A color-blind Montgomery County is still a myth
Supporters of Montgomery County's proposed teen curfew say we shouldn't worry about racial profiling. But in this newly majority-minority jurisdiction, race is the one thing we should be talking about.
In a recent Washington Post op-ed, Montgomery County police officer Robert Carter explained that cops don't see race:
"I understand that some cops of yesteryear judged a "book by its cover." The good news is today's Montgomery County police are part of one of the first generations of Americans to have grown up "color blind," or for that matter, blind to all bias. They'll judge these kids based on something else, something they have learned quickly on this job."Though I'm not convinced that the curfew represents a "war on black teenagers," as Post columnist Courtland Milloy describes it, I cannot believe that Montgomery's police are all "color-blind," even the younger officers who like me grew up around diversity. After all, a curfew in Frederick County was struck down because police were using it to target black kids. As a black male, my experiences with racial profiling tell me I should be skeptical of statements like Officer Carter's that our cops can serve without ever displaying bias.
After all, prejudice is still present even in liberal Montgomery County, even if it shows up in subtle ways: the community meetings where neighbors equate low-income people with drug dealers or use coded language like "undesirables." Or the diner that kicks a black gay couple out for embracing in public.
Some would argue that class, not race is the biggest divider in today's Montgomery, especially with a black County Executive and three minority Councilmembers. But we're still far from being a color-blind society. At Saturday's community roundtable on youth issues, I talked to Joey, who lives in Four Corners and said he'd support a curfew. He won't take his family to Silver Spring at night because of "thug-looking kids" hanging out there. "And I'm not just talking about black and Latino kids," he quickly added. If we don't see race, is that statement necessary?
For years, Montgomery County has been proud of its liberal politics. Now that we're a majority-minority jurisdiction, we actually have to show our progressive values. After all, it's easy to be open-minded when the only minorities you see are the token black family on your cul-de-sac. It's harder when your kids go to a school that's 25% white and the signs in your neighborhood are all in Amharic or Spanish.
Some people are comfortable with that. The rest struggle each day to negotiate a world that doesn't look like it did just twenty years ago, unsure how to respond. Usually, they go with fear. And that can make even the most staunch liberal consider things normally offensive to their principles. Like trusting that police can pick out "bad" kids on a busy downtown street, even before anyone's done anything illegal, and not wrongfully accuse someone based on vaguely-defined characteristics.
The perennial debate over youth behavior and crime in Silver Spring has been going on for years. It's a reflection of how committed people are to ensuring that this community, once lost to disinvestment and urban decay, can remain vibrant and safe. Yet the discussion rarely touches on the elephant in the very diverse room and, as a result, can never be fully resolved.
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