouldn’t happen if they were white:

Four black high school students were going door-to-door to raise money for their football team in Wynne, Ark., on the morning of Aug. 7.

One moment, they were laughing, having been frightened by a dog chasing them that had only wanted to play. The next, they were on the ground in a stranger’s front yard with their hands behind their backs while a white woman with a handgun ordered them to stay put.

The woman, who lived at the property, had already called her husband, a county jail administrator, who alerted the police. “Upon arrival of our officers, four juveniles were found lying on the ground with a female adult with a gun standing,” Jackie Clark, the Wynne police chief, said in a statement. “Our officer had the children stand up and they explained they were selling discount cards for a school athletic program.”

The woman, identified by the authorities as Jerri Kelly, 46, is now facing felony charges of aggravated assault and false imprisonment. She was arrested and released on $10,000 bond on Monday, according to the Cross County Sheriff’s Office. She could not be reached for comment on Friday.

The episode is similar to other recent cases of white people threatening or calling the police on black people for minor or nonexistent transgressions, such as knocking on a door for directions, taking a nap in a Yale common room or asking to use the restroom in a Starbucks without buying anything.

The teenagers were not named by the authorities, but all were between the ages of 15 and 16. Carl Easley, the superintendent of the Wynne School District, said he had spoken with some of the students’ relatives. “They’re upset that it happened,” he said. “Two of the boys lived within two blocks of where that happened.”

According to the superintendent’s office, about 70 percent of Wynne High School students are white, and 28 percent are black.

Police reports painted a detailed picture of the encounter on Aug. 7.

The boys had been selling discount cards at $20 each to raise money for their team at Wynne High School, the Yellowjackets. In statements to the police, all four boys mentioned a dog that had chased them on the street that morning. Some of them had taken shelter in the back of a truck, they said, until the dog’s owner assured them that the dog was friendly.

“We jumped from the truck and pet the dog,” one of the teenagers wrote in his statement. “After me and my friends got done laughing at the situation, we walked up to the house.”

But before they could knock, Ms. Kelly came out with a gun in her hand.
In her statement, she said she had seen the teenagers approaching and thought they looked suspicious because they did not appear to be selling anything. “All males were African-American,” she added. “And I know this residence to be white.”

She had already noticed that a dog “ran them off” from another home. She said the teenagers did not appear to be knocking on many doors. And she noted that she had been the victim of a home invasion before.

As the boys approached, she grabbed her gun, she wrote. Then she opened her door and asked what they were doing, eventually telling them to get on the ground. “I drew my weapon without my finger on the trigger as I have been previously trained to do,” she wrote.

One of the boys wrote in his statement that during the encounter, he had moved his hand to swat a mosquito. “She told me to stop moving or she will shoot me,” he added.

Another wrote that he had tried to show her the discount cards and had pointed out that two of the boys were wearing their team jerseys. “But as I was saying it, she told us to look down, so I was scared to even talk to her,” he added.

The boys were still on the ground when a police officer arrived.

According to the officer’s report, he recognized the boys because he had worked as a resource officer at the high school, and he told Ms. Kelly that they were trying to raise money for the team.

Then, the officer’s report said, Ms. Kelly addressed the teenagers and appeared to gesture to the difference between her and the boys’ skin color before saying: “It ain’t about that.” She went on to explain that her actions were about “suspicious activity,” and she advised them to “act like you’re selling cards.” She added that she had worked in law enforcement for seven years.

“Be smart about it boys,” she said, according to the report. “Please. It’s your life you’re talking about. Don’t be silly about it.

As the article quoted above notes, it has become unfortunately common in recent years for white people to become concerned when they see African-Americans doing seemingly ordinary things. This has included everything from having a picnic in a local park to simply walking down the street. Typically, it results in someone, and usually that someone is a white woman, calling the police and reporting alleged suspicious activity. The police who respond to such a scene inevitably end up finding out that the allegedly suspicious-acting African-Americans weren’t doing anything wrong, in most cases had not even directly interacted with the person who called the police and were simply doing an utterly ordinary thing in public unaware that some person was monitoring them and calling the police.

All of these incidents have been grouped under a category that has been called ‘doing X while black,’ as this list compiled by CNN at the end of 2018 makes clear:

As I said, the majority of these incidents were ones where the police were called by suspicious white people, and none of them resulted in the African-Americans involved being arrested. This is one of the first incidents, though, that seems to have involved the white person involved the allegedly suspicious African-Americans having pulled a gun on them. In that sense, this is a far more serious incident that could’ve ended tragically if the police hadn’t arrived when they did or if one of the teenagers had acted in a way that this woman considered threatening. If that had occurred we could be talking today about another Trayvon Martin incident. Thankfully we aren’t.

