Shoveling While Black

Politico Magazine 
April 14, 2015
By Michael Levin
Doug Glanville knows what its like to be unfairly targeted by the cops. Here’s how he’s fighting back.
When North Charleston, South Carolina, police officer Michael Slager pulled over Walter Scott last week for a broken third taillight, the confrontation ended, after a brief foot chase, with Slager shooting and killing Scott. That could have been Doug Glanville. He knows exactly how terrifying an unwanted police encounter could be—and how unnecessary such “microaggressions” truly are.
After all, he’d once shoveled his driveway.
Last winter, Glanville was shoveling snow at his house in Hartford, Connecticut, when a white cop pulled up across the street.
The officer apparently didn’t recognize Glanville—a 44-year-old African-American engineering graduate from the University of Pennsylvania, former star centerfielder for the Cubs and Phillies, New York Times contributor and ESPN commentator.
“Trying to make a few extra bucks shoveling people’s driveways around here?” Glanville recalls the cop asking, by way of greeting. The officer may have thought that the man shoveling the snow was in violation of laws on the books in the Hartford area that prohibit individuals from going door-to-door offering services or products. But in Glanville’s case, there was an additional twist.
According to the Hartford Courant, the officer was following up on a report by a homeowner in nearby West Hartford who was unsatisfied with snow shoveling work done for her; the homeowner described the worker as a black man and told police she felt “threatened when the man banged on her door late one night, and when the man returned to her neighborhood a week later police were dispatched to confront him.”
The officer in Glanville’s case made an assumption based purely on skin color that the man shoveling the driveway couldn’t possibly be the homeowner. Adding insult to injury, the officer was from another town and had no jurisdiction or cause to question Glanville. The officer left after being convinced that Glanville was, in fact, was working on his own property, but the incident left Glanville feeling shaken.
“When someone comes at you like that,” Glanville says, “you’re thinking, ‘this is really bad.’ You have to be superhuman to not make it into something bigger. When I saw the officer get out of the car, I kept thinking, ‘Defuse, defuse, defuse whatever it is.’”
Glanville is hardly the only black man to be treated with suspicion simply because of his skin color. In what is perhaps the highest profile incident in recent times, Harvard professor and noted academician Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested and taken from his Cambridge, Mass., home in handcuffs after a neighbor reported a black man trying to break into the home. Turns out it was Gates and his driver trying to push open the jammed front door of Gates’ home. The ensuing controversy led President Obama to invite Gates and the white police officer who arrested him to a “beer summit” at the White House.
Glanville’s case may not have garnered as much national publicity, but he is trying to use his experience to draw attention to what he calls the “micro-aggressions” that minorities and people of color often have to deal with.
“Micro-aggressions are unnecessary jabs at your identity,” Glanville says.  “It’s someone doing so simply because they have power or they are trying to assert power.”
It’s not exactly a sexy crusade, but it’s a vital one nonetheless.
For the past year, Glanville has been engaged in getting a law passed in Connecticut to clarify limits on police officers operating outside their jurisdictions. The bill, introduced by Democratic state Rep. Matt Ritter, had its first hearing in late March; the full legislature is scheduled to take up the bill in the next 60 days.
If signed into law, the bill limit an officer’s ability to act outside of his own jurisdiction. For example, if an officer is in a town or city outside of his own jurisdiction and sees a crime in progress  he could take appropriate action. The same holds true if he is pursuing a criminal suspect and crosses into a different city or town. But he must stand down if he’s outside of his jurisdiction if the suspicious activity in question is a relatively minor infraction that would only trigger a fine.
This change in the law wouldn’t guarantee that rogue officers wouldn’t act inappropriately, but it would give Glanville and others some assurances that they will be less likely to be needlessly harassed by law enforcement.
“I really have tried not to spend a whole lot of negative energy about getting into the psyche of the officer who spoke to me in that manner,” Glanville says. “All I knew was that he’s young.  I never felt it to be a positive to be crucifying this officer.  He is learning.  Instead, it’s about examining the rules he was following when he confronted me the way he did.” 
With guidance from his wife, an attorney, Glanville began a yearlong examination of the laws that allow police to enter into such confrontations—in Hartford, in Ferguson, Mo., or in any community in the United States.
Glanville’s investigations took him from neighborhood cigar shops to the mayor’s office. He came to realize that many of the precursors to race-based confrontations reside in seemingly innocuous details in  obscure municipal laws.
In broad terms, police are guided by the U.S. Constitution. But on a day-to-day basis in many states, including Glanville’s Connecticut, their contact with citizens is ruled by municipal code. As Glanville came to learn, peace officers can only make arrests outside their jurisdictions if they have crossed town lines “in immediate pursuit” of someone they have the authority to arrest in their original town or reasonably believes the person committed or is committing a felony. Shoveling a driveway to make a few extra bucks, even if technically in violation of an anti-solicitation statute wouldn’t meet either test.
But problems arise even with these two seemingly narrow exceptions because they allow officers to stop and confront more people than you might expect.
When law enforcement is given wide jurisdictional authority without constraint, a vague description—say, a black man in a brown coat—could legitimize confrontations with dozens of different people. 
“That characterization can lead to the casting of a very wide net,” Glanville says, “especially in communities with large African American populations and a lot of people who could fit a broad description.”
In addition, those exceptions permit police officers to cross jurisdictional lines with impunity and confront citizens in neighboring villages and towns. This is especially provocative in poor neighborhoods bordering on wealthier communities. A police officer from Niceville can cross into Poorville and confront residents there, perhaps playing the “hot pursuit” card, all in the name of preserving the Niceville way of life.
“Since we moved to Hartford,” Glanville says, “I have felt and have now experienced this tension between it and its surrounding towns. Part of my hope is that this effort can spark a nationwide conversation about law enforcement and borders. The issues, the challenges, the biases. Particularly between urban environments and suburban ones.”
Municipal law plays a surprisingly important role in the lives of the poor, Glanville learned. A handful of municipal ordinances allow police officers—whether they work in that jurisdiction or not—to cite people for petty offenses for which fines are levied. Many people often don’t have the resources to pay the fine, so the issue can escalate into an arrest warrant and potential jail time. This cycle recurred frequently in the in Ferguson, as documented in the Justice Department’s extensive report following the shooting death of Michael Brown.
“Once people get into the system,” Glanville says, “for many, it’s awfully hard to get out again. It just snowballs.”
At the March hearing on his bill, Glanville said, “If we choose to criminalize municipal law across borders, with the power to enforce it in other municipalities, it does accomplish one goal: intimidation, muscle flexing to remind certain people to stay on their side of the line.”
The proposed legislation has already garnered pushback from the Connecticut Police Chiefs Association, which described what happened to Glanville as an isolated incident. “In this day of decreasing resources and a continued drive for regionalized efforts, the legislature should not be taking a position that attempts to further restrict law enforcement’s ability to travel across borders to investigate crimes or violations and further protect our communities,” the association said in written testimony submitted to the committee. “The emotional enactment of legislation in response to an isolated incident is not good policy.”
Glanville welcomes the association’s input. “I think it’s very enriching to hear the practical reality on the ground from the perspective of law enforcement,” he says. “That’s very powerful. I hope they will continue to stay engaged in the conversation and help craft this bill.”
Did Glanville ever expect to be in this position?
“It’s in my bloodline,” he says. “Family members were on the front lines of the civil rights movement. My family helped integrate a community in Teaneck, New Jersey. So I guess it’s not surprising that I’ve found myself in this position.
“I just don’t want to be in that particular situation again if I can help it,” Glanville says. 
Republished from Politico Magazine.


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