COMMENTARY: Walking While Black- Is It A Crime?

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  • An African-American English professor was roughed up by Arizona police, handcuffed, slammed on the squad car, thrown to the pavement, and arrested. Her crime: jaywalking.

    You read it right – jaywalking. Who gets arrested for jaywalking these days?

    In this particular case, police arrested Arizona State University professor Ersula Ore and charged her with assault on a Tempe, Arizona police officer last month. But Ore says she was the victim, not the assailant. Ore said she was walking home from class at Arizona State University when she was approached by the police officer. Ore was walking in the middle of the street, she said, to avoid construction in the area. In a state with a documented history of aggressive racial profiling, Ore’s case is troubling but not surprising.

    Arizona police are well-known for profiling people of color. It took a Super Bowl boycott and several years of activism for the state to restore the Martin Luther King holiday as a paid state holiday. More recently the state enacted a divisive immigration law. There is no legitimate reason, in my view, why Ore was arrested and why the officer felt the need to take Ore to the ground in handcuffs. One look at the video from the officer’s dash camera seems to confirm Ore’s version of the events. She was asking reasonable questions, she was not rowdy, and she told the officer that she was a college professor.

    But the officer seemed determined to manhandle her. The Arizona Ethnic Studies Network believes this incident may be connected to racial profiling, and is criticizing ASU for not undertaking a full investigation of the incident. “In a state and metropolitan region in which racial profiling has been proven to be widespread, the ASU administration’s lack of concern for the well-being of an ASU community member of color is unacceptable,” the Arizona Ethnic Studies Network said in a statement.

    Appearing CNN’s New Day this week, Ore was asked about the incident and said, “I think I did what I was supposed to do. I was respectful. I asked for clarification. I asked to be treated with respect, and that was it.” In a dashboard camera recording by police, Ore questions officer Stewart Ferrin and asks him to be respectful. They argue and Ferrin threatens to arrest Ore unless she produces her ID.

    “If you don’t understand the law, I’m explaining the law to you,” the officer says. “The reason I’m talking to you right now is because you are walking in the middle of the street.” Ore explains that she walked in the street to avoid construction. “I never once saw a single solitary individual get pulled over by a cop for walking across a street on a campus, in a campus location,” she says. Ferrin then tried to handcuff Ore. “Don’t touch me,” Ore says, her voice beginning to rise. “Get your hands off me.”

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