Reporter's Notebook

Listen to this 'Talk of the Nation' topic

I am somewhat old-school about non-fiction — I instantly get a bad taste in my mouth when the reporter uses the first person (or worse, "this reporter.") But there are some stories that have to come straight from the reporter's experience — like this one, "Reporting While Black," by New York Times reporter Solomon Moore. In it, he reports the intractable story of the war between police and street gangs from a sidewalk in Salisbury, North Carolina — where he ended up handcuffed, face against a cop car. Read the article — tell us what you think. And if you have questions for Moore, post them here, too.

Comments

 

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Have you ever reported on stories outside of the US? Do you find that attitudes toward race differ in other areas, such as Canada or the UK? Have people made assumptions about you based on your race outside of the US?

Sent by Sheila | 3:48 PM | 10-2-2007

I think the severe penalties for crimes, and the extreme oppositional nature of our legal system (prosecution v. defense in court), puts police in situations of very intense pressure. Stakes are extremely high if they make a tiny mistake one way or the other in judging a person or situation. Such extreme stress tightens nerve channels, making it hard to think and act in a calm, relaxed way. If our justice system was less punitive and more rehabilitative -- more like restorative justice -- then more kindness and humanity would pervade the entire system. This would require citizens to vote for more humane laws, and get less incited by politicians who trumpet being "tough on crime." Such rigid laws turn society into a pressure cooker, ratcheting up stress on criminals (who already aren't thinking well), so they make even worse decisions. People would have to be more understanding, compassionate and open-minded to elect politicians that promote these same values. Then criminals would be less afraid and tempted to evade or harm police. This would put officers in situations of less constant threat, opening them up to relax and make less hasty decisions.

Sent by Irene | 3:57 PM | 10-2-2007

Mr. Moore's story could only be shocking to a person who is not African American, or who has never talked to one about the experience of dealing with the police. As a person who has done many interviews with both police and African Americans on the subject of "driving while black," I can tell you that it is rare to find an African American man (or, for that matter, a Latino man) in this country who has not himself had the experience of being stopped by police while driving or walking and being treated like a criminal. If black men have not had that experience personally, rest assured they have heard it from father, brothers, or friends. Women may not experience this quite as often, but they do get their share. Nothing -- not social class, education, wealth, or any other acheivement -- protects them from this. I understand that police have a difficult job to do, and they are often forced to act on incomplete information. But this isn't the only way to fight crime. The focus must be on criminal behavior, not on appearance. Until police understand the harm they do when they use these tactics -- not just to the individuals affected, but to their own efforts to have community support in their fight against crime -- they will constantly be fighting a losing battle.

Sent by David Harris | 4:03 PM | 10-2-2007

I'm not sure what to make of this story.
A man goes into a known gang area noted for drug sales in the middle of the night, that, as it turns out, is under police surveillance and strikes up a conversation. We can assume that the police recognize him as a new face and a multiracial group of police shows up in force. His loud protestations are ignored until he is positively identified and then he is let go.
This man then has the nerve to act surprised and writes in the New York Times "It's because I'm black".
Bad reporting on his part and yours.
I don't read the Times but I expect better from you.

Sent by Tim Sullivan, Buffalo, NY, WBFO | 4:18 PM | 10-2-2007

The tasering incident in Florida and this story shows that American police need some reigning in. This is America, not a police state. Now I realize why minorities in this country mistrust the police. It's time Americans wake up and realize that our ideal of "limited government" means the police cannot arrest anyone they want, nor can they taser anyone they want, nor can they slam people against police cars anytime they want.

Police either need a warrant from a judge, need to witness a crime, or see imminent danger before they even lay a hand on someone in this country.

This reporter needs to sue the police in this backwater North Carolina town and help send a message that this stuff shouldn't be happening in America.

Sent by J.C. | 11:03 AM | 10-3-2007

This story and some of the comments are what is wrong with the justice system in America. Police are "Upholders" of the law. There is no reason to arrest and handcuff a person without "Question". This is the sort of thing that can be expected in a third world country. Rights are what need to be protected as well as the law. Police that take action that blur this line should be reprimanded and cut from the force if it continues. The recent tasering incidents are only symptoms of how law enforcement looks at the private citizen.

We are citizens and not subjects.

Simply because law enforcement does not like: where we are, what we look like or disagree with what we are doing does not give them the right to subject people to arrest.

Sent by Michael Albanese | 3:46 PM | 10-3-2007