Opinion: The dangers of being a black man

Bruce Walton is a senior columnist for the Daily Kent Stater. Contact him at [email protected]

Bruce Walton

When you’re a black man in America, there aren’t a lot of places where you feel completely safe. People look at you differently. You get used to it, but it’s still there. I’m 5’5; I wear glasses; I’m a little scrawny; and even I have been a victim of being profiled as a potential criminal. I’ve been tailed by police until I’ve gotten out of my car, clerks have hovered over me while I was shopping for clothes and people have switched to the other side of a street to avoid me. I usually have a respectable disposition, I’m quiet and docile and I am a very careful and safe driver, yet I’m seen as a constant suspect. I know people who are darker and bigger who have it even harder.

One story I found last week shocked me, even more so that it’s already two weeks old, and no one seems to be talking about this. On Sept. 14th, Jonathan Ferrell, a student and football player from Florida A&M University, was driving through Charlotte, North Carolina when his car had crashed on the side of the road. The crash was so bad, he allegedly had to crawl out from the back window.

Ferrell then went to the nearest house and knocked on the door for help. The woman who lived there thought it was her husband and opened the door. To her surprise, it wasn’t him. She reacted by slamming the door, hitting her panic alarm and calling 911 to report an attempted breaking and entering.

Three police officers promptly arrived at the house to investigate and found Ferrell, who, as the police described in their report, had “charged,” “ran,” and “advanced” toward the officers. Even I would be pretty startled if a football player were coming at me, but this was inexcusable. As Ferrell “charged” at the officers, the first had tried to subdue him with a stun gun on sight. This was “unsuccessful,” and the second officer, Randall Kerrick, opened fire on the victim several times. Ferrell died on the scene, only asking for help but getting nothing but hatred. This man was a scholar, an athlete. He was also engaged and would have turned 25 in a month.

Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter, a felony that means the offender used self-defense, never intending to kill anyone. A false charge given to someone who should be in jail. Kerrick turned himself in but was released from jail the following Sunday on a $50,000 bond. This has been swept away as another “oopsie-daisy” by the police of the area, calling the entire ordeal “unfortunate,” which is not the word I’d choose.

Being a black man near a car, or in a wealthy neighborhood at night or in a store is like being a Middle-Eastern man in an airport. It’s a never-ending fear of living with the expectations of a criminal. I do respect the police force, but there are too many incidents like these for me not to question its intentions. It’s scary seeing authority figures as sometimes helpful and other times treating me like I just committed a crime. Being black and a man may be one of the worst first impressions you can make.