Black legislator gets police called on her while canvassing her own district on Fourth of July eve


Oregon state Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-51) was canvassing a Clackamas, Oregon, neighborhood she represents Tuesday when a Clackamas County Sheriff’s deputy pulled up and asked if she was “selling something,” OregonLive reported.

“I don’t believe this,” Bynum recalled thinking, according to the outlet. It was around 5:10 p.m. The black, 43-year-old legislator had spent the past two hours knocking on almost 30 doors in the Portland suburb, talking face-to-face with her constituents in advance of the upcoming November election.

The deputy told Bynum someone had called 911 on her. The caller reportedly told dispatchers a woman was spending a long time at houses along Southeast 125th Avenue, and appeared to be “casing” them, taking notes on her cellphone.

Bynum quickly cleared things up with the deputy — whom she described to OregonLive as “courteous and professional” — and told him that she was a state legislator and kept notes on her phone about people she spoke to.

“When people do things like this [calling 911 erroneously], it can be dangerous for people like me,” she recalled telling him, according to OregonLive. Bynum did not immediately respond to Mic’s request for comment.

Tuesday’s incident takes on added significance in light of current events. On Saturday, neighboring Portland — an eastern section of which Bynum also represents — played host to a violent gathering of Patriot Prayer, a far-right activist group with whom members of white nationalist organizations like Identity Evropa and the Traditionalist Worker Party have marched, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The following Thursday also marks 166 years since slave-turned-abolitionist Frederick Douglass made his famous Fourth of July speech to a gathering of people in New York in 1852.

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July?” Douglass asked. “I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.”

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July Fourth celebrations across the US in 2018
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July Fourth celebrations across the US in 2018
Children in costumes march down Main Street during the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Kaitlyn Tarnoswki, 14, carries an American flag while riding a horse during the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
A boy rides a decorated bicycle down Main Street during the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Two children ride on a mini all terrain vehicle down Main Street during the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A man throws candies from a vintage car as he rides on Main Street in the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
Three-year-old Daisy, a Dachshund Terrier, is adorned with US flag colours awaiting a Fourth of July parade in San Gabriel, Califoria on July 4, 2018 as cities and towns across America celebrate Independence Day. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: Residents watch the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
A man in Captain America costume rides down Main Street during the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
A woman throws candies from a vintage car as she rides on Main Street during the annual Fourth of July parade in Barnstable Village on Cape Cod, Massachusetts, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: Two young boys prepare for the start of the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: Allie Graves drives a four wheeler with a friend before the start of the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: A young boy rides a toy firetruck during the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03: Three-time Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum selling artist Pentatonix perform at the 2018 A Capitol Fourth rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn on July 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts Inc.)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03: Three-time Grammy Award-winning and multi-platinum selling artist Pentatonix perform at the 2018 A Capitol Fourth rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn on July 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts Inc.)
Young Kim, Republican U.S. Representative candidate from California, smiles before a Fourth of July parade in Hacienda Heights, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. Kim is seeking to replace retiring Representative Ed Royce in the 39th District. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Young Kim, Republican U.S. Representative candidate from California, waves during a Fourth of July parade in Hacienda Heights, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. Kim is seeking to replace retiring Representative Ed Royce in the 39th District. Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Gil Cisneros, Democratic U.S. Representative candidate from California, left, waves while riding in a car with his wife and sons during a Fourth of July parade in Hacienda Heights, California, U.S., on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. Cisneros, a Navy veteran,�is backed by Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC). Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg via Getty Images
A man waves the US flag while driving his classic car during a Fourth of July parade in San Gabriel, California on July 4, 2018 as cities and towns across America celebrate Independence Day. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: People cool off in the water at the end of the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
A Cub Scout join a Fourth of July parade in San Gabriel, California, on July 4, 2018 as cities and towns across America celebrate Independence Day. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: People walk and ride down the road during the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
NEWBERRY, SC - JULY 04: Nine-year-old Wyatt Stuhr waits for the start of the sixteenth annual Harper Street Parade on July 4, 2018 in Newberry, South Carolina. The event, beginning as a small bicycle gathering with less than thirty children, attracted 4,000 people last year. (Photo by Sean Rayford/Getty Images)
A girl makes bubbles during a Fourth of July parade in San Gabriel, California on July 4, 2018 as cities and towns across America celebrate Independence Day. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP) (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 03: THE VOICE Season 14 finalist Kyla Jade performs at the 2018 A Capitol Fourth rehearsals at U.S. Capitol, West Lawn on July 3, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Capital Concerts Inc.)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Men on horseback ride through a field after taking part in the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Horseback riders gather in a field after participating in the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: A man wearing a cowboy hat sits on a float decorated with American flag-themed streamers after the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Clinton Baermann stands next to the float for his vintage store, Cowboy Corner, after the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Patrice McKinney, dressed as Glinda the Good Witch from 'The Wizard of Oz,' tosses red, white, and blue bead necklaces to spectators during the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: A Republican Party of Texas float makes its way down Main Street during the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Spectators wave as a pickup truck covered in American flags drives by during the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: The 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade makes its way toward Main Street on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
ROUND TOP, TX - JULY 04: Spectators watch the 168th annual Round Top Fourth of July Parade on July 4, 2018 in Round Top, Texas. The Round Top community's Fourth of July celebration started in 1851 and is known as the longest running Fourth of July celebration west of the Mississippi. (Photo by Tamir Kalifa/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump arrive during a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump walk after greeting people during a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People stand during the National Anthem at a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A woman uses a fan with the U.S. flag on it before the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump at a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump arrive during a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
A man kisses a child before the arrival of U.S. President Donald Trump and U.S. first lady Melania Trump during a picnic for military families celebrating Independence Day at the White House in Washington, U.S., July 4, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
People attend a picnic for military families on the South Lawn of the White House July 4, 2018 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Brendan Smialowski / AFP) (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Douglass’ speech and Saturday’s rally highlight the deceptively short distance American race relations have come since the antebellum period. Then, blacks could not fully participate in Independence Day because they were enslaved. The holiday still has an enduringly complicated nature today, when a black lawmaker is perceived by her own constituents as a would-be criminal for trying to earn their vote, while far-right protesters gather mere miles away.

