The United States of Apartheid

I am not going to burn a regular column on this, thought I am more tempted than I can tell you.  Still, I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I didn’t at least note the incident in passing.

You’ve heard about it, right?  How Devonte Shipman, a 25-year-old African-American man was stopped the other day in Jacksonville, FL for jaywalking and then cited for not carrying an ID.  If you haven’t heard, then by all means, enlighten yourself with this story and video courtesy of The Miami Herald.

As you will hear, Shipman seemed less angry than just frustrated and even mildly amused by Jacksonville Sheriff’s Officer J.S. Bolen, an officious martinet straight out of the Barney Fife Academy.  Obviously – and sadly – this wasn’t the young man’s first encounter with racially biased policing.  The closest he comes to anger is some amazed cursing at the end of the video as he realizes that Jacksonville – which apparently has no crime – has dispatched two more patrol cars to back up Bolen in this dastardly case of walking against the light.

And then, there’s the matter of the ID Shipman wasn’t carrying.

“In the state of Florida,” warns Bolen, “you have to have an ID card on you identifying who you are or I can detain you for seven hours until I figure out who you are.”

Actually, the law says you have to have ID to operate a motor vehicle.  And as my colleague David J. Neal notes with admirable restraint, Shipman was only “operating his feet.”

Problem is, he was operating said feet while being young, male and black.  Worse, he did so in a nation that is fast and proudly backsliding from the progress it made during the Civil Rights years toward finally redeeming its founding promise of liberty and justice for all.  Those things seem – putting it mildly – less of a priority in this era than at any point in my adult life.

Because of that, you get incidents like this one, a black man cited because he was found to be without papers.  As Neal notes, it smacks of Miami Beach in 1962.  Frankly, it also smacks of Johannesburg in 1962.  More to the point, it smacks of the use of the police as a force not to deter or investigate crime, but to clamp down upon and control an inconvenient population.

There is an unfortunate historical resonance in that fact.  I’d like to think we were beyond that sort of thing.  I’d also like to think the Lakers are going to win the NBA championship next year, but that’s also not very likely.

As far as I know, the city of Jacksonville has yet to speak out on this.  At minimum, it owes Shipman an apology and should seriously consider firing – or at least, retraining – Officer Fife.

The kind of behavior he showed is unprofessional, racist, infuriating and unacceptable.  But even worse, it is common.

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