The case involving Cleveland City Councilman Kevin Conwell and the Case Western Reserve University Police Department is interesting on a number of levels, to say the very least. Over the years the university has been making decent strides in terms of race relations with the surrounding communities of color, as well as black students on campus. I’m personally aware of some wonderful efforts to make the institution more inclusive and diverse.
But time was the vast majority of minority students attending the institution didn’t have very much to say in a positive tone about the experience. In fact, many blacks of my generation said their time on campus was a downright horrible experience. Similar experiences were echoed by many black males from the surrounding neighborhoods that had unfortunate encounters with the Case police force.
But, in spite of the concerted efforts over the last few decades to correct the sins of its past, the problem is, changing perceptions (and realities) takes years to accomplish, especially around race, and especially in America. But the steamship was turning, no matter how gradually — that is, until last Friday.
That’s when Conwell, who is the councilman for the ward the university is imbedded in, was stopped by the Case police because he fit the description of a suspect. But the question is, a suspect of and for what?
Evidently one of the pampered and sheltered little students on campus — in all probability white — was upset by a “man with missing teeth mumbling to himself and approaching students.” Now, anyone who has ever lived in a big American city knows what the hell to do in a situation like this: You simply walk around such a person. But this student was obviously offended by this person, being on her campus, breathing her air.
Now I’ve searched and searched the Ohio Revised Code and couldn’t find one law against having missing dentures or mumbling in public. Somehow “panhandling” got thrown into the mix also by the PD headline writer — just to make it a Code 1, Swat Team call, I suspect — but lo and behold, there are no laws on the books regarding panhandling either.
So what was this scary black man being accused of doing? Being black, obviously, but also being too poor to afford a dentist, and perhaps having mental health issues to boot.
Now here’s my point: With the racial caste system that has been set up and perpetuated in America for over 400 years, it’s a wonder — nay, a marvel — that the majority of black males in this country aren’t walking around completely batshit crazy. To me this is a testament to the strength of character of black folk that was forged in the white-hot fire of bigotry and annealed on the crucible of untrammeled, unremitting racism.
We are a strong and mighty race to have survived this ongoing holocaust, and for the most part have prospered in the face of overwhelming odds, to the point where two-thirds of blacks are firmly in the middle class. And thank God for our black women, because the race would not have survived without them.
But this little sheltered student wants to exist in a bubble, one in which her delicate sensibilities are never disturbed by anyone not of her class or privilege. But the world is not a gated community, one in which she, or anyone else, gets to say who can or cannot traverse the streets of America un-accosted. My ancestors were probably in this country long before hers.
But the story gets worse. The article stated that the cop asked Conwell for his I.D. That’s patently against the law and if the officer didn’t know that how did he pass the police exam? If someone is driving a vehicle they can be ordered to show an operator’s permit, but only in fascist or totalitarian countries and under regimes like Apartheid are citizens required to respond to police who demand, “Show me your papers.”
Case will survive this, and so too will Cleveland’s black community. But perhaps little fair-haired students should, during freshman orientation, be made aware that the university exists in a wider community, and said community contains people that are not like them, but have the right to be different — to be “the other.”
From CoolCleveland correspondent Mansfield B. Frazier mansfieldfATgmail.com. Frazier’s From Behind The Wall: Commentary on Crime, Punishment, Race and the Underclass by a Prison Inmate is available in hardback. Snag your copy and have it signed by the author at http://NeighborhoodSolutionsInc.