The Complexity of Not Calling the Police While Black

Illustration for article titled The Complexity of Not Calling the Police While Black
Photo: iStock

The news has lately been inundated with examples of white folks (and even some nonwhite folks) doing the ultimate white-folkin’ of calling the police for no reason on black folks who were doing nothing but existing and living their everyday lives.


From Starbucks to walking in the park with our own children or trying to get home, if you’re black, you’re a threat to societal peace and harmony. For many, I guess, calling the police is an entitlement due to the tax dollars being spent to hold up (no pun intended) the department.

For others of us, though, it’s not that simple.

I honestly can’t remember ever calling the police on anybody. And it hasn’t always been because of the ever-increasing database of proof we have of police interactions going wrong.

For most of my life, it’s been rooted in my deep distrust for the police in general. Sure, I like individuals who happen to be police officers, but I’m totally cool on the institution itself.

I had to call the police (for insurance purposes) when my car was stolen from in front of my own home, and them motherfuckers still found a way to try to blame it on me. I don’t even need to tell you how I feel; just know that N.W.A said it best.

Despite not calling them, that doesn’t mean I haven’t thought about it. A lot. I live in a neighborhood that damn near begs for it sometimes. But I just can’t. I can’t ... risk it. And I know I’m not the only person who feels that way.

But my neighbors have tested the entire fuck out of my patience at times. And especially now, with kids, it creates a situation where some taxpayer-funded interventions might help ... but I just can’t.


I bought my house in 2012 in Southeast Washington, D.C. My neighborhood is in the city’s poorest section of the city, Ward 8.

While it’s got its fair share of inner-city issues—a 15-year-old Ballou High School student was murdered Wednesday down the street from my house—it is also a very vibrant neighborhood.


People are always outside and kids are running around, ringing my damn doorbell and running away. You know, normal inner-city shit. On any given Saturday or Sunday morning during the summer, two of my neighbors will pull out their speakers and blast either go-go or funk oldies and compete for who can be the loudest.

Usually the vibrancy is not an issue. Usually.

But when it is? Le sigh.

All of my friends are familiar with my neighborhood’s notorious summertime rep for agitating the fuck out of me. I mostly laugh it off, since I knew where I was moving and some of it is expected. But at times, my tolerance level peaks.


For instance, before I had a fence built around my backyard, it was nothing to come home to find somebody else’s car parked in my private-property parking space. Always somebody visiting the same house.

I’d usually go over and be like, “Yo ... somebody’s in my space again; can you please have them move it?” There would be apologies and eventually the car would move.


But there was a time when the person told me they’d be out in a few minutes and they literally never came back out. For hours. I went over a few times because I wanted to park my car in my spot that I pay for.

After, like, four hours, I realized that they didn’t respect me, so fuck it; if they won’t move the shit because I’m politely asking, I’ll have it removed with force. But I opted against it. The potential negativity wasn’t worth it, right?


I went through scenarios in my head about what might happen if I called the police, and the eventual fallout it would create between me and my neighbors. I wasn’t in the wrong at all, and yet I had to consider what removing this car from my space could cost me and them.

Or the time I came home and (my D.C. people will appreciate this) the Georgia Avenue CVS Picture Man was set up in my parking space with his full backdrop setup, plugged into my house, taking pictures for the backyard party going on across my alley.


These folks were using my electricity in my space (again) without asking. Did I call the police? Nope. They weren’t doing any real harm other than to my power bill. But that’s some super-inconsiderate shit.

Like the joint funeral-graduation party that took place on a Saturday a few years back, where there were two DJs, with a light show set up in the super-small-ass backyard space for a party that lasted from 2 p.m. until about 2 a.m.


Mind you, this setup was directly behind my house, so the music might as well have been coming from my stereo. It was inescapable. Two DJs with a club-level PA system blasting the dirty versions of every trap song you can imagine. My daughter was home, and I couldn’t keep the profanity out of her ears.

I felt like it was extremely inconsiderate and downright disrespectful to be blasting profane music at 2 a.m. to the entire neighborhood, one with lots of kids. They were just partying, right?


