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Palo Alto still has a long way to go to be as racist as Los Altos

November 12, 2008

“At last, my hometown outdoes yours,” writes a Palo Alto native, referring to Police Chief Lynne Johnson’s instruction that officers who see black people in certain neighborhoods stop them and “find out who they are,” especially those wearing bandannas.

Johnson quickly backtracked from what was most likely a verbal misstep. She was, after all, referring to suspects described by witnesses as bandanna-wearing black men and thought to be responsible for a rash of localized robberies. But that failed to stem the outcry against her. East Palo Alto residents organized a protest march. Congresswoman Anna Eshoo and Mayor Larry Klein condemned the remarks. The Weekly called for her to resign.

Does anybody seriously think this backlash would have happened in Los Altos?

On the ridealong I did in high school, the police officer made no secret that he was tailing people based on their race, nobody raised an eyebrow. When the city banned day workers from standing on the street, there weren’t exactly a large number of people wearing paper bags over their heads. (It was a standing-room-only crowd, though, as perhaps a hundred people turned out to stop a pool from being built in their neighborhood).

If you’re interested in reading more about this overblown story (or kerfuffle, if you prefer), I highly recommend the Town Square threads on Palo Alto Online. My favorite comment suggests that racial profiling would be unnecessary if black people were more like Will Smith, or perhaps his character in “The Pursuit of Happyness.” It tops even the recent comment from “PA Resident” on the Voice website suggesting that Proposition 8 was justified because “the gay person I know” is happy with the way things are.

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