A Story About Charles Kinsey, My New (White) Neighbors, And The Racial Politics Of Calling The Police
I live in a two story loft that sits above a coffee shop on one of Pittsburgh’s busy intersections. It also exists directly across the street from a park, within walking distance of several restaurants, and a few blocks away from a hospital. Naturally, the neighborhood gets quite a bit of foot traffic during the day. Teenagers headed to school or downtown, kids going to summer camp, nurses on their lunch breaks, men and women walking their dogs and/or jogging; between 8am and 6pm during the week there are rarely any quiet moments. It’s also one of the few neighborhoods in the city — perhaps the only neighborhood in the city — where you’ll see an equal amount of Black and White people. While it’s far from cosmopolitan, it’s definitely truly diverse.
Adding to this diversity is a homeless shelter that sits a block away from my building. In fact, on a given day, I’d estimate that 10 to 20 percent of the people walking through this neighborhood are somehow connected to the shelter. Some live there, some lived there and still hang around because their friends live there, and some don’t live there but hang around the neighborhood because of the numerous food trucks and food banks and other charitable entities that provide food for the residents. And some just hang around because they don’t have anywhere else to go. A couple of them hang out in the coffee shop all day long; playing chess, reading the newspaper, and escaping the heat or the rain or the cold.
We’ve lived here for a year. And while the shelter definitely attracts some very colorful characters — and my wife and I are each asked for money (or a “ride downtown” or a bottle of water) at least once a week — we’ve never once felt in any type of danger. Partially because we’re both from similar types of inner-city neighborhoods and possess a certain level of learned street smarts. But mostly because these are not dangerous people. They’re mostly just people who happen to be going through some hard times.
Our building has two two-story loft units. Two weeks ago, a new couple moved into the second one. (A man and a woman.) They look to be in their late 20s or early 30s, they seem to be nice people, and they’re White. And although they’ve been here less than a month, they’ve already called the police on one of the homeless people loitering near the coffee shop. Which drew several cops to our shared ground-level door. And still, a week later, annoys the fuck out of me.
Admittedly, I’m still not sure exactly what happened. I haven’t had a chance to ask the woman. (Who apparently was the one who called them.) Perhaps there was some sort of altercation. Maybe one of the men said something inappropriate or obscene to her. Again, I don’t know what happened.
I just know that we’ve been here a year and nothing worth calling the police about has happened to us. Actually, let me rephrase that. Nothing we believed was worth calling the police about has happened to us. And I can’t help but wonder if this is some sort of synopsis on the differences between how Black and White people (generally) regard the police.
At the time of writing, Charles Kinsey — a Miami-area therapist who works with people with disabilities — is Twitter’s top trending topic and will likely be for much of the day. He is in the news because of a clip showing Kinsey — who was unarmed, had his hands up, and was helping an autistic patient (a patient “armed” with a toy truck) — getting shot three times by a police officer. If you haven’t seen it yet, the best two word phrase to summarize that footage would be “fucking absurd.” Although “fucking ridiculous” would work too. (And maybe, for Kinsey’s sake, “fucking lucrative” can fit, because I hope he wins a trillion dollar settlement.)
Ultimately, this footage will just be another potent ingredient added to the melange of fuckshit that results in the collective lack of confidence Black people (generally) have in regards to the police. While I do not believe that (most) Black people consider the police to be a net negative entity, I do believe that (most) Black people are loathe to involve the police in anything. Not because of any type of cliched collective anti-snitching edict. But because I just don’t think we generally believe they’ll make situations better. While the police are supposed to deescalate, their very real potential to make things much, much worse — and the very real evidence of that happening quite frequently — creates a reluctance to engage them. Personally, unless my shit is broken into/stolen or I believe someone’s life is in danger, I’m not going to involve the police. I’ve been alive for 37 years and I’ve made tens of thousands of phone calls. 911, however, has never been one of them.
I also can’t help but wonder if people like my neighbor have too much confidence in the police; ultimately treating them like summer camp counselors you tattle to if Tommy stole your orange juice. Again, I must stress that I don’t know what happened that prompted her to call. But I am certain it wasn’t a life or death type of scenario. But by involving the police and inviting them to a block where several “sketchy” Black people — including me if I happened to out because what qualifies as “sketchy Black person” is arbitrary and often just determined by “Is he a Black person?” — happened to be, she could have made it one.