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Michael Engel: Racism alive and kicking, even in Southampton

To the editor:

If anyone doubts that racism is alive and kicking, let them come to Southampton.

I was recently taking my morning walk up Route 10. A young black man was standing by himself on a corner under a shade tree next to the highway with a soft drink can in his hand — certainly not a typical sight in this lily-white town. I said “good morning” and he nodded back.

As I passed, a local police car came slowly down the highway, turned into Gunn Road and stopped in front of the man. I stopped a distance away and watched. The officer got out and apparently politely asked what sounded like, “Are you waiting to hop a ride?” There was a brief, quiet discussion between the two, and the officer got into his car and drove away. The police officer acted professionally — I saw nothing wrong with his behavior. I made a mental note to speak with the young man on my way back, but he was gone when I returned.

At first, I wondered if this was an arbitrary action by the police. I called the police department and quietly reported what I saw, and asked what it was about. I was told by the dispatcher that a resident had called them to report that someone who “seemed out of it” was standing on the corner.

Rubbish. This young man was obviously not “out of it,” and the resident was not calling out of some humanitarian concern. He was standing casually, clear-eyed, taking a break and minding his own business. No, the problem was that he was black. And that obviously offended or disturbed a white citizen of Southampton. After all, what is one of “them” doing on “my” street corner? Frankly — and unfortunately — I doubt whether this white citizen’s reaction is all that untypical in a community such as this one. And of course, this is something people of color experience all the time.

My closing remark to the dispatcher, after thanking her, was “Welcome to Southampton.”

Michael Engel


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