But I can’t call the police, no matter how put out I feel by super-inconsiderate people. Even though sometimes, just sometimes, I think about the fact that I’m subtracting from my own peace, allowing other folks who clearly don’t give a fuck about me to make life worse for me and mine.

And I don’t know if I’m making the right choices. What I do know is that I’ll be faced with some facet of that same decision again this year. And next.


I’ll never call the police unless an actual crime is taking place because I’ve conditioned myself to believe that nothing short of a felony rises to the occasion of making a call. I know I’m not alone in this.

Calling the police is complicated, and I wish more white people knew that. But not calling them is also complicated, and I know lots of black folks understand that, too.

Panama Jackson is the Senior Editor of Very Smart Brothas. He's pretty fly for a light guy. You can find him at your mama's mama's house drinking all her brown liquors.



I posted this in the story about reasons to call the cops, but I’ll post it here, too. The last time I had to call the cops and how racial bias almost got this OD’ing woman killed.

Also, Kinja is being DOGSHIT today. But oh well.

About a year ago (right after Thanksgiving), I was in a bar in the afternoon saying hi to some friends when this really weird blonde woman wearing medical scrubs approached me. I was trying to work, and she kept trying to get flirty but you could tell she wasn’t OK. At one point she grabbed my arm and tried to start kissing it, and the bartender asked me to walk her home since she was clearly too inebriated (and I will generally get asked to do that when a customer’s too drunk), so I agreed to “take her home” and we left.

She didn’t know where she lived, but kept talking about the shift she just worked at the hospital, and there’s a local teaching hospital nearby, so I figured I could take her there and maybe see if they can help her out.

Well, we made it a block away from the bar before she goes, “I’m sorry,” and starts pulling her pants down. On the sidewalk in one of the biggest intersections in my neighborhood. I had an umbrella on me, so I pop it open and try to cover her for a minute, and then I look over, and she’s passed out on the sidewalk with her pants around her legs and her ass sticking out.

And it is 3 in the goddamn afternoon.
And it is a busy intersection.

So now I need to figure out how I, as a black man, in a fairly white neighborhood, deal with this passed out white woman at my feet, while people are walking by and looking at me.

I kneel down and shake her shoulder a couple times, ask loudly if she’s OK. No answer. She’s out cold.

At this point, I’m not gonna touch her again, so I call 911. I put the umbrella against the building so I have nothing in my hands for when the police show up, talk to the 911 operator telling them what happened, and wait.

An ambulance stops at the stop light, then drives off. They’re obviously not interested in her. But the whole time, all of these people are walking by and just STARING at me. I’m scared half to death that people are going to think I hit her or hurt her or slipped her something, but I also can’t just leave her, so I just stand as far away from her as possible while still looking like I’m keeping an eye on her. Under absolutely no circumstances will I touch her, because you just don’t know how people will react.

15 minutes pass and nothing. Again, it’s 3 in the afternoon.

Eventually, there’s this other white woman across the street who’s sizing me up. I’m keeping an eye on her, because she might get the cops involved, but also I’m literally out of options and paramedics don’t seem interested in taking calls today.

She walks over and comes up to me. “I’m a doctor,” she says, “Does she need help?”

Oh thank God!

I give her a quick rundown, she goes and looks at the lady, realizes her arm is underneath her body and turning blue, and rifles through her pockets, pulling out her wallet and getting her ID. She rolls the woman over, getting her off her arm, and then opens her eyes and talks to her, saying her name again and again untilt he woman responds.

The doctor looks at me and says, “She’s in the early stages of an opiate overdose and I don’t have my Nalaxone on me, call em back ASAP and tell them it’s opiate overdose,” so I call back, and literally 45 seconds later there’s multiple ambulances and a firetruck and they’re loading this woman up and getting her taken care of.

I thanked the doctor and the EMTs and got the fuck out of there after that, back to the bar so I can get back to work. But right there, that’s years of racism and racial bias that almost cost this woman her life. Basically she’s only alive because some other white woman (and a doctor, no less) came by to help her, because anything else I would have tried to do would have just gotten me killed and her probably left to overdose.