I’ve been followed, too

If you’re a minority, you might have one of these stories. Thankfully, mine doesn’t end with a bullet.

During my freshman year at Morehouse, I hung out with a group of about 11 other young men. We hailed from different parts of the United States – Pennsylvania, New York, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Georgia, etc.

One day, we walked around Phipps Plaza — a fairly upscale shopping mall that used to have a music/video store in it. The dozen of us went into this store and split up. Our presence brought the attention of a white store employee, who asked us if we “needed something” ad nauseum.

This morning, I recounted the story to my wife, saying, “I can understand why we got followed. After all, there were 12 of us.”

Wait, what? 

Twelve educated, well-dressed, African-American men cannot walk together in a group and disperse into a store without drawing suspicion? What if we were dressed in designer business suits instead of jeans? Would that have made a difference?

I have a real problem with the point-of-view that says “We’re going to keep an eye on you, just in case you do something. If you actually do something, that justifies our suspicions. An ounce of prevention is better than a pound of cure.”

And. . .what if nothing happens? Not one of us stole a thing. Isn’t it a violation of my rights as a human being, to not be able to browse a store without “Big Brother” policing my prospective inner intentions?

You can investigate my past – I’ll tell you, I’m not a saint. I’ve done some things I’d rather not have to explain to everyone on the planet. I crashed my mom’s car in 1994. Tomorrow, I will turn 36 and she still reminds me of it, along with pretty much everything I did wrong as a teenager. I forgot to take out the trash, A LOT. I once broke curfew to drive a drunk friend home.

Still, my imperfections don’t mean I deserve to be followed, or get a bullet to the chest, do they?

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