Reading While Black (or Booked)

So, a black male, sitting in his car, reading a book is suspicious activity. Good to know.

Louizandre Dauphin, 2016

No, the cop didn’t beat him. In fact, he was, by Dauphin’s description, “kind and respectful.” Then again, this happened in Canada, where people apologize after committing murder, so it’s hard to be sure what to make of that.


Aside from the pictures of Dauphin, which are simply spectacular, showing on the one hand that he looks like a pretty upstanding guy when he’s got on the uniform of “a small New Brunswick’s city’s director of parks, recreation and tourism.” Yep, that’s right. He’s one of them, an official guy, title and all.

And what was he doing when Dudley Do-Right approached?

I decided to take a drive to the Stonehaven Wharf and sit by the water on this cold, rainy July day and try to pacify my mind by reading the works of Timothy Keller and C.S. Lewis.”

Dauphin said that he was sitting by the ocean for a couple of hours and decided to drive back home. He sees the police car speed past him and then another one come up behind him.

Much as reading C.S. Lewis could be viewed as a low-level offense, it’s not. No really. And yet, the mounties show up.

He said that the officer was “kind and respectful,” given the circumstances. “He smiles and says that a few citizens in Janeville called the police because of a suspicious black man in a white car was parked at the Wharf for a couple hours. My response, ‘Really? I was just reading a book.’ He smiles, shrugs and replies, ‘Well, you know, it’s a small town.’ And proceeds to ask me for my license. He verifies my information and sends me on my way.”

There are two problems here. First, that some good and mind-numbingly sensitive person called the cops upon seeing a black man “parked at the Wharf for a couple hours.” If that’s not suspicious, then what is? After all, black. Man. Reading? It doesn’t get more suspicious than that, right?

But then, the police get this call and, rather than tell the caller, “thank you for your concern” and have a good laugh at the idiocy, or even, “you realize that black guys are allowed to read books on the Wharf and it doesn’t make them suspicious, right?”, the cops investigate. Because, well, you know.

Dauphin’s reaction? Priceless.


Oh, come on. How can you not love that look?

And, as might be suspected, even though Dauphin is an official guy, a former high school English teacher (in Canada, I believe they teach English as a foreign language), this isn’t the first time he’s been pegged as a #DangerousNegro.

This isn’t the first time, however, the CBC reports. About five years ago, he was stopped by police in his own neighborhood, just a few doors down from his house. The officer asked him what he was doing there and for his ID. When the officer returned Dauphin asked him if he’d done anything wrong. The officer said “no” and let him go.

“It was just another reminder that you can be a suspect in your neighbourhood,” Dauphin said.

A suspect of what? Putting aside the legal differences between our two neighbouring (yes, I deliberately included the needless “u”) nations, there remains a perception problem we share, that black guys in places where white people, and sometimes other black people, don’t expect to find black guys or don’t think they really belong are inherently suspicious.

It can be confusing that I scoff at microaggressions and the “violence” of totally benign words that, when filtered through the SJW lens, magically turn into weapons of mass destruction. After all, at the same time, I acknowledge the existence of white privilege, or black detriment, to be more precise.  How can that be?

There is a meaningful gap between claiming to be traumatized by everything that, after a thorough searching for hidden hurt, makes you sad and having one’s right to be left alone by the police honored.  Do nothing wrong, as conceded by the police, and they don’t get to question you, demand an explanation for your presence, not to mention existence, or verify your identity.  What’s your name? “Bite me, officer, that’s my name.” If there is no basis to be bothered by a cop in the first place, then nothing that follows is justified, no matter how “odd” it may appear to the caller who saw something and said something.

Many are annoyed by the resort to the “race card” whenever something like this happens.  This may be asking too much of the thinking challenged, but there are times when it is about race. This is such a time. There are certainly times when attribution of problems to race is overwrought and, well, there are really good non-racial reasons why something happened. Race may still play a role in the perception of a situation, but failure to recognize the role of other, more significant factors serves to make racial claims ring hollow.

Not here. Not with what happened to Dauphin. His freedom to enjoy his life without being subject to police interference was impaired because he was a black guy reading a book on a wharf.  They may be more polite in Canada, but they aren’t any less suspicious of black guys. Yes, there are Canadian idiots, and they look just like ours.

20 thoughts on “Reading While Black (or Booked)

  1. Rick

    Meh. I was sitting in my car reading a book propped on the steering wheel at a public park overlooking the river 40 years ago with window down. There were no more than 4 or 5 other people there and they were 100 yards away. A cop stopped by my car, got out and asked me what I was doing. I asked him if it wasn’t obvious at which point he asked for my license. He came back a few minutes later, handed me my license and told me I should “move on.” I’m white.

      1. Rick

        I’m INAL and don’t have the perception to see racism like you pros do but what was the police department supposed to do when the call came in? ” Sorry, sir, we get a lot of readers out there so we can’t send an officer out.” Sounds to me like the cop did exactly what we pay them to do and did it without a hint of racism.

        1. SHG Post author

          Sounds to me like the cop did exactly what we pay them to do and did it without a hint of racism.

          Cops exercise discretion in the situations they choose to investigate. We pay them for the exercise of sound discretion as well. In fact, there are actually laws, like Terry v Ohio (here, not in Canada), that apply. There is no law, however, called “sounds to me like.” We just don’t make this stuff up based on how things sound to you.

