They were stuck on the side of a suburban highway, waiting for assistance. Instead, what they got was a jarring question from a sheriff’s deputy and a background check.
On the way home from a fishing trip in May, Demetrius Williams and John Patterson — both pastors at Baptist churches in Milwaukee — got a flat tire on their boat trailer. They pulled to the edge of the bustling interstate and called an insurance company. As they waited for a tow truck to help with a spare tire, a Waukesha County Sheriff’s car pulled up behind them, lights flashing.
A deputy, Erik Michalsen, approached the two pastors in the Chevrolet Silverado. After the men explained they were awaiting assistance for the flat, Michalsen, the men say, asked them if they had any drugs, guns or alcohol in the truck.
“Sir, we’re both pastors,” Williams remembers explaining. “We wouldn’t have anything like that.”
When the deputy asked for both men’s licenses, Williams felt himself growing agitated, confused at why they were being treated like criminals when they hadn’t even been pulled over and should have gotten help. Stay calm, he thought to himself. There’s no telling what might happen. When he asked the deputy why it was necessary see their licenses, the deputy said it was standard procedure.
Deputy Michalsen returned the licenses 10 minutes later and smacked an orange sticker — used to mark abandoned vehicles — on the side of the boat, even though the men had explained they were staying with the boat and waiting for service. The pastors were rattled.
“This isn’t right,” Williams said. “We’re sitting here waiting for roadside assistance, and this man is treating us like we’re criminals.”
By now, this story probably is not surprising. It is just the latest in a series of cautionary tales about doing ordinary things while black in America: going to Starbucks, mowing the lawn, eating at Subway, staying in an Airbnb, golfing. These stories do not end in death or great tragedy, but they are not without consequence. They are evidence of fear and tension tangled up in racially-charged encounters that unfold every day.
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SOURCE: Taylor Telford
The Washington Post