‘When They Don’t Know Who You Are, All You Are Is Black’

Bears defensive end David Bass, who grew up in St. Louis County, says harassment and racial profiling are a way of life for young African-American men in Ferguson and places like it

By
Robert Klemko
· More from Robert·
Bass says he gets stopped regularly by police when he returns to his hometown. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)
Bass, who’s competing for a job on the Bears’ D-line, says he gets stopped regularly by police when he returns to his hometown. (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

CHICAGO — Last season there were just under 30 NFL players who graduated from Missouri high schools. Five of them hail from St. Louis, including Pro Bowl safety Jairus Byrd and 2013 defensive rookie of the year Sheldon Richardson. And one of those five, Bears defensive end David Bass, grew up six miles away from the neighborhood where Michael Brown was shot and killed by a police officer, flash-boiling long simmering tensions between local law enforcement and the predominantly black community.

Bass, who was drafted by the Raiders in the seventh round a year ago, watched the drama of mass protests, arrests and looting unfold on his Instagram feed. There were local rappers laying down police diss tracks, photos of looted stores and news of friends being arrested as police in riot gear combed the city in the days following the killing. A graduate of Missouri Western with a degree in criminal justice, Bass seemed to The MMQB well suited to discuss the relationship between the people of Ferguson and its police force.

“First of all,” says Bass, who grew up in University City, “St. Louis isn’t that big. When people say Ferguson, Missouri, we don’t really think of it like that. It’s St. Louis. As a community Ferguson isn’t a bad place to grow up. It’s not the east side, with the gang violence and the killing. Ferguson used to be all white, but blacks from all over town started moving out of poorer neighborhoods into north county areas like Ferguson. There’s a lot of diversity now, with white and black people living side by side. The police stayed white, though.”

Bass visited his alma mater, Missouri Western, in June. (The St. Joseph News-Press, Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP)
Bass visited his alma mater, Missouri Western, in June. (The St. Joseph News-Press, Sait Serkan Gurbuz/AP)

According to recent survey data, 22% of Ferguson residents live below the poverty line. Bass, who grew up just to the south, on the other side of I-70, was raised alongside a younger brother by a single mom—his father died when he was seven. As a teenager he learned to fear the police after an incident at The Loop, a popular cluster of shops and restaurants in his hometown.

“People don’t trust the police where I’m from. They’re hated,” Bass says. “I was 15 and one of my best friends had just got a car from his mom, a white Lincoln, and he picked up my brother and I to go to The Loop. When we parked there were police behind us, and next thing you know, there are about 10 police cars surrounding us. They’re screaming, ‘Stay in the car! Keep your hands up! Hand over your IDs.’ People are starting to gather to watch. They took 45 minutes searching the car while we sat on the sidewalk.

“Finally, they said three black males robbed a store in The Loop and drove away in the same model car. Tell me this: If we robbed the store, why would we go back and park in The Loop?”

Bass majored in criminal justice at Missouri Western and aspired to become a crime scene investigator if football didn’t work out. Instead he became the first MWSU football player invited to the NFL combine a year ago. The Bears signed him after he was waived by Oakland on Aug. 31, and he played 12 games for Chicago. With his rookie earnings he bought a black Dodge Durango and drove it between Chicago and St. Louis during breaks. He says the police harassment has intensified in adulthood.

“When I go home I get pulled over just because,” Bass says, “and they’ll say, ‘We’re doing random checks,’ which is against the law. Or they say, there was a theft and the getaway car was like my black Durango. When they don’t know who you are, all you are is black. They don’t know that I graduated from college, or that I’m in the NFL. But when they find that out, they want to stop and have a conversation.”

When I go home I get pulled over just because. It’s about the way they look at you, the way they talk to you. Like you don’t matter.

Bass recounts an incident from just before minicamp in June at a St. Louis nightclub. He, his girlfriend, brother, cousin and a friend were out in Ballpark Village, near Busch Stadium, with plans to enter the club. Three of them went in, but the cousin was turned away upon entrance by a white bouncer without explanation. Protests from Bass’s girlfriend and brother led to her being forcibly pushed out. Bass and his friend were about to gain admittance through another entrance when a manager emerged to tell him that his friend wasn’t welcome. Bass says the friend was told by a manager, “We don’t want your kind in here starting trouble.” Bass says he started receiving frantic texts from his girlfriend, and they met to share stories. They took the account of Bass’s girlfriend being pushed to police.

“They took one look at us and took the club’s side,” he says.

“It’s about the way they look at you, the way they talk to you. Like you don’t matter. Like you have nothing going for you in life.

