Last weekend, Charles Belk, a 51-year-old black man, was arrested and detained by the Beverly Hill Police Department on the suspicion that he had robbed a nearby bank. In reality, Belk had been having a meal at a nearby restaurant, and was on his way to check the status of his parking meter. Before Belk got to his car, he was surrounded by police cars, handcuffed, and taken to the police station. He was in custody for several hours before being released. What officers presumably didn’t know at the time, is that Belk is an award-winning figure in the entertainment business, a fact that is listed among others in Belk’s account of the incident, which was posted on his Facebook account and subsequently picked up by news outlets. It read in part:
I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a well educated American citizen that had received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Indiana University (including a full Consortium Fellowship to business school) and an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Business School. Hey, I was “tall”, “bald”, a “male” and “black”, so I fit the description.
I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that I was a Consultant for the NAACP, a film and tv producer, a previous VP of Marketing for a wireless application company, VP of Integrated Promotions for a marketing agency, ran Community Affairs for the Atlanta Hawks, was the Deputy Director of Olympic Village Operations for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was a Test/Quality/Mfg Engineering Manager for IBM and was a Bond Trader on Wall street. Surely, folks that fit the description wouldn’t qualify as any of those.
I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that throughout my entire life I have been very active in serving the communities that I have lived in, including Chapter President and National PR Chair for NSBE, a USC Student Senator, a USC Trojan Knight, a USC Engineering Student Council Member, a USC Black Students Council Member, and a Resident Assistant; as well as a founding board member of the RTP NBMBAA, a member of Durham County Transportation Advisory Board, Durham City / County Planning Commission, Atlanta House of Love for the Homeless Board, Cobb County Transportation Advisory Board, Georgia CASA Board, United Way of Greater Atlanta VIP Selection Committee, Jomandi Theater Board, Silver Lake Film Festival Board, Downtown LA Film Festival Board, Chaka Khan Foundation Fundraising Dinner Committee, and the USC Black Alumni Association Board. Nawl, not a “black male”, especially a “tall, bald” one.
I get that the Beverly Hills Police Department didn’t know that just hours earlier, I was at one of the finest hotels in their city, handling celebrity talent at a Emmy Awards Gifting Suite, as part of business as usual, and, invited to attend a VIP Emmy pre-party that very night in their city. The guy doing that, just DON”T fit the description.
Audre Lorde once said, “Your silence will not protect you.” You know what? Your resume won’t, either.
We hear this often, though. Black men, people with proclivities to document their lives via social media often pad their (violent) interactions with the police with descriptions of what they were wearing at the time or mentioning their degrees as justifications for why their treatment was especially unfair. They recount their experiences, how they told the police things like “I’ma a professor” or “I’m a judge” or “I’m your boss” or “I’m on my way to work” as if the police were supposed to stop upon hearing such news. It’s as if these verbal resumes are supposed to ward off violations of civil rights; as if proclaiming that they are credits to the race as we recount their experience is supposed to elicit more empathy and compel others to think that the interaction was especially unjust. These proclamations will not repel the police from harassing and/or killing these special Negroes. But what they do, on another level, is suggest that there are other folks, those other blacks who might have been justifiably harassed and killed.
Again, these violent encounters with the police are wrong and unlawful. But I have grown weary with the increasing examples of black folks delineating their accomplishments within this context. Such talk does nothing but implicitly criminalize black folks who don’t have such extensive resumes. And I’m not here for that. And if we are here for justice, then we need to critique these narratives and stringently as we did John Eligon and others like him.