To the Black Women Being Harassed Out of Their Neighborhoods
I moved from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Tucson, Arizona in August of 2018 after being accepted to a doctoral program at the University of Arizona. I found a one-bedroom duplex in a neighborhood that seemed adequate: there was a park with plenty of green space (which is rather rare in the middle of the Sonoran Desert), and the place was right off of the main thoroughfare allowing for a quick commute to the university.
A month or so after moving in, I was standing in my driveway when I noticed a white man, probably in his mid-30’s, in a beat-up Dodge Caravan driving by my place slowly and glaring at me. I watched as the man drove all the way to the end of the block, keeping his eyes glued on me the entire time. His body turned awkwardly backward as he drove toward the end of the street.
I wrote off the incident as a misunderstanding (whether it was his or mine I wasn’t sure) and walked back into my apartment.
The next time I was standing in front of my place, Mr. Red Minivan rolled by and did the same thing. He slowed almost to a stop as he drove by my apartment and kept his eyes trained on me all the way down the block. This time, instead of continuing on, he drove around the block and did it again. I was still outside when he came by the second time. As he glared at me, I gave him my most sincere “the f*ck do you want” face until he drove out of sight.
I immediately called my bestie and described what had happened. A Black woman who had been brought up in the Deep South, she only had five words of advice for me: do not make eye contact.
Weeks later, I was driving in my neighborhood at dusk when another white man started walking up to my car. He moved quickly, as if he either needed something or hadn’t seen me there.
I was forced to hit the brakes when I realized that he was going to continue walking right in front of my car — which he did. Then, on some straight-up slasher movie shit, the guy stopped, turned and stood to glare at me through my windshield.
He stood there for about ten seconds until I finally got him to move by letting off the brake a bit. The man turned and continued his way across the street.
While the interaction caused my heart to beat out of my chest, I chalked it up to mental illness deciding that no mentally fit individual would act this way.
I was wrong.
The next year of my life would be filled with slow drive-bys, threatening glares, men walking up to or in front of my moving vehicle, and the sensation that I was being watched.
I once stayed at a friend’s place for a few days. The minute I turned onto my block following my stay, Red Minivan pulled out of his driveway and did his routine. Slow roll, menacing glare, your-kind-don’t-belong-here vibe.
Was it a coincidence?
It might have been.
But it wasn’t.
I reached a breaking point in November of 2019. I suddenly was no longer able to ignore or shrug off the men’s behavior. I felt them getting angrier and bolder and noticed that the incidents were happening more and more frequently.
It was time for me to go.
Fortunately, I had community of people who showed up to keep me safe. Friends gave me a place to stay, watched my dog, gave advice, accompanied me to my apartment, and helped me pack.
A number of them also recommended that I file a police report.
I avoided this piece of advice for weeks for fear of a) not being taken seriously, and b) the possibility that the men were part of local white supremacist groups connected to the police.
Because, the history of U.S. policing.
Nevertheless, I reluctantly made my way downtown to file a police report thinking that if something were to happen to me or someone else at the hands of these men, it would be beneficial to have a record of our interactions on file.
The officer behind the counter barely looked up as I explained the situation and then advised, “looking at someone while driving slowing and standing in front of a vehicle are not crimes.”
I was able to stay with friends for about six weeks while I looked for a new place to live. By mid-January 2020, I had transitioned to a more welcoming (read: Blacker and Browner), safer part of town.
I’m sharing this story because I recently came across this article: https://www.insider.com/new-york-couple-charged-racially-harassing-black-neighbor-2020-8?fbclid=IwAR0eAoOeC3J1RFmdcV5NWa2iQ2fnSb18ClAKw4BAQNvWh2qNP1Omco-4r8.
It tells the story of a single Black woman living in Long Island, New York, tormented by a white couple living next door. In the article, Jennifer McLeggan, describes having dead squirrels and human feces thrown onto her property and being told that, “she can be erased.” Fearing for her life and the safety of her baby, McLeggan pasted a large sign inside the glass of her front door listing all of the transgressions of her neighbors. She explains her thinking behind this by saying, “I figured that if something happens to me, like it did to Breonna Taylor, at least people would know that I have a baby in the house and to call my mom to pick up the baby.”
Reading Jennifer McLeggan’s story gave me an odd sense of validation. Even though I knew everything that I experienced actually did happen, knowing that another single Black woman had gone through something similar gave me a renewed sense of reassurance that I hadn’t imagined my situation.
I hadn’t imagined any of it.
Like McLeggan, I was targeted by these white men because I am a single Black woman living in a country where we are constantly undermined, exploited, threatened, intimidated, pushed out, maimed, and disposed of without consequence.
I think about Breonna Taylor and Atatiana Jefferson every day.
I am sharing this story so that other Black women who sense or know that they are being harassed out of their neighborhoods might feel the sense of grounding that I felt while reading Jennifer McLeggan’s story.
It’s really happening and I’m sorry.
I hope you have people to pull you through.