“I can’t sit here and justify Michael Brown’s actions, because I don’t know what he did leading up to his death. But I know that police cannot shoot unarmed men, and the reason you have the violent reaction from the community is the violent, aggressive and disrespectful way policing is done in the St. Louis area.”’

* * *

FOOTBALL IN FERGUSON
Robert Klemko on a high school team trying to ready itself for the season in the midst of civic chaos. FULL STORY
There is, in every NFL locker room, an abundance of such stories. When black NFL players return to their hometowns driving and wearing the spoils of their new wealth, many profess to being targets of racial profiling. In Bass’s mind, that brand of harassment and those dehumanizing glares create the kind of blind rage and violent opportunism that we’ve seen in Ferguson, set off by one instance of alleged injustice. Ferguson was a gasoline-soaked woodpile before Michael Brown, just waiting for a spark.

“I’m all for the peaceful demonstrations,” Bass says. “But a lot of our youth looted. They trashed the Quik Trip, Walmart, Target, Foot Locker. They’re robbing people like it’s a way out in this time of crisis, but it’s really a sign of weakness and impatience, and for a lot of people it justifies the way we’re being harassed and profiled.

“As far as I can see, there’s no end to it.”

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211 comments
Lesterclan
Lesterclan

Did your part of life include robbing a store?  Charging toward an armed LEO after being told to stop?  No?  I didn't think so.  Here is a simple solution...When the police (or anybody pointing a gun at you) tells you to NOT MOVE, then DO NOT MOVE.  It doesn't matter if you were doing nothing wrong, doesn't matter if you were knitting mittens, doesn't matter if you performing CPR on somebody...OBEY THE MAN WITH THE GUN.  After things calm down, then you can sort things out and maybe even sue if your rights have been violated.  But it is NEVER a good idea to debate your civil liberties or racial profiling when you have a gun pointed at you.


P.S. Racial profiling?  Really?!  The young man who was shot had just robbed a convenience store.

armagecko
armagecko

Police harassment is and should be illegal. So, if you are, in fact, harassed, Mr. Bass, you can and should document the experience and contact an attorney. In this polarized society, there are plenty of organizations and legal entities that would take up such a cause (pro bono), even in the small town of Ferguson. 


Why do folks always whine about harassment but they never take legal action? If you don't stand up for yourself - in a legal, non-violent way - when you suffer harassment, then you only have yourself to blame for your resentment. Police officers who harass need to be punished - by the law. All of us need to document and report incidents of harassment, and then follow up with a legal case. Anything less is just anecdotal whining. 

JohnWentworth
JohnWentworth

Contrary to modern-day assumptions, for much of the history of the United States - from the draft riots of the 1860s to the violence over desegregation a century later - riots were often carried out by disaffected whites against groups perceived as threats to their survival. Thus riots would be become to the North what lynchings were to the South, each a display of uncontained rage by put-upon people directed toward the scapegoats of their condition (Wilkerson, 2010).

SullaFelix
SullaFelix

This is part of the problem.  The perception by the black community that everyone only  looks at skin colour.  I don't doubt that there are people like that, but they are very much in the minority.  They  need to stop viewing life from the standpoint of skin colour as much as everyone else does.  


Tolerance is, and has to be, a two-way street.  A lot of white people are sick and tired of being berated and labeled racist for not condoning the actions of black people.  We're not condoning them because you're black.  We're not condoning them because what you DO may be idiotic at best, criminal at worst.  

Bearsclone
Bearsclone

"“Finally, they said three black males robbed a store in The Loop and drove away in the same model car. Tell me this: If we robbed the store, why would we go back and park in The Loop?”


Well sir, you wouldn't, because you didn't, but criminals are generally not the smartest people.

Mech
Mech

When is the black community going to say, the reason this happens to our young men is because we have so much crime, so much drugs, so much violence. Try education as a part of a value system that stresses self reliance and respect for others. The black community continues to make excuses for their own failures. There aren't more black men in jail because of profiling. When something happens the community doesn't see the perpetrator for what he is, they see him as a victim and no matter what evidence shows he is NOT they continue to demand and shout that he IS. Is that a white police problem, NO, it's a black community issue that will never get solved until you throw out the race baiters like Sharpton and Jackson who have kept blacks on the excuse bandwagon for far too long.

JohnnyNacho
JohnnyNacho

Why are black people called African American?  White people aren't called England American or Britain American. 



