Bryonn Bain’s “Walking While Black: The Bill of Rights for Black Men,” which appeared in last week’s issue, generated a highly unusual reader response. The Voice received hundreds of letters in reaction to the article, many of which included extensive accounts of similar racial profiling by police. Letters from African American and non-African American readers came in from all over the United States. Some writers said they had never seen the Voice, happened upon the article on the Internet, and were struck by it. A black professor in New Zealand related his experiences as a young man at the hands of police. An African American police officer in New York City sent a 1300-word amendment-by-amendment response. Space does not permit printing most of the letters in anything like their original length. Following is a selection of some of the mail received.
Bravo, Bryonn Bain. As a journalist in Miami (I’m originally from Chicago), I know firsthand what you are talking about. A nigger is a nigger is a nigger to the police. You have no idea how many times I have to pull out my I.D. before people actually believe I am a reporter. And even then, they want to inspect the plastic card.
Education Reporter The Miami Herald
I want to thank The Village Voice for having the courage to print the story “Walking While Black.” Would that it were it could be mandatory reading for the Ward Connerlys of the world who think racism is passé.
I am a Yale graduate who recently learned that several of my classmates were harassed by New York police after they were stopped in a BMW (which clearly had to be stolen, since the driver and the passengers were people of color). Like Bryonn Bain, I always felt that my prestigious background was some sort of shield—that going to private schools and Ivy League universities somehow made you immune to racism. Incidents like this are a wake-up call for me. The question is, what is the next step?
Degree of Separation
Thank you for printing the article by the young Harvard Law student who was harassed and arrested in New York City. It saddens me deeply that young black and brown people can be so randomly targeted. I can only imagine what would have happened to these young men if one of them had not had the benefit of a Harvard affiliation and some resources. I am sure thousands of poor youths of color have had their lives ruined by this kind of incident.
Assistant Professor Department of Media Study SUNY-Buffalo
Image ‘n’ nation
As a sister of two black brothers, I know this story too well. I hope charges have been pressed because that might be the best way to retaliate against this type of treatment.
What scares me most is the effect that incidents like this have on the voiceless youth throughout the country. They started questioning and taking pictures of my younger brother when he was only 12 years old. Imagine how many other teenage boys have been terrorized and attacked.
Writing While White
I was furious after reading Bryonn Bain’s “Walking While Black.” I felt violated and I wasn’t even there. As a Vietnam veteran, I am angry that the freedom I fought for there still does not exist here! As former reserve deputy sheriff, I wish to apologize to Mr. Bain on behalf of the white people who still “don’t get it!” Please remember not all white men are like the ones you had to contend with!
The Dalles, Oregon
As an African American lawyer, I found Bryonn Bain’s article amusing and painful, since I can readily see myself in the same situation. Such diminished-dignity stories are at their core comical. Your mind says this really can’t be, but alas, ’tis true. Thousands of such occurrences happen weekly across the U.S., yet they are categorized as isolated incidents.
James A. Lynch Jr.
Thank you for making this a cover story. Bryonn Bain’s article validates the fear that African Americans have of the NYPD. This article—by an educated, articulate, calm black man—conveys the issue in language that a white reader cannot ignore.
Does Bryonn Bain think he’s the only one who’s ever been falsely accused and had to go through a lengthy process to clear his name? Too bad they haven’t taught him about probable cause at Harvard. He should consider himself vindicated solely on the grounds that the case against him was dismissed. Many people aren’t so fortunate, and end up serving time for trumped-up charges.
I can understand Bryonn Bain’s frustration, with the police as well as with the nightclub bouncers. I’ve stopped going to so-called hot clubs because the simple fact is that if you are a black male with your buddies, you are heavily scrutinized by the bouncers, who often are thugs. Thank you for bringing to light again the racism of the NYPD and giving a voice to brothers who have been disrespected when they were only trying to have a good time.
As a young black female, I have witnessed firsthand what can happen to people of color who are in the wrong place at the wrong time. I’ve seen countless white women clutch their purses tighter, walk faster down a dark street, even scream bloody murder at the mere sight of the person accompanying me.
While I sympathize with Bryonn Bain’s predicament, I am fairly sure that there is another side to the story. I am surprised that a professor at Harvard Law would accept and endorse such a piece of victim propaganda.
Silver Spring, Maryland
Sidewalks of New York
I am a white woman, and every day while commuting I see very sad situations involving black men and the NYPD—just last week a young boy being roughed up face-down outside of Macy’s. The cops were using horrible language, making a huge scene. Thank you for having the courage to print the Bryonn Bain article. Please continue to attempt to enlighten your readers to what truly goes on in New York.
Morristown, New Jersey
Out of Control
Bryonn Bain’s angry, yet controlled, cover story about his ordeal with the NYPD relates what is undoubtedly just one of many such incidents—mostly undocumented—that occur regularly. The white community has Giuliani to thank for the safety of the city in general, but how safe are we going to remain if white citizens do not feel outrage at the treatment of nonwhite citizens by the police?