More pointedly, Tuesday’s incident marks yet another example of mostly white Americans using police involvement — or the threat thereof — to regulate harmless black behavior. Recent antagonists who have gone viral include the white woman in Oakland, California, who called police on black men for having a barbecue in a public park and Alison Ettel, the white San Francisco cannabis entrepreneur who threatened, and then pretended to call police on, an 8-year-old black girl for selling water “without a permit.”

These calls have sparked nationwide debate and hashtags, as has Randy Krakora, a white man who called police on black 12-year-old Reggie Fields for inadvertently crossing onto his property while mowing Krakora’s neighbor’s lawn in Maple Heights, Ohio, in June. For many, these individuals have encapsulated the frayed relationships between black and white neighbors, and how white people often address this disconnect by summoning armed reinforcements.

The cost of the resulting interactions can be deadly. According to the Washington Post, black people have been almost one-fifth of fatal police shooting victims in 2018 so far, despite being just 13% of the national population. White fatal police shooting victims, on the other hand, constitute 40% of the total, despite white people being more than 76% of the population.

Rep. Bynum does not know the race of the person who called police on her Tuesday, according to OregonLive. But she was able to convince the deputy to let her speak to them by phone. The caller — a local woman who reportedly wouldn’t say what house she lived in — apologized to Bynum and said she only made the call out of concern for neighborhood safety.

Bynum would have preferred that the caller just talk to her directly, or simply ask a neighbor what was going on.

“We all know that we’re not in a society that is perfect, and we have wounds that still need to heal,” Bynum told OregonLive, “but at the end of the day, I want to know my kids can walk down the street without fear.”

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