BillMuller
BillMuller

After awhile it begins to seem as only a exuse to loot and burn when that's all you do as a collective race everytime a person of african descent is justly or unjustly killed in your eyes by a Caucasian..Think its time to find a new form of protest, this aint cutting it 

PaulBishop
PaulBishop

@Lesterclan 


ok clansman let's discuss your rant. First of all, there were very few looters and secondly the looting came the second night after the military police moved in on the non-violent protesters the first night. Mr. Clansman have you ever been followed around a store while shopping by a clerk. Have you ever been searched at random. There are no witnesses that say he charged the officer yet you believe that piece of it. How stupid is it to think that an individual running away, gets shot, stops and turns around charging the officer that just shot him. Your hood must be keeping your brain from processing information. These aren't isolated incidents. All over the country black men are being detained when they weren't committing any kind of crime. To make matters worse they are being killed while unarmed. Last I checked disorderly conduct does not carry a death sentence. Your post is beyond ignorant and just highlights the problem that race is in this country.

JohnBrown2
JohnBrown2

@Lesterclan You Sir have been watching too many movies.  No one charges a man with a gun in real life, especially a police officer.  People run from the cops, just as this kid did, he ran until he was shot.  


I will not comment on that any further because none of us have all of the facts.  


Let's just get down to the real issue.  A police officers should NEVER EVER kill an unarmed citizen...never ever should it happen, white, back, red, yellow or purple.  


What happened to Protect and Serve?


What happened to community policing?


Not really looking for you or any other posters to answer the questions, it was more just for thought.




CoreyButler
CoreyButler

@Lesterclan you all should stop trying to make wise cracks and start working with blacks to end racial discrimination. And stop hiding behind the internet--making tough guy comments. Nobody is impressed.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@Lesterclan  The latest evidence says he did NOT rob the store.  It also says the Killer Cop hadn't heard about the so-called robbery.


But then it's not like you care.  You're a "LEO" groupie and you'd back the Killer Cop no matter what the facts are.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@armagecko  ilarious.  Yes, complaints about this sort of harassment are REALLY taken seriously by the authorities.


You're just a racist clown.

dennisfisher
dennisfisher

@armagecko @armagecko  - I am a 60 year old white male. I have never been in trouble with the law in my life.


I was recently at an art show opening. Their was an outdoor patio with an acoustic guitar player performing music. Their were 20 or so people enjoying the performance, most quietly sitting in lawn chairs. I was given a beer and stood at the rear of the patio to enjoy the music. 


Out of nowhere someone screamed at me. I turned around and it was a police officer. I nervously asked what was the matter and he screamed at me to shut up and not move. He said I was on public property. I looked down and one of my feet was on the patio, the other just off the patio in an alley. He said he was going to arrest me for drinking on public property. I replied that I had no idea this was against the law and I would happily walk a few steps and throw the beer away or step back on to the patio. He shouted for me not to move or he would arrest me on the spot. He asked whose property it was and I told him it was an art show opening and the owner was inside. He told me again that if I moved he would arrest me and went inside. I was terrified.  I was minding my own business having a lovely evening and suddenly I was afraid my face was going to appear in the local paper for illegally drinking in public. a situation that could affect my livelihood.


I learned later that he threatened people in the gallery with arrest because they were drinking beer. No one was inside or out was drunk, belligerent, or misbehaving in any fashion. It was a group of adults, quietly enjoying art and music on private property - except for one of my feet. I stood in place afraid to move when another policeman came over. I asked if I could get rid of my beer as I had done nothing wrong and he apologetically told me that I should not disobey the sergeant, who it turned out was his boss. He seemed as intimidated by his boss as I was.After hassling people inside for 15 minutes the sergeant came back outside, strutting past me as if he had just performed a courageous duty, didn't say a word, hopped in a golf cart and rode away like Patton in his jeep.


I've been around awhile and I've never seen anything quite like this performance. The policeman created a volatile situation where none existed. He was not a public servant, he was a public nuisance. This was a group of people every community would love to host, spending time and money in a local business, stimulating the local economy in a mature and adult fashion.


I talked to a friend who is a prominent member of the local legal profession the next day, asking what the implications of filing a report on this "public servant" would be. I was told that I should do what I thought best, but that I would be putting a bullseye on myself in the eyes of the local police.


It is not as simple as you think when you are harassed by police. Filing a complaint can make your life much more miserable. I would presume it is an order of magnitude more discouraging if you are a young black man rather than an older white guy. If the episode I experienced is indeed a common occurrence in some communities I begin to understand the sense of anger and helplessness that is common in those communities

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@SullaFelix  Sure sounds like you condone the police harassment of black people, chuckles.  Which means there is something seriously wrong with you and you're a part of the problem.

number18
number18

@Mech The "black community" is never going to blame themselves. As a whole they have an average IQ of 75 and can't exist in a civilized society.See africa.

