“See, not even an Academy Award can stop a Black man from being criminalized…”

God almighty, if it’s not the police it’s shopkeepers shaking down The Scary Black Man. And apparently it doesn’t matter if you’re an Academy Award winning actor. Forest Whitaker was on the Upper East Side and deigned to step into Milano MarketNewsOne:

TMZ reports that Whitaker said he was falsely accused of lifting an item off the store’s shelf and subsequently frisked by an employee. An eyewitness told the entertainment site that the Academy Award winner was frisked in plain view of everyone.

Of course, the shake down produced nothing belonging to the store and Whitaker left the establishment angry and embarrassed.

TMZ was told this by Whitaker’s rep:

“This was an upsetting incident given the fact that Forest did nothing more than walk into the deli. What is most unfortunate about this situation is the inappropriate way store employees are treating patrons of their establishment.  Frisking individuals without proof/evidence is a violation of rights.”

“Forest did not call the authorities at the request of the worker who was in fear of losing his employment. Forest asked that, in the future, the store change their behavior and treat the public in a fair and just manner.”

I’m so tired of hearing how because institutionalized racism has largely been addressed in the courts, that somehow there is a social level playing field out there — I dare say that in most households of color, SOMEONE has had to deal with indignities of this kind. And I don’t have to imagine it either. While living in NYC, I was subject to “shopping while black” being followed in a store (even while dressed for the theatre), and “hailing for a cab while black.” And that was in the 80s. Not much has changed, I see.

I will say that I’ve never been profiled like that since moving back to my home state of NC in 1989. The hostility in NYC on all racial fronts was much more openly polarizing than it is here. It’s not non-existent in NC (hardly!), but the divide is more nuanced — generally the racism is coupled more tightly with socioeconomic status. In NYC it seems you’re guilty as charged regardless of class, it’s indiscriminate. Doesn’t make the former right, it just illustrates a difference worth noting.

And it’s two-for-two between myself and my brother. After the Trayvon Martin gundown, my brother had this experience while walking from his home to campus to teach his classes at the University of Delaware:

My brother and his family came for a visit over the weekend and we talked about the Trayvon Martin case. It led him to share a recent experience that he had that was both enraging and depressing. He’s 43, and a professor at UD. On a recent walk to campus, in jeans (no hoodie!) and a knapsack slung over his shoulder, he was stopped by a white woman and asked what he was doing there. In his own neighborhood. Naturally, he did nothing to inflame the situation (recalling, no doubt, the training our late mom gave him years ago), and went on his way, but what does that say about the woman who perceived him as an outsider — enough so to actually approach and challenge his very presence? Is the good news that she didn’t automatically dial 911? Hey, the KKK was doing recruiting door-to-door in his countyin 2011.  It makes me sick because I know this is what young men (and apparently not-so-young) men of color face on a regular basis. Soul-draining.

UPDATE: Later on Saturday, employees at the store denied that the incident occurred.

A manager at the Upper East Side deli denied that the incident occurred, telling E! News, “nothing ever happened at this location yesterday” involving Whitaker.

Especially odd since the NY Daily News reported that an employee confirmed it did occur. So who’s fibbing, Whitaker and his rep, or the deli’s staff/management? Whitaker has zero to gain from this, but the deli, of course, has a lot to lose.

If you would like to politely contact Milano Market to ask it to clarify its treatment of the situation.

1582 Third Avenue,
(Corner of 89th & 3rd)
New York, NY 10128

Tel: 212.996.6681 OR 212.996.6686