There were no rude words, no pat-down, no cuffs, no arrest. Yet the brief curbside questioning on a Wednesday morning at his campus is worth discussing, Jeffrey Wray believes.
He's a 53-year-old associate professor of English who says the May 8 encounter with two MSU police officers wasn't his first.
As he recounts in a Lansing State Journal guest column, Wray -- who was pedaling a bike -- was waved over by a motorcycle officer and asked for his license as identification.
I handed over my MSU faculty ID instead. She looked at my picture then back at me. A call had come in from a nearby university building that a suspicious-looking man was spotted inside. He wore a hat. I was wearing a hat. He had on a T-shirt. I wore a T-shirt.
Just a man. Just a hat. Just a T-shirt. A lot of men in T-shirts and some even wearing hats were passing by and not getting flagged down. So I just had to ask.
“So, was this suspicious man lurking in the building a black man?”
“Ah . . . yes he was.”
As you might imagine, the reply came as no surprise.
"It is naïve for a grown black man in America to think that . . . that I should not be suspected of anything," the educator and filmmaker writes in his nearly 900-word commentary.
I have graying hair. I have two kids in college. I pay tuition. I pay a mortgage. I vote. I’m sometimes active in civic matters and still I’m reduced to being a random black suspect. . . .
This type of random pull-over happens too often to be random. I seethe in anger whenever stopped when participating in “while black” activities — driving, riding my bike or living my life. . . .
Wray says that in past years, "my two black boys, now in college, were stopped by MSU and/or East Lansing police on several occasions and asked if the bikes they were riding were their own. While simply walking they have been asked for IDs."
East Lansing is a good community. An isolated instance of being randomly stopped would be a relatively minor inconvenience. However, such incidents in East Lansing and on the campus of MSU are not so isolated if you are black and male.
My youngest son was home from college on a recent weekend. He told me that he and his friends — black and brown young men — had been stopped by East Lansing police. The officer asked if they had a gun in the car.
I would hate to think that another generation of dark-skinned young men in East Lansing, on the MSU campus and beyond must adapt to LWB — living while black — while trying to simply live.
The newspaper says in an accompanying item that it "invited officials at the East Lansing and MSU police departments to submit viewpoint columns to appear with Wray’s column." Opinion editor Elaine Kulhanek adds:
East Lansing Police Chief Juli Liebler and MSU Police Chief James Dunlap declined to submit their own columns.
While we strive to present alternate views whenever appropriate, in this case we decided that Wray’s views should not go unpublished simply because those who could best offer insight to an alternate perspective opted not to do so.