Young, Brown and ‘Looking Unsafe’

Mar. 18, 2015 / By

Commentary • David Meza  | Photo •  Sara Lafleur Vetter, Richmond Confidential

“When was the last time you were you in jail?”

A young white police officer asked me this question after he pulled me over while I rode my bike in Pinole, CA, close to Richmond, where I live. It was Feb. 20, and I had just left the China House restaurant. If you know me, you know I ride my bike everywhere, all over the bay. It’s my main mode of transportation.

This seemed to make the officer anxious. When I asked why he stopped me, he answered: “You look unsafe.” Not unsafe, as in I might hurt myself bicycling; but unsafe, as in, to somebody else. I know this, because the next thing he asked was: “Why are you in Pinole?”

I told him I had been eating at a restaurant.

“I’m not saying you’re doing anything wrong, you just look unsafe,” he repeated. He wouldn’t explain what that meant, but instead asked for my identification — which he then ran through his computer.

After a few minutes, when nothing came back on me, he warned: “I will be watching out for you the next time you come into Pinole.”

Then he let me go.

I biked home as fast as I could. I didn’t know how to feel about being called “unsafe” — I was confused about what he was implying. I felt less than a person at that moment, like it was all about the color of my skin and my age. I was racially profiled, a young brown male with a rasta-colored bike.

When I got home, I posted my experience on social media. I wanted an outlet for how I felt. Here is a bit of what I wrote:

“It really sucks that just because I’m young and brown that some people will always think I’m doing something wrong.”

Within a few hours, more than 60 people weighed in on my experience, many giving tips on how to get this officer fired or asking for his name and badge number so they could do it themselves.


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