Waiting in a coffee shop, swimming, barbecuing — just a few recent examples of unremarkable activities that turned into headlines after the black people engaging in them had the police called on them.
Now add babysitting to the list.
On Sunday, Corey Lewis was watching two children when they went to a Walmart in Marietta, Ga., where they got some food, then stopped at a gas station to fill up the car. A woman followed them and approached, asking to speak to the children, Lewis said; he refused. She trailed them until Lewis reached his mother’s home.
Lewis said he knew why.
“Because I got two kids with me that don’t look like me,” he said.
Lewis is black; the children are white. The woman ended up calling the police.
Lewis chronicled the events in a series of Facebook Live videos.
The footage shows a Cobb County police officer pulling up as Lewis waits with the children outside his mother’s home. The woman who called the police is waiting in her own vehicle down the street.
Lewis tells the officer that the woman had approached earlier, asking if the kids were OK.
“Why wouldn’t they be OK? No one’s yelling, no one’s screaming, No one’s trying to run away,” he says.
The officer asks, “Do you mind if I talk to them [the children]?”
“That’s crazy. … Why?” Lewis responded. The officer says he has to perform a wellness check and instructs the children to get out of the car.
The girl explains that Lewis is their babysitter and that “this lady started following us.”
“I work with kids every day,” Lewis tells the officer. “Even on my off days.”
The officer asks the kids a few more times if they are all right before seeming satisfied. The New York Times reports that the officer also called their parents as an added precaution.
“It just knocked us out of our chair,” David Parker, their father, told the newspaper about the experience. “We felt horrible for Corey.”
Lewis runs his own Marietta-based child care and mentoring business called Inspired By Lewis.
He was clad in a neon green T-shirt bearing his business’ name when he came under suspicion.
The incident is just the latest in a string of high-profile cases involving black people having to explain themselves to police officers after doing mundane public activities in what has come to be known as #LivingWhileBlack.
But while the technology allowing the encounters to be documented and widely shared may be recent, African-Americans say there is nothing new about coming under unwarranted suspicion.
“These people are calling the police first because they think that blacks are inherently dangerous,” Jason Johnson, politics editor at The Root, told NPR in May. “And they feel that the police are there to work as their personal racism valets and remove black people from the situation.”
A survey conducted last year by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health found half of black Americans said they had experienced racial discrimination while interacting with police.
As for Lewis, he tells The Times, he will not let the experience hold him back from his work.
His website says he is pursuing a master’s degree in child and adolescent development to fulfill his “dream of specializing in the psychosocial development of today’s youth.”
In the video Lewis took Sunday, the officer asks if he is being recorded.
“I’m letting the world know, like, what’s really going on,” Lewis says. “It’s 2018. I can’t even step out into the community without being profiled.”