Dmonstrators protest after two black men were arrested for sitting...

Dmonstrators protest after two black men were arrested for sitting at a Starbucks cafe without ordering anything. Credit: AP / Ron Todt

I think black people should be allowed to call the police on white people who look like they might call the police on black people.

I mean, at this point, it seems only fair, right?

While being black and engaging in regular life activities is not, as best I can tell, a crime, it does seem to rattle certain white people, as evidenced by a string of recent incidents in which police have been dispatched to the scenes of black people getting coffee, shopping, exercising or napping.

Last week, a white graduate student at Yale University saw a black woman napping in a dormitory common area and called the campus police. The police responded and found that the napping black woman was also a graduate student who lives in the dorm. She fell asleep while studying.

Last week, three black teens were shopping at a Nordstrom Rack near St. Louis when store employees started following them around. The three young men wound up making purchases and, as they were checking out, heard workers saying they were calling the police. When officers arrived, the teens showed them their receipts and let them search their bags. The three had done nothing wrong.

On April 15, two black men in New Jersey were playing basketball at a gym one of them had belonged to for eight years. They were told to leave and eventually the police were called, even though the pair had every right to be using the facility.

On April 12, two black men were at a Starbucks in Philadelphia waiting for a business meeting. The white manager tried to get them to leave because they hadn’t purchased anything and then called the police. The two men were arrested, though the charges were later dropped.

You get the idea. While virtually every white person in America is quick to say, “Hey, I’m not at all racist,” there seems to be something about black people engaging in mundane activities that strikes fear into the hearts of certain Caucasians. Something that made that white Yale student feel like the other student was napping in a menacing fashion. Something that made the white Starbucks manager feel threatened by the way those two men were waiting to meet someone.

I can’t explain any of that. But it’s clear that in all these cases, the black people would have been a lot better off if they — or perhaps even a black passer-by — would have spotted the suspicious looking white people and then called the authorities to let them know they were about to get a call from an unnecessarily panicked white person.

Imagine the resources that could be saved if there was a police hotline people of color could use to prevent officers from being dispatched to a scene where nothing bad is happening. Let’s call it 1-800-TOO-WITE.

“1-800-TOO-WITE operator, what’s your non-emergency?”

“Hi, I’m sitting in the lobby of my condo building on LaSalle Street waiting to meet a friend and there’s a suspicious-looking white person eyeballing me. I’m pretty sure he’s about to call you and say I’m loitering. Just wanted to let you know everything’s fine and he’s just racist.”

“OK, we’ll make a note of it. Thanks for calling. You helped us avoid a real embarrassing mess.”

That hotline would also be handy for white people like myself because, if I’m being honest, white people scare the crap out of me. Not all of them, of course. Some are nice. I have lots of white friends.

But there are ones you can just tell are the kind who would call the cops on a napping black person. And when I see a suspicious-looking white person like that, it’s hard to call 911 because that line is generally jammed up with suspicious white people calling to report black people who aren’t doing anything wrong.

That’s when I could turn to 1-800-TOO-WITE.

“1-800-TOO-WITE operator, what’s your non-emergency?”

“Hi, I’m white, but not like the crazy kind of white. I’m at a Starbucks on Michigan Avenue and there’s a suspicious white lady here who looks like she’s about to call the cops on a group of black businesswomen.”

“Why do you think that, sir?”

“I just heard her complain to the manager because the women were laughing.”

“Oh dear. Yes, I’m sure she’ll be calling. We’ll send a squad car immediately to make sure no officers go within 100 yards of the Starbucks until those black women have had time to enjoy their coffee and leave.”

“Great. Thanks so much. And I’m sorry.”

“Sorry for what?”

“I don’t know. Everything.”

Rex Huppke is a Chicago Tribune columnist.


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