A Black Illinois politician revealed he was stopped by a police officer as he walked out of a store after a shopping trip.
Like several other shoppers, state Rep. Kam Buckner wore a mask and gloves while he was visiting a big-box store in Chicago. But a mundane errand became a tense situation after a uniformed police officer stopped him and asked for a receipt and identification, according to the lawmaker’s Twitter thread.
“When exiting the store, I was approached by a uniformed officer who questioned the items in my cart,” Buckner tweeted on Monday. “I explained to him I had just purchased them from the store he saw me walk out of. He asked to see my receipt, which was deep in my pocket.”
Buckner obliged, but the officer “barely glanced” at the receipt, according to Buckner. The officer asked for identification, and when Buckner gave it to him, the cop went to his cruiser. After a few minutes, Buckner was free to go, but before he left he asked the officer why he was stopped.
“People are using the coronavirus to do bad things,” the officer reportedly said. “I couldn’t see your face, man. You looked like you were up to something.”
The implications of looking like “you’re up to something” bothered the resident of Chicago’s mostly Black Bronzeville neighborhood.
“When I was a teenager, a mentor, in one of a series of ‘talks’ that are given to black boys on how to maneuver a society that often looks at you as a threat first, told me to ‘dress like a prospect and not a suspect,’ in order to avoid situations like this,” Buckner wrote.
“I am a 6’4” black male from the Southside of Chicago & when not in a suit, I’m likely in a hoodie, jeans & Jordans,” he added. “[And] depending on the time of year, a myriad of tattoos may be visible. I am keenly aware of not looking like I am “up to something,” but should I have to be?”
The incident illustrated Buckner’s concerns about mandatory mask orders.
“Being a black male, I understand the historical context of a lot of the stereotypes that comes with our very existence,” Buckner told WGN. “Myself, as well as other folks who I’ve had conversations with, were extremely apprehensive about the mask order. Even though I know it’s the right thing to do, we realize there are stereotypes in place that create these critical, implicit biases that put us in danger.”
Buckner believes his social standing allowed him to walk away unscathed.
“I’m an attorney and an elected official, and I know how to deal with that in the situation. But it gave me pause because I was worried about folks who may not have as effective a resolution,” he told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“I think about young boys who may not understand how to interact with law enforcement, who may assume that they’re grown men, and then how they would act in that situation. Something like that could escalate quickly.”
The Chicago Police Department expressed a willingness to investigate, but since Buckner will not name the store, possibilities are limited.
“All investigatory stops must be predicated on reasonable suspicion that a crime has occurred, is occurring or is about to occur,” CPD said in a statement. “Anyone who believes that they may have been treated unfairly can submit a complaint to a CPD supervisor, CPD’s Office of Internal Affairs and/or the Civilian Office of Police Accountability.”