Field Negro: Fitting the description

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A few years ago I was at the Miami International Airport waiting on a flight. A middle aged White lady sat next to me and told me that I reminded her of an actor but she just could not remember his name. She politely asked me if I would mind telling her who it was I reminded her of……
Sometimes fitting the description can create an amusing and bewildering experience with a total stranger. Sometimes, on the other hand, it can be dangerous to your health. Especially if you are a black man in America.
Take the case of poor Charles Belk for instance.
“After Charles Belk’s Facebook post about being detained by Beverly Hills Police who mistook him for a robbery suspect went viral, the BHPD issued a statement. In it, they both defend their actions and apologize for the “inconvenience.”
In the statement issued by the Beverly Hills Police Department yesterday, police say they were looking for the sidekick of the Purse-Packing Bandit. The Purse-Packing Bandit was a woman who carried a handgun in her purse, hence the moniker, and had robbed a number of banks. Witnesses told police she had a male accomplice who would distract other bank employees while she performed the robbery. He was described as a tall, bald, black male wearing a green shirt. Belk was a block away from a nearby Citibank the pair had just hit when he was spotted by police.
Charles Belk—who is a TV and film producer—wasn’t in Beverly Hills robbing banks. He was at a pre-Emmys event, working with his client, singer-songwriter and actor Rotimi, KPCC reports. After the event, he went to meet a friend for a meal on Wilshire Boulevard, then went to check on a parking meter before moving on to other pre-Emmys activities at about 5 p.m. It was on his way to that meter on La Cienega Boulevard that Belk says he was stopped by a police officer, then handcuffed and made to sit on the curb.
He was then detained at the Beverly Hills police station for six hours before they reviewed surveillance footage, realized they had the wrong man and let Belk go. During this time, Belk said he was not read his rights, nor given a phone call.
According to the BHPD’s release:
“After an eye witness positively identified the subject in a field show-up, police arrested Charles Belk for suspicion of robbery. A follow-up investigation by detectives ultimately determined that Mr. Belk was not involved in the robbery and he was released from custody without charges.”
The statement goes on to say that the BHPD “deeply regrets the inconvenience to Mr. Belk and has reached out to him to express those regrets and further explain the circumstances. However, based on witness accounts, and his location close to the bank, officers properly detained and arrested him based on the totality of the circumstances known at the time of the field investigation.”
What Belk doesn’t understand is why it took investigators so long to just look at the tape and realize he wasn’t the man they were looking for.
“I was on the brink of tears… I couldn’t believe that they had taken six hours of my time for something that I felt was readily accessible and easily verifiable,” Belk told NBC LA.
Belk also believes that if it weren’t for his connections, he might still be behind bars.
“If I did not have a friend there that saw me, and that friend wouldn’t have called my friend who works at NAACP and she wouldn’t have called an attorney, I am convinced that I would still be locked up.”
One can’t help but wonder if it weren’t for the over 30,000 shares of Belk’s Facebook post and the surrounding media attention, if the BHPD wouldn’t have apologized for the six-hour “inconvenience” at all.” [Source]
Mr. Belk, fortunately for you there were people you could call with connections.
Millions of Black and poor folks in America do not have that luxury. What happened to you is their reality on a daily basis.
The Beverly Hills PD do not see a lot of Black folks, so, to them, we all pretty much look alike.
Still, Mr. Belk is lucky to be alive. Had he been reaching for his wallet to reload the parking meter when the police arrived, he could have ended up like a teenager from Ferguson, Missouri.
Fortunately for him, though, he will live another day to produce films and television shows.
I have an idea for the title of his next project: “WHEN FITTING THE DESCRIPTION GOES WRONG.”
This commentary originally appeared at:

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
Raised in the house, but field certified. Jamaica is the land of my birth, but I consider myself a citizen of the world. I currently lay down the law in the city of “brotherly love”. @fieldnegro
“Real talk: Daniel Rubin has a great little piece up wherein he chats with The Field Negro, the Philly-based blogger who sharply ponders all things Black on a daily basis. (Seriously, if you’ve never checked in with TFN, you should: Its author, Wayne Bennett, is a fantastic read who can cut through bullshit like a hot knife through butter, which is a far grosser analogy than I wanted to make, but there you have it.)”

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