Being Black in Beaumont

by

Marva Gail

Michael Brown’s hometown of Ferguson is thousands of miles from Beaumont, but for some AfricanAmerican males they believe there are Darren Wilsons in the Beaumont Police Department and other law enforcement agencies across the country.

Individuals in Beaumont’s black community believe there are potential shootings by police of unarmed, black, teenagers waiting to happen. Some parents are living in fear their son will be the next Michael Brown.

Beaumont has already had a Michael Brown-type shooting, according to Beaumont Police retired Sgt. Raymond L. Shearer, now an attorney and assistant professor of social work and criminal justice at Lamar University.

“What short memories the people of Beaumont have. It was in February 2010 when a Jefferson County grand jury cleared Officer Don Gordon for fatally shooting Matthew Beckett during a confrontation,” he said.  Both the victim and the officer in that case were black.

Shearer said there are instances when deadly force is necessary, when a policeman believes his life is in danger. He pointed to sections 9.31, 9.32 and 9.33 of the Texas Penal Code which instructs Texas Police Officers on the use of such force.

What happened to Michael Brown could easily happen in Beaumont, Ryan Dixon, 29, a senior at Lamar University said.

“The protesting that is taking place in all these cities are because people are angry that the grand jury in Ferguson did not indict a man for murdering an unarmed, black, teenager,” Dixon said, adding that he and his best friend, Quinten Ruffin, had a similar experience with a Beaumont Police officer a year or so ago.

“We were outside a friend’s house when we witnessed an illegal transaction take place down the street,” he said. “There were cops sitting staking out another property, but the activity was wide open — we know they saw what we saw. After the illegal action was completed, we saw the cops head in the direction of the individuals. We just knew there was going to be an arrest. The cops pulled into the yard where we were and started harassing us. They made us show identification, interrogated us, and then they conducted an illegal search of our car while it was parked on private property.”

Ruffin confirmed the story.

“This is kind of police harassment that makes you angry and you just want to do something,” Ruffin said. “People are protesting because a lot them have had the same experience Michael Brown had and we had.”

Ruffin and Dixon said they have been profiled while walking and while driving since they were in middle school.

“I have been stopped and arrested by Beaumont police more times than I care to say, and I don’t have a criminal record,” Dixon said.

“I cannot recall the first first time I was stopped or arrested, but I was stopped a lot when I was in high school, walking or driving home. I was wearing the attire of my time, you know, the oversized shirt and baggy jeans. I do remember being frightened because I knew I had not broken any laws. As a child, I did not know police could stop innocent people because of the way they looked or dressed.”

A former defensive lineman for Westbrook High School, Dixon is 6’1 and weighs 265 pounds.

“I am a big guy and I always seem to fit some kind of police profile,” He said. “I have never learned exactly what profile, but whatever it is, cops think they can stop me at any time.”

Dixon grew up on the west side of Beaumont in an upper middle-class home with both parents and two sisters. He said he remembers when his parents moved into the neighborhood. They were the only black family and one of the first families to build a home in the subdivision. As the community grew and more white families came, Dixon said the newcomers would look at his family suspiciously if they were walking or riding their bicycles. However, over the years, things changed and people became friendlier.

Ruffin, a 29-year-old graduate of Lamar Institute of Technology, said that like Dixon, he has also been stopped by police many times.

“We have been stopped individually and together,” he said. “When the police first stopped me I was in school, too, and it was because of the way I dressed. I did not understand it, but then I got used to it. As I have gotten older and no longer dress that way, I realized it never had anything to do with the way I was dressed. I was profiled, because I still get stopped.

“If Michael Brown approached Officer Wilson like he said Brown did, it’s probably because Brown got tired of the harassment he received from cops over the years. I know I have gotten tired of the harassment and humiliation.”

Ruffin also grew up with a middle-class background. He is about 5’11 and slender. His parents were divorced, but remain friendly. He lived with his mom and spent a lot of time at his dad’s home. He is now employed with Turner Industries in Houston.

