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Ray Duckler: Racism, more subtle here than in metro areas, is still felt by black community

  • The Rev. Keith Patterson talks about race relations in his office at St. Paul’s Church in Concord. GEOFF FORESTER Monitor staff

  • Marques Milbourne is a 32-year-old Tilton resident who works at Verizon Wireless in Concord. He and his wife, Traci, are raising their 21-month-old daughter. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff



Monitor columnist
Sunday, July 24, 2016

It’s called “The Talk,” something that is part of the black community’s upbringing.

It’s totally foreign to mine.

If you’re a black kid driving and a cop pulls you over, beware, parents warn. Stay cool, be extra respectful and always, always, make sure the cop can see your hands.

That’s what black people living in New Hampshire told me last week, and that’s what’s on their minds lately, after a pair of black men were shot and killed by police in Minnesota and Baton Rouge.

Those shootings preceded the murder of eight cops in separate incidences. Then Thursday, a black man was shot by a cop and wounded in Florida, after establishing a dialogue with police and lying on his back, his arms clearly pointed toward the sky.

So now, sandwiched between the two political conventions, in Cleveland and Philadelphia, the nation worries about a race war 50 years after the Civil Rights Movement.

“I had the talk with my parents,” the Rev. Keith Patterson of St. Paul’s Church in Concord told me while sitting in his downtown office recently.

“I understand when you’re dealing with law enforcement, you respect them. It’s the talk you’ve been hearing in the news, that African American parents must have with their children, particularly their male children. If you get pulled over, this is what you do: turn the radio off, put your hands where they can be seen, the whole nine yards. If they ask you to jump, say ‘How high, officer? ‘ ”

The upcoming debates between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump promise to address the issue of racism in America with the urgency not seen in recent presidential cycles.

The truth is we know that most cops are good people. We know some cops prejudge blacks, and we know some use racial profiling in their policing. We also know that police have a dangerous job, and they all want to return to their families at the end of their shifts.

But questions are being asked, seemingly every day. Are enough cops actually racist to make this a nationwide problem? Do the videos we’ve seen over the past three years suggest that? Have the media blown this out of proportion? Is it fair to paint our country’s police with such broad brush strokes?

Whatever your feelings, perception is reality, and the reality to black people is that they continue to receive unfair treatment, steeped in stereotyping and prejudice, based on the color of their skin.

And there’s a term for that: racism.

“Personally, I’ve never felt targeted by the police,” 18-year-old Tyrell Whitted of Manchester wrote me in an email, “But I’ve always felt an uneasiness around officers, due to the stories I’ve heard and the warning my mother gave me about police brutality.”

Whitted organized a Black Lives Matter 200-person march last weekend in downtown Manchester. He graduated from Manchester Central High School last month and says teachers there were “more likely to stop you in the halls during class if you ‘look like trouble.’ ” He said a friend of his, a black girl, at another high school was targeted by being pictured on a poster with the caption, “If found, bring back to plantation.”

“As a young African American, I’ve felt and seen racism throughout the Granite State,” Whitted wrote in an email.

The African Americans I spoke to have experienced something that made them believe racism existed, and it hasn’t always been connected to traffic stops.

 

 

Kris Roberts of Keene is a six-term lawmaker in the New Hampshire House. He told me a former mayor of the city, who has since died, took Roberts’s campaign signs down and stashed them behind some bushes, claiming they were in the wrong place.

I’m not naming the mayor because he can’t defend himself, but Roberts’s sense was that the disappearing signs and the color of his skin were connected.

“It pissed me off because he did not have the right to do that,” Roberts said by phone.

Another time, Roberts said he left Walmart and then was escorted to the store’s security office by a Keene officer after a woman had accused him of stealing $20 from her teen daughter’s pocket. Security video, Roberts said, later disproved the woman’s story.

“My life would have been changed had I been arrested,” the state rep said. “That can screw your life over. If I have to go to the store now, I keep my hands in my pockets and don’t go down an aisle with a single girl down there.”

Elsewhere, the Rev. Art Hilson of the New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth has seen the evolution of race relations in this country from a unique view, one encompassing decades.

