This essay first appeared on Patch.com
A blond woman left her white SUV idling as she got out to approach a man bent over a bike. It was one of many lined up along the train platform, ducks sitting in a row. The man’s bright-white basketball shoes stood out against his black jeans, black jacket, black baseball cap and dark skin. He carried a large backpack over his shoulder that kept slipping off, as he worried a screwdriver into a bolt on the reflector light below the bike’s seat.
“Hey, is that yours?” the woman called to the man.
“Ain’t your business, now is it?” he said, too busy to turn around.
“Well, there have been a lot of bike thefts around here,” she said.
“So I heard,” he grunted.
“I think you better stop that.”
“Lady, just leave me alone.” The man answered as his fingers worked the reflector light off the bike.
“I’m going to have to call the police.” She pulled a cell phone from the pocket of her beige business suit.
“Goddamn it,” the man swore under his breath. He stood up and turned to look at his accuser. “Why is it every time a black man does something, you whites gotta think we’re stealing or thieving?”
“I told you I’m calling the police,” she yelled as she backed away.
Suddenly, the traffic cleared, and I was forced to continue driving on along Alma. Within moments, two police cruisers sped past me in the opposite direction, their lights were flashing as they raced to their destination, heroes to the rescue.
That moment, that brief glimpse into someone else’s drama, has stayed with me for days. Was he stealing the bike light? Was she acting responsibly by challenging a man whom she clearly thought was doing wrong? Or was this a case of false accusation, one laden with inherent racism? If he was white, would she have even assumed he was stealing at all? Could it have been just another example of the bias that happens everyday across cities and towns in our great country? And what would I have done in the same situation? Would I have chosen to approach the man? Or would I have avoided doing so for fear of being accused of racism or, more likely, because of indifference?
Not my problem. Or is it?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but on this day when we honor the memory of Martin Luther King Jr. and all that he stood for, I am taking time to ponder them. One thing I do know: I believe we have a responsibility to watch out for each other. The question we must ask ourselves, though, is which “other” are we watching out for?