Ruffin said the first time he was stopped he was polite to the officer, and answered questions unrelated to the reason he was stopped.

“But after getting stopped so often, I quit answering questions unrelated to why a cop stopped me,” he said. “I remember once being detained by a cop on my way to work, and he wanted to know why I took this specific road. Then he asked what kind of work I do. I refused to answer and asked him to limit his questions to the reason he stopped me. Eventually, he let me go and I was not issued any kind of ticket. This is the kind of stuff that makes you mad.”

Ruffin recalls the time he was nearly charged with a serious offense.

“A few years ago, I was almost hit with a felony charge,” said Ruffin.

He said, “I was visiting my brother at a correction facility. You are not allowed to have firearms in your possession while on their property. I didn’t know that. When I passed one section of the guard area, they asked if I had a firearm. I told them the truth. It was in a lockbox in the trunk of my car. I told them I had my papers with it showing I have the right to carry. Prior to getting to the gate, I did not see a sign that said weapons are not allowed in a car. They had a sign posted about 20 yards away that was about a foot wide and not visible. The Warden was called out to the gate. Investigators came to question me. It was rough. I had no prior record, but they wanted to give me 10 years. Of course, I beat the case and have no record for this. But getting arrested for this firearm situation was humiliating and scary.”

Dixon echoed Ruffins’ feelings regarding the humiliation of being arrested.

“The first time I was arrested it was for some unpaid parking tickets. They put me in a holding tank with guys who had committed serious offensives like assault, drug dealing, and armed robbery. I could not believe I was placed in a cell with these guys. I know you must pay parking tickets, but getting arrested and placed in jail with serious criminals is crazy.”

Ryan said, “I can understand why some black men get upset and want to go off on cops.” He recited an encounter he had with a Beaumont Policeman when he was stopped while driving.

“From my years of working in the plants, making a lot of money, and living at home, I bought a Lexus LX 400. I was a young man, and of course, I knew this car would be a girl catcher. I was stopped, and the first words out of the policeman’s mouth were where did I hide the drugs? He then asked what do I do for a living. Finally, he accused me of being a drug dealer and wanted me to admit it.”

According to Brad Garrick Harden, Assistant Professor of Sociology at Lamar University, “It is no myth black males are racially profiled.” He referenced a 2008 study conducted by the U. S. Justice Department which stated, “Black males are three times more likely to be stopped, without probably cause, than white males.”

Harden said, “White males are the ones that should be profiled because we are four times more likely to have contraband on us.”

According to attorney Shearer, “Racism and profiling happens every day across the country. It happens on both sides from the citizens and from law enforcement officers.”

“Black males driving luxury cars are more likely to be profiled as drug dealers compared to white males.  White males are profiled as spoiled, rich children,” said Shearer.   This type of profiling is conducted by both black and white police officers he said.

“When I was on the force, I would walk the beat and go into neighborhoods to meet the people. There is the mentality of you are one of them. Citizens must realize not all policemen are the same. Policemen must also recognize not all people of a specific community are the same,” said Shearer.

Dixon said it is difficult getting pass the racism. He said, “As a student of Criminal Justice, I was excited about my interviews for the two internships I was offered this fall semester. I went to the first interview with the parole board, and I could not get past the secretary at the front desk. I told her who I was and to whom I needed to speak with regarding the internship. She asked me if I was a parolee. I explained to her I am Criminal Justice student from Lamar. She looked at me again and asked are you sure you are not on parole. I looked and her and left. I accepted the internship with the probation office. This is the kind of racism that causes black men frustration.”

Dixon said the only way this kind of profiling will change is to work from within. He said when he graduates he will continue to work at changing the image of black males.

Ruffin said he believes, “The only way to really change the system is to have honest and open dialog about racism. This interview has helped me relief some of my anxiety just by talking about my feelings,”

Ruffin and Dixon believe racism will continue throughout their life time. Ruffin said, “In the minds of white people there is no difference between Flavor Flav and Barack Obama.”

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