What is suspicious?

what is suspicous

Years ago, during a college class, I sat near a guy who often spouted fiery anti-American sentiments. Sure, he frustrated some and angered many, but I never thought much about him. Still, though, week after week he would rant about our country. Did that make him dangerous? I remember wondering to myself “what is suspicious behavior exactly and how do I know when to be concerned about it?”

As I chatted with other people, during class breaks, I discovered several of us were a little concerned about this guy, but no one reported him or at least that I knew of.

It’s different nowadays.

As I write this, commentators are on television criticizing people who came in close (and regular) contact with a gunman but, like me and my fellow students, did not report him to authorities in spite of feeling “uncomfortable” around him.

This made me wonder. When should you report strange people? Again, what is suspicious and what is just “different”? How will I know?

If you’re scared of someone, that might be a clue…or not?

I’m not sure the reporters’ criticisms of the people around that gunman are fair because so many confusing variables come into play. For example, when is suspicion valid and when is it just bias or intolerance?

In the case of the gunman, one of his former college instructors said he kept a “close eye on him” during class because he wasn’t “sure what he would do next”. Dang! That’s a red flag!

Also, a classmate went so far as to say she would sit near the door because she was scared of him. She even emailed her concerns to a friend. Red flag number 2, right?

So, the question is: should someone have reported him to the city police? What do you think? I think yeah.

Hindsight is 20/20, so it’s easy for me to say “yes.” Still, I – myself – didn’t report the guy back in college who said all that weird stuff about our country. Mainly because I never felt in danger around him although I could have been. It’s all so confusing!

It’s really hard for me, a self-professed Christian woman who wants to do the right thing and treat everyone with equity and fairness.

How to know what is suspicious and what should be reported.

These days, it’s important to know what to do. In fact, the website for Homeland Security says”prompt and detailed reporting of suspicious activities can help prevent violent crimes or terrorist attacks.”

But, how do I know whether or not someone is dangerous or just a weird person?

For me, anyone who does things differently from me is approaching the borderline weird category. Yeah, I’m one of those people.

Here’s an example: I eat breakfast in the morning. It’s usually traditional American breakfast food, right?

But then you have people who eat pork and beans in the morning for breakfast that’s weird but not necessarily dangerous. I’m being a little silly, but I have a point.

In my opinion, it’s only the weird stuff or that is countercultural that should be reported. Oh, stop! That’s a little biased, isn’t it? What exactly is countercultural and who says my culture is right?

The difference between what is weird and what is suspicious?

 Again, it’s so confusing, isn’t it?

The very same Homeland Security website I referenced before advocates the “importance of reporting suspicious activity to state and local law enforcement.”   I’m still stuck, so how will I know? 

Luckily the same website has a section that answers just that question. This is super helpful. Because I do want to be a resource and keep my eyes open but at the same time I don’t want to let any weird bias interfere with my good intention.

Here is what it says we should do. I am paraphrasing so be sure to check out the page yourself:

– They say we can report if we see any weird situations like a car in a weird place or items that are out of the norm. As you know, the airports always tell us if we see a suitcase or some unattended bag to report it. I think this is along the same lines as that.

– We should also be careful when people ask questions out of the normal or ordinary. Especially, if about buildings, security, and stuff. Years ago, I worked in a bank and that was definitely a red flag they trained us about.

– The third one is a little tricky for me. Again we don’t want to be biased. But they say if you notice folks paying special attention to places and processes you might be a little bit concerned and should [maybe] report them. 

Girl, don’t report me, though!

Our family goes on vacation every year.

At any given moment, my husband and I could be seen sitting watching things all the time.

Does that make us suspicious – me a middle-aged blogger and a Baptist preacher?

What if our two sons (young Black men) did the same? Would they be suspicious because of the bias in folks’ hearts? It’s a slippery slope.

Still, it’s a start. I give the site a C+

The site really does a good job of clearing it up though. Bias is the only variable to consider and it’s not their job to completely handle or address that. A little further down, they actually tried a little and I appreciate that.  

Being a person of color, I have been profiled for a variety of reasons.

Most people of color have it some time or another.

One time that really stands out in my memory was at a local beauty supply store for African-Ameri[can women].

I went to the store to buy a conditioner, mousse or something. Not long after I entered the store, a man behind the counter muttered a nervous “hello” and stood up.

Dumb me thought he stood up to be friendly and was being a gentleman.