In any event, I am honestly somewhat puzzled as to why these incidents seem to be becoming more common if that is in fact the case. It could be that this has been happening for a long time and it just appears to be increasing because the media is paying attention to it now. In any case, whether it is something new or something old we’re just starting to pay attention to, this strikes me as both depressing and dangerous. Depressing because it tells us that, at least in some cases, we really have not learned anything about race relations since the 1970s. This is alien to me personally because, perhaps unusually for someone my age, I grew up in a very racially mixed community. Across the street from the house I grew up in the neighbors were a childless African-American couple, an African-American couple with a daughter a few years older than I was, and a mixed-race couple with a son about the same age I was. Just up the street was a family made up of a white father, a Korean mother, and two mixed-race daughters roughly the same age I was. All of us kids grew up and played together on a regular basis. Watching stuff like this happen 45 years later would’ve made no sense to me even at six years old.

The dangerous side, of course, is that one of these days someone like this woman in Arkansas will decide that what she’s seeing is enough of a threat that they’ll fire their gun before calling police. We already saw the consequences of that in the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. We don’t need a repeat lesson, but I’m afraid we’re going to get it one day unless we learn to live in peace with each other.

FILED UNDER: Race and Politics, Society, US Politics
Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010. Before joining OTB, he wrote at Below The BeltwayThe Liberty Papers, and United Liberty Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. Gromitt Gunn says:

    The only time I have felt in truly in danger (as in, I wasn’t sure whether I would be leaving work in body bag or not) in six years of teaching (community college level) was from a white man in his 50s whose behavior became increasingly erratic over a period of weeks.

  2. Mikey says:

    This week in Royal Oak, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit and, incidentally, where I was born, an African-American man was going to meet his girlfriend at a restaurant. Parking in Royal Oak can be a pain, so when he saw a woman apparently about to back out of a parking spot, he waited. But she didn’t, so he found another spot.

    While the woman didn’t leave the parking spot, she did call the police, because, apparently, she didn’t like how he had looked at her.

    I probably don’t need to mention she is white.

    https://www.wxyz.com/news/black-man-stopped-by-police-after-white-woman-allegedly-said-he-was-staring-suspiciously-at-her

  3. An Interested Party says:

    We already saw the consequences of that in the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin.

    Let’s not forget Tamir Rice (a 12-year old!), Jordan Davis (a 17-year old) Laquan MacDonald (another 17-year old), and so many others…it’s as if we really haven’t progressed much as a country…in the past you had mainly white men in the South who were scared to death that black men would come for white women and used this flimsy racist excuse to lynch so many black men…now we have white women calling the cops because black people (primarily men) have the gall to simply go about their daily everyday lives…and it doesn’t help that we have a president who promotes such odious behavior…it would seem that the election of the country’s first black president followed by the election of the modern era’s most racist president have allowed a certain group of people to come out of the woodwork and flourish…

  4. Jim Brown 32 says:

    White women are the greatest threat to blacks…and black men in particular. Usually they don’t take matters into their own hands but they often stir up white men and police. Beyond a few amorous encounters….I’ve have mostly negative experiences with them.

  5. de stijl says:

    I had a Bernie canvasser come by last week. She was nice, polite, black. I told her I would support Sanders 100% if he won the nomination, but not so much before. She asked who; I answered. She asked why; I answered. She was very cool.

    She then asked about a house across the street, and I’d seen D signs for previous elections, but I did not know them except to wave. (My kitty corner neighbor is a big Bernie gal, and she’d steered her to me.)

    She went over, knocked on the door, and 30 seconds later she was flat out running away. I was on the porch, so I could only see her.

    She booked back to my porch, and said that motherhumper sicced his dog on her. (Yeah, it’s a fairly wee dog, but friggin still.)

    After she calmed down, she said that type of sh!t happened all the time and she perpetually walked around with her thumb on a preprogrammed 911.

    I felt like crap because I sent her to his door – I’d even said, “It can’t hurt. Give it a shot.” I was so naive, so white. It can hurt.

    After making sure she was okay, I felt like the biggest jack-ass and fool and idiot. She tried to make light of it, and said that reaction happened all the time.

    It made me very sad and quite angry. That she had to cope with it, and almost excuse it. Flipping humanity disgusts me at times.

