Corey Lewis, a black man, was leaving a Subway in Marietta, Georgia, on Sunday with the two white kids he was babysitting when a white woman approached him. She asked if the kids were okay.
“Why wouldn’t they be okay?” Lewis responded, according to an interview with NBC News.
The woman didn’t relent, Lewis said. She followed him to his home — which Lewis recorded on Facebook Live — and, afterward, called the police on him.
Lewis called the incident “babysitting while black.” As he sees it, there’s simply no reason the woman called the police on him besides his race, because the kids were totally fine.
The children’s mother, Dana Mango, defended Lewis to the police. She recalled asking the officer, “Are you telling me that because a woman saw a young African-American male with two white kids that they were pulled over by the police?” The cop reportedly responded, “Yes, ma’am. I’m sorry, that appears to be what happened.”
“It doesn’t make sense in light of what happened,” Mango said. “They weren’t crying. They weren’t distressed.”
Lewis is a friend of the children’s parents and runs a youth mentoring group in Georgia. The woman who called the police on him has not been identified.
The story has drawn national attention as the latest example of “living while black” — when white people call the police on black people for no discernible reason other than suspicion due to their race.
“Living while black” is getting more attention
Earlier this year, Starbucks employees in Philadelphia called the police on two black men waiting for a business partner. The incident drew so much attention that Starbucks closed stores for an afternoon to educate employees on racial bias.
More cases gained national attention after that, as P.R. Lockhart reported for Vox:
It’s created a seemingly endless stream of stories involving calls to police or 911 on people of color: A black child who mowed part of the wrong yard, a black family eating at Subway, an 8-year-old girl selling bottled water, a woman using the private pool in her gated community, a trio of filmmakers staying in an Airbnb, or a group of black women on a golf course. These are just some examples of a person or group being forced to defend their presence.
There’s good evidence that racial prejudice drives these police calls, with research finding that black people are widely perceived as more aggressive and less innocent simply due to their race.
One series of studies, released last year, used various visual tests to see how people perceive the bodies of white and black men. The findings were consistent: When participants believed the man in the images was black, they generally saw him as larger, more threatening, and potentially more harmful in an altercation than a white person. And they were more likely to say use of force was justified against the black men than against the white men.
And another study published in 2015 found people tend to associate what the authors call “black-sounding names,” like DeShawn and Jamal, with larger, more violent people than they do “white-sounding names,” like Connor and Garrett.
It’s this kind of racial bias that can help explain why white people keep calling the cops on black people who are just waiting for a business partner at a Starbucks or taking care of some kids for a friend.
For more on “living while black,” read Vox’s explainer.