Reporter’s Notebook: Black Quality of Life Matters, Too

Side view of african american teacher shaking of high school teenage student in clasroom
Side view of african american teacher shaking of high school teenage student in clasroom. Stock Photo from 123rf

Someone asked me why I would write a minor story about an incidence of racial profiling in the city that didn’t end with violence, imprisonment, or the death of a young Black or Brown boy at the hands of the NYPD. 

The answer I gave I don’t remember. I wrote the story and called it a day until I didn’t. It’s hung around because there is a glaring problem in journalism, and it’s mostly that the familiarity of a murdered young black boy is inherently more interesting than the living one outraged at being discriminated against.

So I’m asking myself now, why write the story of Sincere Quinones, Miguel Navarro, and his group of friends being racially profiled by an MTA worker last December when no one died or was even arrested? He’s not a George Floyd, right?

The short answer is because there are so many generations of young Black or Brown boys that are unbeaten and breathing but just as scared and scarred from it. No one cares when there is no blood since that’s not exciting enough for white audiences or brutalizing enough to engage minority ones. 

The constantly, statistically profiled race and gender in this and other cities carry these mental scars and fears around without crying, channeling it instead into an anger that keeps them fed. We know this. We’ve studied it. Written songs about it. Protested and passed laws against it.  We’ve made movies and series and books ad nauseum about it. 

We know the stress of blatant and systemic racism, of stop and frisk in the 1990s and 2000s and 2010s, and of living “while Black” and having the cops called on you, can have. People take it out of the hides of children, on the bodies of women and other men like them. And then there’s blood, as they age and as they grow older.

The real kicker is that half the time the racial profiling tool in many cases doesn’t work effectively. For over three decades, stop and frisk mostly arrested or harassed hundreds of thousands of innocent people, just like the six boys I mentioned before who had the cops called on them for looking like they would jump the turnstile.

Firstly, this is New York. Everyone fair hops. I’ve watched little old ladies, straphangers in full suits, other city workers, and yes rowdy ass groups of teens wholeheartedly not pay for the train or bus in this city like it’s their god given right. Secondly, I might not pay if I’m running late to get to the office and forget to refill my Metrocard. The difference is because I have dimples in my Brown cheeks and I’m not in a group or loud or male, I know with confidence I won’t be arrested or rushed with guns if I do.    

Quinones, Navarro, and their friends in Coney Island have family, support, and community rallying behind them because they want to see that played out scene change. I want to see it change. I want the kids to interact with the police if necessary and then get go home.

I have ridden shotgun in the lives of too many Black and Brown men that gave up on hope and said fuck it to healing from some racist thing or another that happened when they were 13 or 17 or 25. 

It’s like watching the brightest sunflower dim and wilt in real time.

The way they laugh and curse about that one time a cop yoked them up when they’re with friends, but curl in and tell their stories in whispers later. The little shoulder shrug of talking about going to central bookings for fighting to not be in a gang as teens and then still having fits in their sleep. Of boys in Brownsville who drank and smoked and danced and got tattoos to be numb because they thought they’d be dead, usually having been shot by this age since that’s what everyone said. The ones who grew up without moms or dads, or worse, the ones that grew up with moms and dads too tired from their own struggles to live.

Everytime my father went on a rant for hours or days even after being pulled over unnecessarily or fitting the suspect description of being 6 foot and dark skinned, I knew I was witnessing something as a child that I couldn’t name. It looked like it hurt, the way a needle under your fingernail hurts and pisses you off at the same time. 

In old Park Slope, before it became the beauty of a neighborhood it is now, my father and I went to visit my great grandmother who lived in an ancient brownstone on Park Place. The kind of brownstone house flippers chomp at the bit to tear apart nowadays. When our family still owned it, the stairs sloped to the right and the radiators were underneath large metal grates in the wooden floors. I was sitting with great grandma when he went out for ice cream and snacks. It was well past midnight when I realized he hadn’t come back yet. There weren’t cell phones then so I wasn’t sure who to call. Great grandma assured me he wouldn’t just leave me. We waited and waited and waited. In the wee hours of the morning he came back with the ice cream pint melted.

Apparently, the cops had picked him up and taken him to the station because someone in the area fit the description and possibly had the same name as my father. It took hours of him patiently waiting and accepting whatever mistreatment to explain to them that he was a former corrections officer and therefore already in the system if they just ran his name. They did, eventually, and were apologetic when they gave him a ride back. 

He never said much that night, just apologized about the ice cream. It was a real contrast to the usual complaining and anger he directed at officers whenever he felt slighted out of uniform. I remember then thinking that he looked tired. 

The list of my fathers, his friends and brothers or my boyfriends, cousins, and coworkers that have the same story or stories like it is endless.

It’s hard to love people when they go through things like that by the time they’re grown men. Hard but not impossible. Here’s the thing though, it shouldn’t have to make it that far.

So I ask, what would happen if the first time a young Black or Brown boy came home screaming mad and crying over feeling invalidated and afraid for his life, a mother hugged her son, a father stood up for him, his friends asked for justice with him, the cops and city agencies listened to him, and the media spread his story? 

What if he was given the agency to feel and defend himself and others? 

What if more Black women weren’t appointed to be therapists, saviors, and homemakers to rebuild the boys the world wounds because of their skin? 

What would the world look like without that constant barrage of Black people suffering? 

What then?