Commentary

Calling police on black women at golf course is latest example of ‘White Fear Weaponized’

Black people being harassed for doing everyday things is a train that’s never late

The first week I lived in the first home I’d ever purchased, a police car pulled up next to me as I was checking my mailbox at the curb.

There were a lot of police officers who lived in my neighborhood, so this didn’t strike me as odd. Given that I was a new face in the neighborhood, I assumed this was nothing more than a friendly greeting.

It wasn’t. Instead of a “hello” or a “welcome to the neighborhood,” the officer said, “Who are you?” And his terse tone strongly suggested that if I didn’t have the right answer, it was going to be a problem.

I didn’t tell the officer who I was or what I did. I defensively answered back, “I live here. I just moved in.” He looked me up and down and drove off. No apologies. No explanation. If his rationale was that he somehow suspected I was up to no good, then I would love to know the number of would-be criminals who are so polite as to check mailboxes before victimizing unsuspecting people.

For people of color, those kind of encounters are sadly expected. But because of some high-profile incidents in the past few weeks, it seems like everyone else is beginning to gain some understanding of how traumatic and draining it is for black people to live in a society where they are constantly reminded they don’t belong or are barely tolerated, especially in those spaces that have been traditionally reserved for or mostly occupied by white people.

We can now add golfing to the list of normal activities that black people dare not do without inciting irrational fear.

Last weekend, police were summoned to the Grandview Golf Club in York, Pennsylvania, when a group of golfers — all white men — called the police on five black women golfers after accusing them of slow play.

Unless the police officers coming to the scene were Sergio Garcia and Tiger Woods, this was just the latest example of WFW: White Fear Weaponized.

As we’ve seen historically and from recent events, black people being harassed for doing everyday things is a train that’s never late. Nearly two weeks ago in Philadelphia, a Starbucks employee called the police on two black men who were waiting to meet up with a potential business partner because they had committed the egregious sin of asking to use the restroom without buying anything. The men were arrested and held in jail for several hours, but no charges were filed.

Last week, employees at a New Jersey-based L.A. Fitness called the police on two black men after accusing them of failing to pay for working out. It turns out, both had guest passes.

In the case of the black women at the golf course, they are all avid golfers, members of the club and part of a local organization called Sisters On The Fairway.

That’s not exactly a group that would be prone to slow play or unfamiliar with golf etiquette.

The women were first approached by Steve Chronister, whose son Jordan is co-owner of Grandview, when they were on their second hole.

Let me repeat that for the people in the cheap seats: the second hole.

“We’ve played for 10 years as a group, and some of us longer than that,” said Myneca Ojo, one of the women playing in the group that day. “We could have decided if we were playing slow or not. That was just an excuse.”

But just to be sure, one of the women in the group asked the club pro if their pace was satisfactory, and even after they were told their pace was fine, what was meant to be a relaxing golf day already had been ruined.

Three of the women decided not to play anymore, and the two who continued skipped the next hole to avoid any further conflict.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.

The police were called. Chronister and his son threatened to revoke their memberships. The following day, co-owner JJ Chronister, who is Jordan’s wife, called each of the women to apologize. But whatever goodwill her phone call may have created was undone on Monday when the club released a statement that appeared to justify their foolish, heavy-handed actions.

“The members did skip holes and took an extended break after the 9th hole. We spoke with them once about pace of play and then spoke with them a second time. During the second conversation, we asked members to leave as per our policy noted on the scorecard, voices escalated, and police were called to ensure an amicable resolution.”

Amicable? For who?

According to Ojo, who posted a video of part of their confrontation with the men on her Facebook page, the hostility was totally one-sided.

“We felt disrespected,” said Ojo, who also happens to be a director of diversity and inclusion for a state agency in Pennsylvania. “It made us feel small and unempowered. It was a horrific experience.”

Thankfully, the local police left quickly after determining it was a huge waste of time. But that isn’t always the case when the police show up to confront a black person who has been inaccurately labeled a threat. And too often, the consequences are dire.

In August 2014, John Crawford III was shot and killed inside a Walmart because a customer called 911 and wrongly reported he was loading a rifle and pointing it at children. As store surveillance video later showed Crawford was just walking around with a toy pellet gun, which was sold at the store, while talking on a cellphone.

I could rattle off a number of incidents where White Fear Weaponized led to tragic results for people of color, but let’s not be naive and think for a moment that some of those who use their fear as a weapon don’t realize the gravity of their actions. It’s no secret how people of color have been treated by some law enforcement and the criminal justice system in this country. They know there is at least a puncher’s chance that if they call the police on us, we will be dealt with severely, humiliated and criminalized.

If Officer Johnny cracks us upside the head that’s fine, because maybe then we will learn to stay in our place.

It’s scary to think that we live in a world where people of color have to live with the constant fear that they may be endangering their lives for simply going about their day.

Earlier this month, a Michigan high school freshman was nearly killed for asking for directions after he missed his bus. The only reason 14-year-old Brennan Walker is alive after knocking on the door of retired firefighter Jeffrey Ziegler is because Ziegler, who fired a 12-gauge shotgun at Walker, missed. Ziegler was charged with assault with intent to murder and possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Whether it be #CheckingYourMailboxWhileBlack, #GolfingWhileBlack, #WaitingAtStarbucksWhileBlack, #ExercisingWhileBlack or #BeingLostWhileBlack, it seems like people of color can barely take a breath without it making someone uncomfortable. And sadly, for some people, us not breathing at all is a justifiable result.

Jemele Hill is a Senior Correspondent and Columnist for ESPN and The Undefeated.

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