MoeLarryAndJesus
MoeLarryAndJesus

@Mech  Why are you blaming the black community for the misbehavior of white police officers?  Before drugs were a problem white police officers were treating black people with disrespect.  Why was that? 


Maybe the problem isn't what you think it is.  And maybe ignorance like yours is a big, big part of the problem.


There were no homicides in Ferguson this year before Darren Wilson butchered the unarmed Michael Brown.  Who are the violent people in Ferguson?

BlackStar
BlackStar

@Mech Hey maybe if your ancestors had not enslave black people in the first place this sh^t wouldn't be happening. And no I'm not an America.

tundey
tundey

@Mech You should really look at FBI stats on crimes. 

Alex1
Alex1

@JohnnyNacho Ive always wondered along that line... Is a white man from South Africa who moves to the USA not 'African American,' and much more so than a black man who has had generations in the USA or a black man who came to the USA from France or England?

JosieLeeSmith
JosieLeeSmith

Great question. There is no sensible answer. But you will probably get flamed for asking.

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

@JohnnyNacho


i'm a liberal white guy who is not really a fan of the word "African-American", but we are totally inconsistent as to the words we use to describe different races... but please allow me to speak for all the black people in America =)


Jesse Jackson is given credit for coining the term in 1998..


'japanese' means japanese-american with no comment to skin tone.. same for chinese, mexican, and most other designations, while Latino includes all Latin Americans but Hispanic could include Spanish people -- it gets awfully confusing..


white and black, interestingly enough, are the only races which use words that involve color.. this also helped lead to hundreds of years of bias, as white people took every 'good' quality they could find and assigned it to themselves while the natural order meant that black people were at the opposite end of the spectrum, and often used that thinking to justify slavery..


my main issue with the phrase African-American is that i think every single United States citizen is technically an African-American because if you take things back far enough every human being on earth is indeed from Africa.. and a white guy from Johannesburg who lived 50 years in Africa before becoming a U.S. citizen would simply be called 'a white guy with an accent'..


i don't THINK African-American was a reaction to the N-word, because it's a relatively new term, and by that time people were already referring to black people as 'blacks', which evolved from 'negroes' which evolved from 'colored', which evolved from much worse..


in the 1980's when a large segment of black Americans began embracing their African culture, much of it as a way to find their own identity, something unique to them which white America couldn't get their hands on..


i don't think this phrase is beyond evolving further, but i've probably already overstepped my bounds, so i'll copy and paste some interesting thoughts from people it actually refers to..


----


"I prefer to be called black," said Shawn Smith, an accountant from Houston. "How I really feel is, I'm American."


"I don't like African-American. It denotes something else to me than who I am," said Smith, whose parents are from Mississippi and North Carolina. "I can't recall any of them telling me anything about Africa. They told me a whole lot about where they grew up in Macomb County and Shelby, N.C."


Today, 24 years after Jackson popularized African-American, it's unclear what term is preferred by the community. A series of Gallup polls from 1991 to 2007 showed no strong consensus for either black or African-American. In a January 2011 NBC/Wall Street Journal poll, 42 percent of respondents said they preferred black, 35 percent said African-American, 13 percent said it doesn't make any difference, and 7 percent chose "some other term."


Meanwhile, a record number of black people in America – almost 1 in 10 – were born abroad, according to census figures.


Tomi Obaro is one of them. Her Nigerian-born parents brought her to America from England as a girl, and she became a citizen last year. Although she is literally African-American, the University of Chicago senior says the label implies she is descended from slaves. It also feels vague and liberal to her.


"It just sort of screams this political correctness," Obaro said. She and her black friends rarely use it to refer to themselves, only when they're speaking in "proper company."


"Or it's a word that people who aren't black use to describe black people," she said.



BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@JohnnyNacho All white people are not from England. Most can specify their roots. That whole slave trade thing destroyed that for black people. Many black refer to ourselves as Black Americans or simply Americans though. African American was just the best of many bad alternative to the Nword.

Hollywood26
Hollywood26

@BillMuller But the problem comes in when you think every "black" person is of African descent. My family is Caribbean, and I share little of the experience for most AAs, yet I'm grouped with them.


