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Chris Lucas: Shades of gray in Southampton episode

To the editor:

In response to “Racism alive and kicking, even in Southampton” (letter, July 19). In June of 2010 after moving to Southampton, I decided to take my bike out for a ride.

I went a mile or so before turning back, and on my return trip a Southampton police officer passes me and waves me over.

I pull over and the officer begins asking my identity and my business. I answer all his questions. I hadn’t gotten to change the address on my license yet, so he made a call to my landlord to verify it. The officer returns, hands me back my license and explains that I was reported by a resident as a “suspicious person.”

I wore jeans and sneakers — street clothes. Suspicious? Not a chance. It reads just like the letter-writer’s story, doesn’t it?

Except for one small detail: I am a middle-aged white man.

Southampton is a town where everyone knows the names of their neighbors — often everyone on the street. I know the first name of the girl at the convenience store, my pharmacist and the guy who drives hay up my street every summer. I know when someone is on my street who doesn’t live there, and while I won’t call the police on them, I might keep an eye on them, just as someone kept an eye on me.

It has nothing to do with race, not for me. It’s just watching out for my neighborhood.

I won’t say there’s not racism here — there’s racism everywhere. Southampton, Amherst, Hadley, Northampton, Springfield. I’m not arguing that. But it bothers me that you took your perception of a single incident on a street corner and wrote a letter to publicly characterize an entire town by it, that’s how it seemed to me.

Was the incident the writer witnessed racism?

Perhaps, perhaps not — I’ll never know. And neither will you. Welcome to Southampton.

Chris Lucas


Legacy Comments1

Point taken, but shouldn't we also be a little concerned if some of our towns are the kind of place where a law-abiding (I assume you are law-abiding) citizen can be pulled aside by police and questioned and inconvenienced on such flimsy accusation of being "suspicious"? I don't feel like knowing your neighbors is an excuse for full-on small town xenophobia.

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