The other day, Jesse DeConto of the CHN posted a comment on the N&O Blog about a happening in Carrboro. It has drawn almost no response, for obvious reasons I guess.

I personally reacted to his post because of where the logical conclusion to what he wrote took me. There's a store in U-Mall I no longer frequent because of the guy that picks up my trail when I walk in. I know others who have had the same experience there and in other establishments as well. I don't like what these sort of behaviors say to me as a human being and say about us as a community.

Sure, we are all angry about crime in our community and I guess some would argue that there are good reasons for all of the fear. But George Patton put it well: Do not take counsel of your fears. Bad things happen when we do, but some clearly disagree. Here's what Jesse wrote:

Carrboro Police: Citizens define "suspicious" Monday, April 21, 2008, 7:06:32 PM | Jesse DeConto Last week, after receiving a warning from her property manager about a recent armed robbery, a University Lake Apartments resident called 911 to report a black male teenager riding his bicycle through the complex. The General Services Corporation, which manages University Lake and the adjacent Royal Park Apartments, is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of anyone guilty of crime in the complexes. Victims have described the robbers as black men, 18 to 20 years old.

Carrboro Police Capt. J.G. Booker encourages citizens to make such calls, even though police often discover the suspect hadn't done anything wrong. Booker said officers can speak to a potential suspect with courtesy and professionalism, so it's better to call them and let them decide whether someone is up to no good.

"It's absolutely what we're looking for," Booker said. "If they see anything that appears to them to be suspicious, they should call. They know that neighborhood and that complex perhaps better than the police do. Without a call like that, the chance of us finding the people who are responsible for these incidents is greatly reduced."

What would you do? Is the sight of a black teenager you don't know in your neighborhood cause for a 911 call?

I asked (tongue-in-cheek) what made a person a suspect or even a potential suspect, riding a bike? The only responder indicated that a person "riding a bike at 5 miles an hour means you are going from point A to point B. Riding a bike at two miles an hour means your casing joints where you can do your crimes." I called that an ignorant and gross generalization and the responder invited me over: "Come live in my neighborhood Mr Black and you'll see how ignorant and gross this generalization is. FYI: 3 break ins in the last 18 months." Well, I asked, "And during that 18 month period, how many people rode their bikes in you neighborhood, three?"

I think the point was lost on the person, but it is significant that no one to date has responded to Jesse's original question. " What would you do? Is the sight of a black teenager you don't know in your neighborhood cause for a 911 call?" It's not really about the bike, is it?

It's all about who's on the bike, the fear someone might have about the person on the bike, and a commitment to a disturbing kind of thinking: If it walks like a duck, and quacks like duck, it must be...? Maybe Joe Biden might think the kid on the bike is "articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy." I'm still wondering where our fears will take us as a community.



I agree with your general point, Fred.  And I think that if we got to know our neighbors better, a lot of this would not be an issue. 

But having lived in what most consider a "high crime" neighborhood, I have also made conclusions about people based on whether they seemed like they had somewhere to go.  (Of course I didn't bother calling the police as they constituted typical traffic on my street on an average day, and I have better things to do than make assumptions about people I don't know.)

This is a complicated problem, I don't think there are any simple answers.

One reason for the lack of response is that the question: "Is the sight of a black teenager you don't know in your neighborhood cause for a 911 call? " is not the right question. In fact there really can be no question. Every incident is different. We all have to make judgments based on what is happening at the time and what we observe. It's absurd to speculate on the meager description of a  "black teenager riding a bike" . There will be so many considerations when assessing whether someone should be suspected that I don't think even a skilled writer like Norman Mailer or Thomas Wolfe could put the experience into words. 

There's definitely nothing suspicious about bike riding (by persons of any race) in my neighborhood (or in my mind).  I think Jesse Deconto's question takes that particular situation entirely out of context and pushes a lot of racially charged buttons in a way that was not relevant to this event.

As I understand it, the bike rider matched the description of someone who was being sought by CPD and he was also in the vicinity of the prior incidents that CPD was investigating.  The police do want to hear from the public in that type of situation.  That said, clearly there is nothing suspicious about bike riding (at any speed or by any race).  I don't think the word 'suspect' was the appropriate term in this particular case.

Generally, I think that CPD would like to hear about any sort of suspicious activity going on.  The fact of the person's race ought not be what is suspicious.  Any stranger riding along slowly casing a neighborhood ought to be a valid reason to make a 911 call (I'm not saying the particular young man was casing the neighborhood in this case).  But the person's race is certainly beside the point.


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