And I notice only blacks are judged as a collective. If a white person does something he is an outlier but yet blacks are seen as some monolithic group.  I saw a white guy at lunch here in DC throwing trash in the street. Does that mean all whites due this?  No, so why do you group blacks together based on nothing more than skin tone? 

PubliusK1
PubliusK1

@BillMuller Yo Bill.  How about we get the same kind of riled up about the Caucasian Americans who's white collar crime have cost taxpayers far more than we have to spend?  I mean truly, collectively as a race, that's how those whites act when they get in power, right?

GreyStar
GreyStar

@BillMuller  - Got to love a racist response to a person explaining how racism continues in the community that he's from. 

NewsatTwm
NewsatTwm

@BillMuller "Loot and burn, that's all you do as a collective race". I didn't realise it was the entire race, rather than a very small minority of people, doing all this looting and burning and I must have imagined all other responses.

BushidoBrownsRevenge
BushidoBrownsRevenge

@BillMuller Every time? Were their protest in Milwaukee, New York, or the countless other places were unarmed black men were killed by the police? Its time for you to wake up buddy.

ErickBodett
ErickBodett

@DougBrown @Bearsclone It wasn't racial profiling. That's the point genius. It was 'the same number of kids as who robbed the store in the same car as the get away car-filing' Otherwise known as police work.

Buck2185
Buck2185

@PubliusK1 @BillMuller  Not surprisingly, your comment makes little sense and is incorrect as well. Why don't you google search and find out the percentages, by race, that make up the jail population in the US

Mech
Mech

@GreyStar Sometimes the people patting you on the back saying "its not your fault" are really NOT your friends. Sometimes the people who are telling you it IS your fault and this is why,  are your friends. Racism is not real, everyone starts out without an opinion and one is molded by your life experience. 

Buck2185
Buck2185

@BushidoBrownsRevenge @BillMuller  I seem to remember the same looting and rioting with the Rodney King incident in LA. I also remember the looting going on in the middle of Katrina. It seems to be a pathetic pattern........

the_woodwose
the_woodwose

@ErickBodett @DougBrown @Bearsclone Police lie when they feel like it.  I was the president of a fraternity in college and we were having a dry (no alcohol) rush party, but it was pretty crazy with a live band.  The police came to the door and explained to me that someone had just robbed the 7-11 down the street and they thought he might have run into our party.  I knew they were lying, but we had nothing to hide, so I let 'em in.  I followed them around our party and during a break in the music, I heard one say to the other, "Wow, they aren't drinking."  And they left right after that.  They were looking for underage drinking, not some thief.  We drunken fraternity college kids were being profiled!  So that same model of a car that contained three black males that robbed a store in the Loop was probably just a fantasy, to cover up police profiling.  But what can you do?  Demand a copy of the police report?

humdrumdrumhumming
humdrumdrumhumming

@Buck2185 @humdrumdrumhumming @JohnnyNacho


you make a convincing argument Buck, it will fit nicely on twitter..


ps 'worlds' should be 'world's largest POS' - but it sounds like you'd know one when you saw one, because i'm sure you own a mirror..




but i'm just qualifying my post, i said the term started in 1998, that should read 1988


DougDavis
DougDavis

@Buck2185 @PubliusK1 @BillMuller Why don't we look at the stats of those incarcerated and see what percentage are from a 100% Democrat ruled and owned for the last 50 years Democrat Great Society district, the places where Democrat Great Society street soldiers are responsible for over 80% of all Americans killed by gun shot each year.


I'd also ask that you exclude those who are locked up for drug possession/abuse as not color, but those who have the financial means to pay for strong legal representation get out of jail time for those offenses while those who get the public defender end up behind bars.


There are advantages to being African American like scholarships and other race based initiatives, however when there are flashing lights behind you or a guy or girl in blue coming toward you, it is certainly not beneficial to being black, police treat African Americans like crap, less than human, and this happens to doctors, military veterans, and other exceptional Americans who make a major contribution to our society, save lives, and maintain our freedom.

DougDavis
DougDavis

@Buck2185 @BushidoBrownsRevenge @BillMuller The problem is that when you say the blacks did this or did that, you are grouping together these looting Democrats with great Conservative African Americans like Dr. Ben Carson, that is not right and it is very dishonest.


Every single white Democrat in this nation has more in common and is more closely related to these guys looting in Ferguson than all Conservative African Americans like the good doctor.


James Holmes and Adam Lanza have white skin, like those who would loot a store or participate in a riot, be it Ferguson or occupy wallstreet, they all are engaging in acts known as liberalizing and those who liberalize are liberal Democrats.

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