This was a great and necessary article—some might say too extremist, but it takes extremism to make change. I am an Asian woman who thinks it must be hard being a black man in America. Hopefully, by the time the next generation grows up, people will be more sensitized to the issues that ethnic minorities deal with, and convictions like these will be mainstream. Now, if you could also publish an article about how many Asian American women despise their continued sexualization and fetishization (the Dragon Lady myths) in American media and culture, I’d be an even bigger fan of The Village Voice.
I am a Wall Street attorney who happens to be black. Though I have never experienced the level of harassment that Mr. Bain endured, I have been profiled, watched, and followed by police officers for merely walking down the street. I was very pleased that Mr. Bain published the name and badge number of the harassing officer. It is time that we take a greater stand for our rights. In the present situation, I fear for my life more from cops than from the element they are supposedly protecting me against.
R. Brent English
Profiles in Prejudice
The sad truth is that I was not at all surprised by Mr. Bain’s story. I’ve heard and read countless stories of brothers being stopped and humiliated and arrested simply because of the color of their skin—which translates to “they fit the description.” The mayor would have us believe that the type of behavior exhibited by these goons in blue is vital to the safety of the people of the city. Not until this kind of behavior becomes unacceptable—by all people—will our innocent African American men be treated with respect, instead of fear and hatred.
Jersey City, New Jersey
As an African American male, I can agree with the amendments presented by Bryonn Bain. It takes little to nothing to end up in jail attempting to prove you are not guilty if you are on the other end of a white person’s accusation. This system requires people of color to walk the streets passively, hoping nobody accuses them of anything. When was the last time you heard about young white males complaining about this type of treatment?
Bryonn Bain assumes that his treatment was caused by the fact that he is black. I am a white lawyer in a white community, and I can tell you that white youth are treated the same way by white cops who suspect them of committing a crime. The problem is less often racism and more often rampant abuse of authority by the police. We need to make sure that people who go into police work are not doing so because of an authoritarian complex.
James H. Manahan
Bryonn Bain went to Columbia and Harvard! How dare those evil white police officers arrest him. He was involved in an unfortunate situation, but one which could happen to anyone.
Sisters Under the Skin
I come from a family of three sisters, and I can relate to what Bryonn Bain is saying. My oldest sister is working on her Ph.D., my middle sister graduated from Columbia Law School, and I am currently working on my master’s degree. Would New York City police look at the three of us walking down the street and see three black girls who are teenage mothers and high school dropouts? Probably so.
Phone Call Away
As the single parent of a man of Morehouse, I found Bryonn Bain’s article disturbing. Like his mother, I have worked hard to provide my son with access to which I was not entitled. I read this account with the same rip in my heart that started the first time my son was stopped by the police—at 11 years old—for riding his new bike in his neighborhood.
The rip gets worse each time my son is stopped for absolutely no reason other than the fact of his blackness. How can I continue to tell him to walk with dignity and ignore the racism of others when it pierces our daily lives so? Although I pray that it never happens, I dread the thought that I may some day receive a phone call that my son has been hurt by the police. It seems inevitable despite the fact that he lives his life lawfully.
Winter of Our Discontent
Thank you for printing Bryonn Bain’s intelligent, honest, and ultimately human account of being a black man in this city. His voice is an important one amid all the madness we have been living with this season: the season of picking up slain, unarmed brothers off the sidewalk.
I read Bryonn Bain’s entire story through, wanting very much for it to end with apologies and a move toward reconciliation and peace.
What I felt was anger, shame, and deep sadness. I want to embrace the young men and their mothers, and tell them that, while this is what happened this time, they must go forward so that their lives testify to the honor and dignity that no person can really deny them.
I happened on this story through links from a site I was viewing. I have never seen anything from this publication (The Village Voice) before, and so I felt compelled to respond. I have never done that before either. It just seemed necessary. Thank you.
Roberta Ann Gruber
I am a 23-year police veteran, and this offensive article left me less convinced that such occurrences happen only to black citizens and more convinced that Bryonn Bain attributes his misfortunes to his skin tone. His pathetic and tired mantra of “I’m black so I must be a victim” is nothing more than race baiting. Mr. Bain needs to grow up! If he was falsely arrested, he should do something about it. If he has a case, sue the bastards. If he doesn’t, he should do something positive with his life other than promoting the use of the word “nigger.”
Yuba City, California
Black and Blue
To Bryonn Bain: I’m an African American police officer, with some comments about your “amendments.” I don’t condone your being treated unprofessionally. However, it seems your law education thus far has left you unaware of certain facts.
The procedure of citizens’ arrest allows anyone to hold a suspect until the arrival of police. Jurisdiction has no bearing on this, so the bouncers, while being mistaken in their identification, did not overstep any boundaries.
Here’s how Miranda warnings work in real life, not on TV: If an officer isn’t going to question you about a crime, he doesn’t have to read you your rights. Period.
Being arrested sucks; I realize that. You should realize that innocent people do get arrested. If they didn’t, we wouldn’t need courts and trials to determine who’s guilty.