At 80 years old, the black preacher marched in the teeth of the Civil Right Movement. He’s heard the identifying term move from Negro to colored to black to African American.

“And in some quarters it’s always nigger,” Hilson, a longtime college and high school teacher, said by phone. “So again, it’s a long trail for me, and so the question is, in a state that has less than one half of one percent of African Americans, you don’t have as much overt stuff, but it’s still here.”

He grew up watching westerns, movies in which the good guy wore white and rode a white horse, while the villain wore black and rode a black horse. Something as simple as the color of angel food cake compared to devil’s food cake was not lost on him.

And then there were Tarzan movies, which had a profound impact on Hilson.

“The white man in the jungle of Africa could swing through the trees,” Hilson said, “and he would speak and all these Africans and elephants and lions would lay down showing the power of one white man on the black continent.”

Hilson’s wife once worked at Filene’s in Newington, and Hilson remembered black students shopping at the store.

“(Security) would follow them and when white students came in, they did not,” Hilson said. “And the truth is that the majority of shoplifting was done by young white high school female students.”

Hilson brought everything into focus, crystallizing the inner thoughts he said that blacks nationwide have.

“White people do not get up in the morning and look in the mirror and say, ‘I’m white, how will I be today?’ ” Hilson said. “They are not conscious of their whiteness. But black folk are always aware.”

“There is a black tax in America, a penalty, and that’s a reality,” Hilson continued. “White parents don’t have to tell their children how to respond to police, because they don’t stand the chance of being brutalized as frequently as black folk.”

Hilson added, however, that violence against cops is insane, and not the way to go. “Those are the same people who if their mother was under attack by a hoodlum, they’d want the police to protect their mother,” he said. “They are not really looking at reality, and to think they go out and shoot down a police officer, that they are doing something noble. No.”

Marques Milbourne, who’s black, sees it that way, too. I met him downtown, after looking for more than an hour for one of the city’s few black people,  then interviewed him at a local coffee shop.

He’s a 32-year-old Tilton resident who works at Verizon in Concord. He and his wife, Traci, are raising their 21-month-old daughter.

Milbourne exhibited a voice of reason in a climate of chaos. He grew up in racially mixed southern New Jersey and has been living in Tilton, his wife’s hometown, for four years. His wife is white and his uncle is a state trooper in Jersey. His mother grew up in Georgia and remained bitter about the treatment she received from white people before mellowing with age.

She accepts Milbourne’s wife as her own daughter, he said.

Milbourne cuts cops lots of slack, telling me, “We’re lucky, because we don’t see the worst of the worst, and (police) see the worst of the worst on a regular basis. I’m sure it’s hard to give everyone the benefit of the doubt.”

Milbourne took it further, saying the media are partly to blame through sensationalism and the repetitive airing of video showing blacks getting shot by white cops.

“We allow the media to separate us, and that has to stop as well,” Milbourne said. “The media highlights it a little more by showing it over and over again. I don’t think it’s as bad as the media portrays it.”

Then, like a cop making a U-turn after a black motorist passes, Milbourne showed the complexities involved in an issue that has the country on edge.

He said he thought about buying a pistol, to protect his family, then chose not to following the video of Philando Castile, the black man shot to death after telling police in Minnesota that he was legally carrying a gun.

“If you’re a white man in this country and you have a gun, you’re looked at as a patriot,” Milbourne said. “If you’re a black man and you have a gun, you’re looked at as a thug.”

At that moment, Milbourne asked if I had seen the video taken Thursday in Miami, the one showing a black behavioral therapist, Charles Kinsey, lying flat on his back, his arms extended skyward, police rifles aimed his way. An autistic man, whom Kinsey was trying to calm down during an anxiety attack, sat nearby.

Kinsey was shot and wounded.

Milbourne was shocked and wounded, too.

I thought this was a good time to ask Milbourne about “The Talk.” Had he heard it from his parents?

“More than once,” Milbourne told me. “As an African American, it’s sad how our society perceives it. Subconsciously (police) feel you’re more of a threat. You have to go above and beyond.

“You have to make sure you’re extra careful.”