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Fear of a black Uptown 

CL's newest columnist dissects the city's climate of intolerance

The Fourth of July. A day dedicated to celebrating America's independence from British rule. Family gatherings, cookouts, parties, fireworks, parades and other leisurely pursuits abound, all commemorating America's right to self-govern without "interference from or domination by another country or power." Americans relish the Fourth of July because the independence of our beloved country extends to our individual rights and freedoms, including our first amendment right to freely express ourselves by living as we choose, without being subjected to any undue restraints or restrictions -- that is, unless you are a young African-American living in Charlotte, N.C.

To say that I was appalled to learn of Mayor Pat McCrory's letter to the City Manager identifying African-American youth as participating in a "gangster type of dress, attitude, behavior and action," is an understatement. How ironic is it that as we celebrated the Fourth of July, young black people were (and still are) being singled-out as "criminals" for exercising their right to express themselves through style, dress and attitude, the majority of whom are good kids. According to an article in The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte Mecklenburg Police said that the Uptown crowd of about 20,000 consisted of mostly African-American youth. "Most behaved and fewer than 1 percent were arrested." Some idiots/pundits who obviously know little about social scientific research leapt over that data and highlighted the fact that 122 of the 143 adults arrested this July 4 were African-American as proof that African-Americans are troublemakers. If African-Americans are being racially profiled, as evidenced by the statements made by Mayor McCrory, then police officers will be more inclined to arrest people who fit the description. Why? Because they will be more attuned to their misbehavior -- which greatly reduces the ability to randomly identify people who break the law while increasing the probability of arresting young blacks, as evidenced by the previous data. Further, if the majority of people in attendance are African-American, then there is a higher probability that there will be more arrests of blacks based on numbers alone.

Consider this possibility: What if we identified the many drunk and disorderly well-dressed young white men and women who drag themselves from bar to bar on Tryon and College streets every day of the week as people whose presence and behavior is detrimental to our society? And what if we advised our police officers to "monitor" their behavior and to arrest them if they appear to be intoxicated? Then there would be many more arrests of good-looking, young white people in Uptown.

Numerous young whites who frequent Uptown bars engage in disorderly conduct, impede traffic and revel in disruptive behavior like bellowing and vomiting in the streets. In fact, many of them stumble to their cars to drive home. If driving drunk does not create an unsafe environment, then I don't know what does. But it is clear that Mayor McCrory and others are not concerned with the lawful or lawless behavior of young whites. One of the privileges of being white in this country is the right to be an individual, while one of the burdens of being black in this society is always being defined as part of a collective, and having individual acts color (pun intended) your collective life experiences.

Perhaps the celebration of Independence Day should be reserved for whites in Charlotte since blacks were still enslaved during that time anyway. It is ironic that African-Americans celebrate an Independence Day that did not apply to them. I guess everyone needs a day off though, although it appears that you can never get a day off from being black in this country, because some are obsessed with controlling our behavior and our bodies. Why is the presence of large numbers of blacks so threatening? French writer Albert Camus states, "The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion," which is what many young blacks are forced to do; any time that you are singled out and treated the way that they are, you are not free. And you wonder why some young blacks walk around with "gangsta attitudes." Because freedom is relative and independence is elusive when you are constantly being under siege for daring to be different as a young person in this world. Do we really all have to look like Opie or Carlton Banks to be free? I hope not. But we do need to treat all citizens equally and allow young black people the freedom to define themselves and their culture on their terms, just like everyone else.

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