Boo-hoo. It didn’t matter that you were class president and had a clean record. How do you know the actual perpetrators don’t also have a clean record and attend college? Non-criminals can and do get into stupid, petty arguments that escalate.
Remember when your mom worried that you’d be killed for your jacket or sneakers by another black kid? The city is safer.
Stories like this make me ashamed to be a police officer. I’m an African American male, and I’m so frustrated, I don’t know what to do. When does it end? Do black men have to take up arms? What will it take to change the tide?
Breathing While Black
Bryonn Bain’s article made me cry—for my computer nerd, UC Berkeley- educated, history-buff, reads-three-newspapers a day, published-author husband, who, in spite of all of the above, is still a six-foot-one, 200-pound black man, and gets treated “as such” before he can open his mouth to reveal everything else he is. It made me cry for my 14-month-old son, who I really hope will never have to experience this kind of evil but whom I know I can’t really protect from it.
April Lampkins Ross
Los Angeles, California
Thank you for publishing this insightful article by Bryonn Bain on his horrific treatment by New York’s finest. I, too, like many others, have learned to “know my place” when walking in suburbs or otherwise minding my own business. I now live in New Zealand, and it is often difficult to convince my white students, who grew up with The Cosby Show here, that there are still problems and issues to be resolved in the U.S.A.
I will be reading this piece to my class on “Contemporary African American Culture” at the earliest opportunity. I, too, have been humiliated—pants down on ankles, teeth checked, and told to get out of town. This was before the B.A., two master’s degrees, and Ph.D. But I am no fool—this could happen to me tomorrow.
Dr. Vernon L. Andrews
University of Canterbury
Christchurch, New Zealand
By Any Means
Thank you for Bryonn Bain’s article. It was a sadly true and profoundly depressing reminder that despite any accomplishment or hurdle overcome, very little has changed in the hundreds of years that black people have struggled to win their basic human rights in this country. To paraphrase Malcolm X, a black person, whether a Harvard student or not, will always be a nigger in the eyes of an inexorably white racist society.
Class of 2000 Harvard Law School
Black Like Me
As a white person and a recovering racist, I am an expert at decoding whitespeak. The fear of black people is passed down from parents and teachers. It is reinforced daily by news media. It is fear of the “other” and fear of a whole segment of the population that has been scapegoated, targeted, hunted, and humiliated. In New York City, that fear is legitimized by the continual harassment and murder of black men by cops.
I also know that if I feel this way, I can only imagine the daily terror of being black in this city.
I just finished Bryonn Bain’s article, and I must say, it makes me ashamed to be a white person and read things like this. The “good ole boy” sentiment is still out there. I live in the South, and as a woman I am also subjected to it. It’s a sad statement on today’s society that this kind of behavior is viewed as relatively harmless.
Great cover story. I applaud you for printing it. Being a young, educated, fairly “successful” black male, I could relate. I haven’t been arrested, but I have been unfairly judged in situations because I am black. It is, for lack of a better description, exhausting. Approaching 30, I now understand that what I thought was apathy among some of our parents was really exhaustion. You get tired of being stared at with accusing eyes and trying to prove your innocence.
Dr. Morales & Mr. Hide
Walking While Black” is an excellent example of how much our society has not changed but has just shifted from one type of racism to another. Being a young black physician, I lead almost a double life. Nine to five Monday through Friday is when I am in my professional clothing, using professional language among my colleagues. Nights and weekends is when I am wearing the “baggy jeans, baseball cap, and boots”—thug gear to some people. But when I am not at work I dress in what is comfortable—and these are the times when I am most apt to be assaulted, mistreated, or mishandled by police.
The problems described by Mr. Bain are inherent in the NYPD and other police departments. Change will occur only with continued education, and more importantly with exposure to people of other cultures.
Roger L. Morales, M.D.
This was a powerful piece. As the father of two sons, 21 and 24, I could only think of them in the same situation. The “Bill of Rights for Black Men” is an important statement about the lives of black Americans and anyone else who is different.
William L. Pollard
Raleigh, North Carolina
The story by Bryonn Bain should be published once a week in every newspaper across the country. It’s unfortunate that Americans of African descent still cannot expect more from the government that they pay taxes to. It reminds me of Gil Scott Heron’s statement, “The revolution will not be televised.”
Fort Lauderdale, Florida
The Other Black People
Bryonn Bain’s article spoke for me and many others who are nonwhite who dare to walk. Such crimes can happen to us. We are the other black people.
Just a note to let you know that the gentleman who wrote your cover article, Bro. Bryonn Bain, won a slam at the Nuyorican Poet’s Caféon the Lower East Side a month ago. His poetry that evening addressed many of the issues that he dealt with in his article.
Bryonn Bain replies: While I deeply appreciate that so many share my outrage at the racist practices pervasively employed by New York City’s finest, I have opted not to reply directly to these letters so that as many as possible could be published. Those who are interested in continuing to engage in constructive dialogue and action should do so by writing me care of www.blackoutartscollective.com, a nonprofit organization committed to empowering communities of color through the arts.