Here’s a question that I feel like I’ve been asking myself for as long as I’ve had a driver’s license: Why is it that no matter how minor the original offense, cops always ask to search for weapons and drugs after stopping Black people?
To be fair, I have no concrete proof that this only happens to Black people. I just know that white people who I’ve brought this up to have only ever responded one of two ways: Either they deny it’s racism by citing some anecdotal, one-time experience of being asked the same by police, or they respond in absolute shock and disbelief that this actually happens.
Anyway, last week, a Black man was stopped by police officers in Beverly Hills, Calif., while walking across a street after shopping in the area. He said he was coming from the Versace store—which makes sense, given that it turns out he’s Salehe Bembury, vice president of Sneakers and Men’s Footwear for Versace.
Body camera video released by the police department on Friday shows the encounter between Bembury and the officers on October 1. When officers approach him and asked Bembury why he jaywalked, he admits, “I jaywalked, I don’t know what to say.”
An officer then proceeds to ask him for his ID, asks him to put his arms behind his back and searches him. Bembury is also asked if he has any weapons to which he responds, “I do not.”
Bembury tells the officer he feels “nervous” and “uncomfortable,” and attempts to explain that the Versace shopping bag he is carrying contains a pair of shoes he designed.
“What’s unfortunate is like, I literally designed the shoes that are in this bag,” Bembury says in the video.
After a few moments, Bembury tells the officer he would like to record the interaction on his cell phone.
Bembury later posted the video on his Instagram account on October 1 with the caption, “BEVERLY HILLS WHILE BLACK. I’M OK, MY SPIRIT IS NOT.”
He says in the video, “I’m in Beverly Hills right now and I’m getting *expletive* searched for shopping at the store I work for and just being black.” An officer responds, “you’re making a completely different narrative.”
Let’s talk about that last line from the cop. A “completely different narrative” as opposed to what? Your narrative?
Listen: Maybe me and civil attorney Ben Crump are wrong.
Perhaps it’s completely plausible that police would’ve stopped Becky-with-the-gentrified-address in Beverly Hills while she was walking with a Versace shopping bag because she crossed the street in a way that is technically illegal. While we’re in wypipo’s imaginary land of unicorns, leprechauns and lack of systemic racism, let’s consider the possibility that those cops would’ve been so suspicious that Karen from Karenshire might have a jailhouse shiv on her person that they felt it necessary to frisk her for weapons.
To Black people—especially those of us who have been stopped over bullshit so many times in our lives that we know the standard cop routine better than some cops do—what happened to Bembury will always look like officers using any minor infraction they can think of as an excuse to engage in stop-and-frisk.
But white people never think they’re being racist. Instead, it often seems like they’re too damn busy being flabbergasted and appalled at the mere mention of racial bias to even consider for a moment that they might have responded to the situation differently if the person they were dealing with was white.
More from CNN:
In a statement to CNN, the Beverly Hills Police Department denied Bembury was racially profiled by officers, saying it “does not protect the public based on race.”
“Mr. Bembury, as confirmed in the full 3 ½ minute body camera video, was stopped due to a pedestrian violation. The department is committed to full transparency and released the full 3 ½ minute body camera video within 24 hours,” Police Lt. Max Subin said.
Reached by CNN on Tuesday about the detention, Bembury said he had no further comment.
If the BHPD is so “committed to full transparency,” why is there no mention of why Bembury was searched for weapons over a “pedestrian violation?”
And why frame this as an effort to “protect the public?” I understand that jaywalking can be dangerous, but the unnecessary search paired with that wording makes it seem like they think certain people are a threat worth protecting the public from based on optics alone (I just used a lot of words to describe racial profiling.).
It’s almost as if they’re trying to spin a “completely different narrative.”