As I worked my way to the middle of the store, I noticed him a few feet behind me. He began arranging things on a shelf. I smiled and he turned up one side of his mouth in an effort to smile back.

I went to another part of the store and you know what happened. Not long after, there he was.

Gee, this dude really needed to watch some episodes of The Blacklist, Columbo, or something because needed some serious help when it came to surveillance. It was almost comical how he followed me around so obviously.

Nevertheless, I went back to look at something else…this time intentionally, and sure enough, there he was.

“Do you think I’m going to steal from you?” I asked.

Then I went on to say “I’d never do that to you or anyone else.” His cold glare turned almost to embarrassment as he attempted to deny that.

“I’m a Christian and I wouldn’t do that.” I continued. I left the store very disappointed and naively shocked.

Considering someone suspicious base don race alone is not fair. As a result, I particularly respect and appreciate the following statement on the Homeland Security website

Still, the site speaks to surveillance tools and things like binoculars and such. That’s helps me a bit. Does it help you? Aside from the fact that it could be a tourist or something, that’s pretty straightforward don’t you think?

The ACLU also has a lot to say about reporting strange people.

Actually, I appreciate very much what they are attempting to do. While I support my country, sometimes we can be very biased. All of us not just a few of us struggle with this condition.

As I update this article we are in a state of emergency in my country. Several African American men and women have been murdered and killed by bad police officers abusing their authority.

To be clear: I don’t think I’ll police officers are bad. I’ve encountered very kind ones in my lifetime. But we do have a situation in our country a systemic one.

On the ACLU site, in the “Racial Disparities in Stop and Frisk Data” section of an article titled “ MORE ABOUT SUSPICIOUS ACTIVITY REPORTING”, the ACLU states:

“the New York Civil Liberties Union obtained “stop and frisk” data from the New York Police Department which revealed that almost nine out of ten of the nearly three million people it stopped since 2004 were non-white.”

This proves my point clearly.

We have to be really careful when reporting anyone. Bias does play a role.

After 9/11, I remember fighting my own bias against people from Middle Eastern descent.

As a woman of color, I couldn’t tolerate such a bias in any Social Circle I entered and I certainly wouldn’t tolerate it in my own heart. But it was a struggle because of the press and such – but, that’s an entirely different topic.

Ethnicity nor religion should ever be the litmus test for reporting someone as suspicious? That’s wrong and that’s wicked.

Here is what I’ll do from now on. I’ll ask myself:

1. Am I suspicious of this person because of what I think about all people who look like them, speak like them, or are from the same part of the world?

2. Is that behavior really suspicious? Would I think it was if a White male or White woman was doing it?

3. Are they doing something really weird like unusual surveillance with binoculars or scopes? Should they be parked there? If a White person was doing that would I respond the same way?

4. Will law enforcement think I’m crazy? Seriously, this is a good question. The reason so much mayhem happens is people forget how they “sound” to someone else. Try to step ourside yourself and assess YOUR behavior.

I’ll be honest. There have been times I almost called the police on a car only to think things through and discover I was biased. Really.

More resources:

4 Steps That I and Other White People Can Take to Fight Racism by Christina Marie Noel

“Casual Racism”
Racism Stops with Me

4 thoughts on “What is suspicious?”

  1. such a tough one, I’m not sure there is any right answer. All I can hope is that when I pray for discernment that the Holy Spirit will impress on me when to be silent and get out of dodge, and when to act, and whether or not there is something I need to speak to authorities – very thought provoking post indeed!

  2. What’s sad is that when you report strange behavior the questions that are asked are “is the person in immediate danger” or “is someone in immediate danger because of the person”. If the answer is NO then no one is going to do anything about it. I had my fair share of working with the Department of Mental Health. While the signs are visible, the person has to come close to harming themselves or someone else in order to some SERIOUS help.

  3. Thanks, Brandy. Just never know. I’m working somewhere that a person seriously thinks they are a the reincarnation of a famous dead person. Not causing any trouble, so what do you do? Difficult. As always, we gotta trust God in this crazy world.

  4. I wonder the same thing. Also, if reported, how seriously would the police take the report? Do they have time to take out of catching at hand criminals to look into someone that is reportedly “irrational, different, a ranter”?
    It would be nice if they came up with some other specific characteristics that should raise red flags and inform the public. I doubt I would have reported him to anyone, just because I was scared of him.
    Interesting and thought provoking post!

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