In most of America’s cities, many neighborhoods remain segregated by race. Washington, D.C. (a city, it should be noted that does not have white working class) is no exception. Certain neighborhoods have been predominantly upscale and white for decades and this can lead to racial profiling by police who decide (sometimes forcibly) who belongs in the neighborhood.
The District police officers were responding to a burglar alarm in an upscale neighborhood in Northwest Washington when they spotted Dennis Stucky leaning against a brick wall in Foxhall Crescent, dressed in work clothes and a ball cap and holding two bags.
Although the alarm was sounding in an adjacent subdivision — three-quarters of a mile away by car — one of the officers ordered the 64-year-old man to sit on the curb while she put on disposable gloves and prepared to search him.
Jody Westby, a resident and lawyer, rushed to Stucky’s defense, angrily telling the officers that Stucky had been a neighborhood fix-it man for 30 years and that they were not at the right house. The officers reluctantly freed Stucky, who lives in Southeast and said he feels he was stopped “because I’m black.” Westby’s housekeeper recorded much of the encounter on video.
Last week’s encounter reflects the challenges of policing and the perceptions of some residents in the District and beyond that they are singled out as suspicious because of their race, the neighborhoods they choose to visit or their appearance. Police policies and practices on stops will be addressed Wednesday at a community forum at Howard University. The forum, the first of a two-part hearing by the D.C. Council’s public safety oversight committee, is scheduled for 6 p.m. in the school’s business auditorium, 2400 Sixth St. NW.
The Washington, D.C. neighborhood is mostly white; the two officers who responded are black. The officers admittedly had no description of a possible suspect. The alarm was canceled shortly after the initial 911 call from a private security company reporting that the owner had keyed in the wrong code to his garage. It was unclear whether the officers had that information when they stopped Stucky.
The stop captured on video appears fairly routine, routine in the sense that this is what people of color have to deal with on a daily basis. No description of a suspect? No problem. It looks like you don’t belong here, so we will stop you. As The Post points out, the debate over whether it was legitimate for police to detain and question Stucky — and how officers handled the stop — is central to a larger discussion taking place across the country.
But above all that, I watched the video and I watched a Black man sitting on the curb looking humiliated and defeated and I watched a white woman have to come to his rescue, his aid, and not only declare that he belonged there, but also affirm his humanity.
In her very white privilege way, she was able to first ignore the Black female officer who was giving the man on the curb grief and walk directly to the Black male officer in the car. The white woman chides both officers and says they’re in the wrong block and what they’re doing is wrong. She then picks Mr. Stucky up off the curb as if he is incapable (although he does yell in the video that he has a disability) and leads him away. She screams at the police for treating him this way because he is Black. How about that? A white woman telling two Black police officers to stop racial profiling. Her actions are honorable, but they are also illuminating.
Ms. Westby is Mr. Stucky’s protector and savior. And it’s kind of laughable, but not surprising that her whiteness and privilege allow her to dress down the police officers and get away with it. On his own, Mr. Stucky is an accused Black man who may or may not have been arrested – depends on how the police were feeling that day. And if he hadn’t remained calm and collected? If he had acted with the same outrage as Ms. Westby? Ha! The potential for a beating or worse would have been great.
I’m glad that these conversations on police actions are being held, but if race, white privilege, and the fact that Black people’s citizenship can disappear in an instant aren’t discussed – then what’s the point?
Check out the video below.
Diana Veiga is a Spelman woman, a DC resident, and a freelance writer. Of course, she’s also on Twitter.