By Salome Chimuku, Ainsworth UCC, Portland, OR
Growing up in a predominantly immigrant neighborhood in Portland, there were some things that were normal and expected. Such as that you’re inside before dark, say please and thank you or even being questioned by the police. In my 23 years of living I can say that I have been stopped over 25 times in my life. None of these have led to me being arrested, but it has left me with a strong impression of being publicly incarcerated.
I say publicly incarcerated because there is a pattern to all the stops. I was somewhere they thought I shouldn’t be. “What are you doing?”, “Where are you going?”, “Where is home?” All of these questions come under the guise of keeping me safe, but in actuality it makes me feel like a soft version of incarceration and segregation. Over the years it has conditioned me into knowing where I can walk somewhat free of questioning. Even when I worked for the Oregon State Legislature, if I left work late, I would be stopped. It got to the point where I stopped traveling to those places all together.
I am not the only one this happens to. Most of the people who experience this type of policing will pass this on to their children. And then you get to a place where people in the community stay in “their area”, just to avoid being stopped, questioned, or searched. This is especially dangerous when those places of “Do not go” expand to public parks, city hall, and the state capitol building. It sends an overall message of “You don’t belong here”.
A few years ago, I became an aunt three times over to a band of nephews. These boys would grow up to be black men, in Oregon. I also have five older brothers, all black men. According to the most recent accounts of justifiable homicide reported to the FBI, nearly two times a week in the United States, a white police officer killed a black person during a seven-year period ending in 2012. Knowing this made me nervous to say the least. There is a good chance that I could lose a brother or a nephew at the hands of an officer. The shooting of Mike Brown made it even fresher in my mind. This made me decide to choose action over silence. I am telling my stories and being a part of the End Profiling campaign by the Center for Intercultural Organizing to change policy and prohibit profiling by Oregon law enforcement and create a system to hold law enforcement accountable. I encourage all who have felt they have been stopped because of their race, sexual orientation, gender, national origin, religious affiliation to do the same. It sends the message “I do belong here”.