This scenario explores the intersections of race, class, and gender. It takes place in the Crown Heights area of Brooklyn, New York. Two police officers have stopped two people in a car on Nostrand Avenue and Bergen Street. After some time, a passerby interrupts the situation.
- Officer Smith, a uniformed White officer from Brooklyn in his late 30s
- Officer Johnson, a uniformed Black officer from Queens in his late 20s
- Sarah, a Black, masculine-presenting female dressed in baggy, fashionable men's clothing, including a large hoodie and a fitted baseball cap; she is from the suburbs of Virginia and is college-educated and from a middle class background
- Jimmy, a Black trans man wearing a short-sleeved T-shirt and fitted jeans; he is from the suburbs of Long Island and is college-educated and from a middle class background
- Carl, a young Black man from Crown Heights, wearing fitted jeans and a baggy hoodie; he is from a working class background and will attend community college next year
Jimmy is parked outside of a grocery store, while Sarah goes in to pick up a few things. When Sarah returns to the car and they start to drive away, a police car with two officers pulls them over.
Officer Johnson: License and registration, please.
Jimmy: Yes, sir.
Officer Smith is on the other side of the car and tells Sarah to roll her window down. Jimmy hands the officer his license and registration. Officer Johnson looks at Jimmy's license with confusion and then at Jimmy with frustration.
Johnson: Is this your ID? Are you a man or a woman?! Get out of the car! Now!
Jimmy gets out of the car.
Jimmy (shakily but politely): Officer, can you please tell me what I have done wrong, sir?
Officer Johnson looks at Jimmy with confusion and pauses.
Officer Johnson: You and your buddy here match the description of two perps we're looking for. What are you two doing out here?
Sarah: We're just picking up some items for a sick friend from the grocery store.
Officer Smith (surprised and confused by Sarah's high-pitched voice): Look, s— , m— , ma'am (he stumbles), there was a violent robbery 10 minutes from here, and you two fit the description—but we're looking for two . . . men.
Sarah: Officer, we've been at this grocery store for the past half-hour or so.
Officer Johnson: Smith, I don't think these ladies are who we're looking for.
Just as the police are about to tell Jimmy and Sarah that they can go, Sarah's upstairs neighbor, Carl, walks by. Carl recognizes Sarah and is immediately aware and wary. He knows how often black and brown people get stopped and frisked "randomly" in his neighborhood.
Carl: Hey, Sarah, everything all right?
Both officers turn their attention to Carl.
Officer Smith: Looks like we got another suspect, Johnson.
Officer Johnson: Hey, you! Get over here!
Carl: Hey, man, I'm not causing any trouble. I'm just looking out for my girl here. I'll be on my way if everything's fine.
Carl starts to walk away.
Officer Smith: Do not make any further moves!
Both officers walk over to Carl and corner him.
Carl: I haven't done a damn thing. You have no reason to stop me.
Officer Johnson (into his police radio): We have another suspect. Tall, Black male in dark hoodie. Calling for back-up.
Carl: Hold up! I haven't done anything!
Carl tries to edge his way out of the corner into which the two officers have blocked him.
Officer Smith: You better shut up, young man, before we book you for resisting arrest.
Officer Johnson grabs Carl's arm. Sarah and Jimmy have been watching this change in events with a delayed sense of shock.
Jimmy: Hey, officer, I don't want to interrupt, but Carl is a friend of ours. He was just trying to make sure we were okay.
Officer Johnson: Look, you should keep quiet. Your ID doesn't match you. Mind your own business, or we can take you down to the precinct, too.
Sarah (takes off her hat and says in a sweet voice, purposefully more feminine): Officer, I'm sorry to interrupt. We don't mean to be rude. We're just getting food for our sick friend, and Carl is my neighbor and dear friend. He's just looking out for us girls.
Officer Johnson and Officer Smith look at each other, a little confused.
Officer Smith: All right, all right.
He radios in to forget about the back-up.
Officer Johnson: You ladies need to be careful out here. And you (to Carl)—you need to mind your own business. You're lucky these ladies can vouch for you.
With deep sighs of relief, Sarah and Jimmy get back into their car. Carl nods his thanks to Sarah and quickly walks away.
SCENARIO DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
1. Why do you think the police let Jimmy, Sarah, and Carl go?
2. How have each individual's class, gender, and race possibly played into how they were treated? How do perceived gender and class backgrounds of individuals affect how they are treated?
3. Name some parts of your own identity. How do these aspects of yourself gain/deny you privileges to the "justice" system? What are your experiences with officers of the law?
4. What did individuals do in this scenario that helped name, reframe, or dismantle systems of privilege and oppression? What else might they have done?
5. What Unitarian Universalist values and Principles are helpful in responding to situations like this?