GRAND RAPIDS, MI – DeWitt Hill’s dreadlocks waved back and forth as he shook his head in frustration and dropped his chin to his chest.
Hill glanced up, a subtle smirk cracking through the corner of his mouth before he spoke.
“Man, I don’t even know what to say … it ain’t easy out here,” said Hill, who lives in the city of Grand Rapids. “They just do whatever they want, it doesn’t even matter how I feel about it.”
Hill was describing his recent interactions with members of the city’s police department — one that has come under scrutiny recently for its dealings with members of the African-American community, specifically.
Hill is a black man in his late 20s. He said his appearance is not only a big reason, but the sole factor leading to the police stopping him while driving on his way home from work.
It’s happened four times in the last year and a half, he said.
“They think that I’m like a murder suspect or something,” Hill said. “I’ve been highly pissed off about it. They don’t like me.”
Hill’s experience is more than anecdotal. Stories like his are sprinkled through Grand Rapids’ most diverse neighborhoods.
Earlier this year, a city-sponsored traffic-stop survey found that black drivers are twice as likely to get pulled over in Grand Rapids as white drivers.
Those findings give quantifiable meaning to the bubbling resentment of many neighbors on the city’s predominantly African-American southeast side.
Among them is 21-year-old Eboni Thompson who lives with her 1-year-old on Oakdale Avenue.
“They be harassing people,” Thompson said. “They stereotype and think just because somebody is walking or driving down the street that gives them a right to pull people over. It just makes me mad.”
On a daily basis, Thompson said she watches Grand Rapids police cars drive up and down her street, closely watching people in her neighborhood and, she said, “looking for problems.”