“Race Matters” (in Ohio): Two Anecdotes

Anecdote #1: Before I get to my story, here’s a little background/context: I live in Cuyahoga Falls, OH, which is just to the north of Akron. While "the Falls" in many ways functions as a suburb of Akron, to its credit it developed independently and has its own "downtown" area, distinct neighborhoods, etc., giving it more of a small town feeling than anything else. In many ways, it’s really quite nice. There are a lot of downtown festivals and concerts every year here in the Falls; in short, especially for "families," it has a lot to offer. Socioeconomically, there’s a fairly good mix of what I would unofficially characterize as "working class" neighborhoods, plus some slightly less better off areas with a lot of rentals (some government housing), and then finally some fairly more affluent (clearly suburban "looking") areas with big houses, cul-de-sacs, etc. Racially, however, Cuyahoga Falls is rightly called "Caucasian Falls," and that clearly is not a good thing. There just isn’t much racial diversity. As you may have guessed or perhaps read or heard me talk about, I feel fairly guilty about living here and am working through what to do with that. Some of this has to do with the racial segregation; some of it has to do with the fact that by the grace of God we were able to get into a very nice house ourselves. I feel good about saying it’s certainly a modest house (not huge by any means- around 1,300 square feet- not including the finished basement) and not ostentatious in any way. However, it’s definitely nice. It more than adequately meets our needs. The kitchen is "modern" with the all the appliances; our basement is finished giving us more living space than there appears to be from the outside, and the two bedrooms upstairs give us 4 (small) bedrooms total. I feel guilty about it because so many folks can’t afford to be in a place like ours. I say we got into it "by the grace of God" because I want to be grateful and recognize the source of all good gifts, but I wonder in the end how "good" our being in such a place finally is, and I wonder if that "grace" is more about being white, having college degrees, etc., than it is really about anything else. I could go on, but I’ll get to my story instead.

Maybe about a month back I was home one evening with Samuel (Kirsten was at
work) and we decided to take a walk, as we often do. So as we’re
setting out I notice a cop car driving very speedily down a residential
side street. I thought it was a little odd but we kept going. Later on, I saw another (unmarked) cop car approaching us slowly. The officer asked me if I had seen a black guy running down the street, and I said no. He drove on, and we walked on, and later I saw him talking to a woman outside the park in our neighborhood. Now, on the surface of things, maybe this incident isn’t that big a deal and I shouldn’t read too much into it. However, I can’t just leave things at the surface. I suppose I’m troubled by it for a couple of reasons:

  1. Who knows what actually happened. Maybe a crime was committed, in which case the seemingly frantic search for a running black man in our little white neighborhood makes sense. However, the rabbit hole gets deeper still. If a crime was committed, what was it and why did it occur? Without wanting to get into the tired debate about personal responsibility vs. systemic injustice, the systemic pieces in my opinion simply can’t be ignored. (Taking it even deeper and doing a little introspection) of course, there is something problematic even in my own observation and speculation about all this. I’ve implied, if not stated outright, that the black man who may or may not have committed a crime might have done so due to systemic injustice- meaning that he’s likely poor because of a race-related lack of opportunity and systemic racism, etc. This is a stereotype, and I know that. Not all black people are poor, of course, though a disproportionate number of them certainly are, and those statistical injustices show up along most indicators (incarceration rates especially come to mind). Obviously, it’s very complex.
  2. Anyway, I wonder how the cops got involved. Was there a report of a crime? Did one of my neighbors see a black man jogging and assume a crime must have been committed? And why the seemingly frantic response by the officers? Would it have been any different for a white man who committed a crime and fled to the neighborhood- or a white man out taking a jog?
  3. Even if there is nothing "wrong" on the face of this particular circumstance, the underlying issues are so complex and egregious that they trouble me to no end, especially in light of anecdote #2, below.

Anecdote #2: I was making my usual commute home from Canton to Cuyahoga Falls after work the other day, and I was speeding (slightly) in the far left lane on the highway. I passed a car to my right that had two younger African American men in it. The car didn’t particularly stand out in any way, and they weren’t going as fast even as I was. However, as we both passed a cop lying in wait on the side of the road, I noticed him pull out just behind me. I slowed down and moved over into the middle lane, and the cop sped by me and got behind (and got very close to) the car with the African American men in it. The cop was clearly checking them out, probably "running the plates," etc. Apparently he didn’t find anything, as the cop finally slowed down and then pulled over again. To his credit, the officer didn’t stop them and manufacture an offense or anything like that, but I can’t help but wonder. Of all the cars that were going by at that time- with all the white people in them- why did the cop pull out and check out the only black guys and nobody else (and why were they the only black guys on that stretch of road)? For that matter, as I was going faster than the black guys, why didn’t I get pulled over, if anyone was going to be? Is this an example of racial profiling?

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