  2. François Bélanger

    Apparently there was no mention of race in the call to the police. People just called a suspicious vehicle (this is from Huffington Canada):

    ”The RCMP offered a slightly differing version of events Monday. Const. Derek Black said they received a call about a suspicious vehicle on the wharf last Thursday and there was no mention of the occupant’s ethnicity or race”.

    In the same article, it is reported that Dauphin says race was never mentioned in the exchange with the officer. He just assumes that it was race-related. And it certainly had nothing to do with him reading. I would say someone parked for hours at a secluded location seemingly doing nothing will seem suspicious to many people.

    1. SHG Post author

      Oh wait. The caller didn’t start screaming “black guy in car, black guy in car”? Well then.

          1. François Bélanger

            The burden is not on me to disprove anything. Dauphin is the one making assertions about race in this specific case and it’s up to him to convince us. His only argument seems to be that he’s black and that there’s no way anyone would ever find a vehicle suspicious under any circumstances.

            1. SHG Post author

              Of course the burden isn’t on you. You have no burden in this at all. But you commented, and so you put your thoughts into the mix. Had you chosen not to comment, no one would complain, “but what does François Bélanger have to say?”

              You chose to make a point. Dauphin made his. I’ve made mine. You’ve made yours. That’s how it works.

  3. Bruce Coulson

    Dauphin clearly did not check the CQ* of the area before he decided to stop and read, or move into a particular neighborhood, so this is all on him. It’s always ‘their’ fault, you know…

    It’s sad that we have to consider it a positive that Dauphin wasn’t arrested, beaten, tased, or shot.

    *Abbreviation for a term describing the number of blacks in a given area.

  4. Ben

    My first thought was that they might suspect he was contemplating suicide. Not ever suspicion is a suspicion of wrongdoing.

    I hate being stopped by the police. If the only reason I could think of was my race I would hate it more. But it may be just a failure of imagination.

  5. John Barleycorn

    Good thing his DMV data was up to date. I hear that can get pretty ugly even in Canada.


    P.S. Pro Tip: If you are from Canada and get pulled over in the United States don’t use the interjection “eh” ( “Excuse me?,” “Please repeat that”, or “huh?) when speaking to the police. Just keep your hands where the cops can see them, always store your hockey stick in the trunk, and throw in a few yes or no Sir/Mam-s when looking for clarification.

    If you are arrested anyway because the cop doesn’t buy the fact that the mayo packets are for your french fries and or he finds your hockey stick after searching your vehicle because he smelled vinegar, do not, I repeat DO NOT ask the cop why US evangelicals hate C.S. Lewis so much on the ride to jail.

    Doing so could not only lead to your untimely death on the way to jail but quite possibly lead to Canexit from NATO. And lets face it you Canadians wouldn’t stand a chance against the Russians and Chinese without our “guns”.

    P.S.S. Cultural assimilation is cool and all but can you Canadians please stop encouraging black people to play hockey? After attending a few games from this last Stanley Cup finals I don’t think I can tell you how many times I had to repeat mysellf and say, “Silly you, he ain’t black he’ a Fucking Canadian!” after hearing people point at Jole Ward and ask “Is that guy black?”

    And let’s face it, the last thing Chicago or San Jose, or Philidalepha needs is for Black Kids to start taking hockey sticks and “body armor” on the bus.

    Although it would be cool to see more goalie masks on the protest lines. Then again maybey not. You never know what might happen seeing as how American Fotball players and fans are so fragile as compared to hockey fans. Things could get out of line on the “Blue Line” in the streets.

  6. wilbur

    The scenario is interesting, too, when we consider the ramifications of the police choosing to ignore the call. If the subject of the call goes on to harm someone, more than one somebody is going to get sued.

    They get criticized no matter they do. We can agree it comes with the job, but it’s not an easy thing to figure out.

    Case law gives the police a good deal of latitude in this area, reasonably so to me. But it gets complicated when race is present (or interjected) as a factor. Just like in everything else.

  7. wilbur

    Thank you for the correction. I shoulda’ checked it first before shooting from the hip. If I had been reading your blog then, I would’ve known.

    1. Sacho

      I thought Scott was making a joke, because calling out Canadian law enforcement for not following US law seems kinda silly.

  8. david woycechowsky

    Ten years ago I spent a couple of years living in a high crime neighborhood in a large city in Canada. Because of this, I had a fair amount of first and second hand experience with the police. On the one hand, there is no real concept of anything analogous to Fourth Amendment rights. On the other hand, the police officers really did project professionalism, good judgement and intelligence in a way US police officers generally do not. Politeness was a part of it, but it went beyond politeness. Canadian police were more like how I was taught that American police are when I was a little kid. I could tell specific stories to illustrate my point, but they are boring stories in that way that competent problem solving tends to be more boring than mess-ups. On balance, my impression is that Eastern Canada has better police than the US does. Western Canada might too, but that is basically a different country to which I have never been.

    Caveat: Not trying to justify what Canadian police have done to Dauphin, or to argue against anything SHG is saying in this post.

  9. A Random Defender

    Well there you have it, if you see something, say something. What could go wrong.

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