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  6. de stijl says:

    @Jim Brown 32:

    At least folks like BBQ Becky and PTA Patty don’t shoot you down. They get super passive aggressive and ask for the manager and call 911. They’re entitled dicks (dickettes?), but usually not fatal. Unless the cop they summon feels thteatened.

    I hear you, though. UMC white women (and men) get really weird around black men.

  7. michael reynolds says:

    @Jim Brown 32:
    That’s how this started.

    The riot began over Memorial Day weekend after 19-year-old Dick Rowland, a black shoeshiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, the 17-year-old white elevator operator of the nearby Drexel Building. He was taken into custody. A subsequent gathering of angry local whites outside the courthouse where Rowland was being held, and the spread of rumors he had been lynched, alarmed the local black population, some of whom arrived at the courthouse armed. Shots were fired and twelve people were killed; ten black and two white.[citation needed] As news of these deaths spread throughout the city, mob violence exploded. Thousands of whites rampaged through the black neighborhood that night and the next day, killing men and women, burning and looting stores and homes. About 10,000 black people were left homeless, and property damage amounted to more than $1.5 million in real estate and $750,000 in personal property ($32 million in 2019).

  8. President Camacho says:

    I’m not so sure what that thing is but a Sheila check may be in order. She’s the scary one.

  9. DrDaveT says:

    She added that she had worked in law enforcement for seven years.

    Sadly, this is the part that didn’t surprise me at all.

  10. Ken_L says:

    The incident illustrates one of the hidden costs of America’s gun-happy culture. People with guns feel empowered to use them. Americans walk around apprehensive that anyone acting in (what they perceive to be) a threatening manner might be carrying a gun. Police approach every reported incident on the assumption someone might start shooting at them.

    The Tamir Rice tragedy was mentioned earlier. He was gunned down because a police officer believed a 12 year-old boy was threatening people with a real gun, not playing with a toy. Last year, an Australian woman called police because she was concerned for another woman’s safety, and when she approached the patrol car that arrived an officer shot her dead because he thought she was ‘going for a gun’ (she wasn’t carrying one). These kinds of things simply don’t happen in other countries, because it would never occur to investigating police that the people in question had handguns and might use them.

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  11. OzarkHillbilly says:

    The part of this story that I took note of was the woman’s impression that, #1 they didn’t belong there, and #2 they must be up to no good. She would be far better off eyeing her white neighbors with great suspicion. These are the people who know her. They have an idea of what she has and how valuable it is and how easy it would be to pawn/fence it. They watch her comings and goings and are knowledgeable of her patterns.

    Just as kindly Uncle Ernie is the most likely person to be sexually abusing little Johnny or Janey, good old Joe who lives next door and borrows your lawn mower and shares a beer over the fence is the person most likely to kick in your door and steal your computer, flat screen TV and guns when you run out for your Sunday morning donut and coffee and chat with the guys for an hour or 2.

  12. de stijl says:

    @OzarkHillbilly:

    Glad I don’t live in your neighborhood!

  13. MarkedMan says:

    What are the odds that this woman has actually experienced a home invasion, given that is code among Trumpers and other Republicans for ghetto blacks running amok?

  14. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @MarkedMan: Just about the same as they were before Trump and the gang made “home invasion” a dog siren. The odds that she has imagined how horrifying a “home invasion” would be and who would be likely to do one has probably increased markedly, on the other hand.

  15. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @de stijl: I have seen it time and again. You know why poor neighborhoods have such higher incidences of the many forms of robbery and burglary? Because what the thieves know is right outside their door. You know why rich people commit fraud and other white collar crimes at a much higher rate than poor folks? Because that’s what they know.

    The thief in the McMansion doesn’t steal with a gun or kick in your door, he steals with a “can’t miss sure to be a winner investment.” Or maybe he’s just a drug dealer with too high an opinion of himself.

  16. steve says:

    How does she get released on just $10,000 bond? She is a clear and present danger to the neighborhood. (OK, not a danger to the 70 per cent group, but still.)

    Steve

  17. Nikki says:

    @steve: Her husband runs the county jail. They didn’t even take her mugshot until days later and after people complained.

  18. Northern Sentinel says:

    For it to be ‘another Trayvon Martin incident’, they would have had to sucker punch her, knock her to the ground, straddled her, beat her with their fists, and broke her nose all for the ‘threatening’ behavior of being asked what they were doing around there.

    “We already saw the consequences of that in the encounter between George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin. We don’t need a repeat lesson”

    Yes, we certainly don’t.
    Start teaching the right lesson and save other young men from making the same mistake that TM did