A couple weeks ago I had an experience that highlighted and brought home to me my recent anti-racist studies and what it might mean to behave as an ally. I was driving towards the Alderwood Mall and approaching the parking lot when I noticed flashing lights. As I drew closer, I realized the lights were from a mall security vehicle. With another glance, I saw a well-dressed Black man standing 20 feet in front of the security vehicle with his arms stretched straight out from his sides and his feet spread wide. He was holding a small shopping bag in one hand.
I immediately thought of my recent reading about the profiling of Black men. Was this an incident of what might be called “Shopping While Black?” There are many stories of Black people being followed through stores or stopped by security for suspicion of shoplifting when they had done nothing wrong. The next thing that entered my heart was that I had to do something…but what? Should I stand nearby and observe simply to be a witness? Should I video what was going on? Was there something I should say to the security officer to defuse the situation? What would be the appropriate thing for an ally to do in this instance?
I entered the mall parking lot and turned down the row where I had seen the security truck stopped and the Black man being questioned. The truck and the man were now gone. It was all over…except for my quickened heartbeat and all the questions and ideas running through my head and heart.
I have a conclusion and a question from this experience. My conclusion is, as a result of my reading and study, I am seeing things in a new way. My reaction to seeing that Black man standing in the parking lot with arms outstretched was visceral. I was thinking about what the rest of his day would be like after that incident (assuming he was released). How would I feel about going to the mall after an experience like that? I might never return to the mall and go back to shopping on Amazon.
My question is this. If the security officer and Black man were still there when I got to the parking lot, what should I have done? What would you have done?
I will not soon forget the scene or the feelings.