Someone called the police on black political candidate canvassing in her district.


Shelia Stubbs made history in August when she won the Democratic primary for a state Assembly seat in Wisconsin’s 77th District. A 12-year veteran of the Dane County Board of Supervisors running unopposed in the general election, Stubbs will become the first African American to represent the district, which spans some of the poorest and wealthiest areas in Madison. Days before her victory, though, while canvassing in her district, a police officer approached Stubbs in response to an unidentified man’s complaint that Stubbs, who was with her 71-year-old mother and 8-year-old daughter, might be in the neighbourhood to buy drugs.
According to a police report obtained by Madison’s Capital Times and BuzzFeed, the man called police on August 7 to complain about a “suspicious vehicle.” The report cited a police dispatch in which the caller suggested that the vehicle, which was occupied by Stubbs’s mother and daughter, was “waiting for drugs at the local drug house.”Shortly after, a police officer arrived at the vehicle and spoke with Linda Hoskins, Stubbs’s mother. Hoskins explained that her daughter was a politician canvassing in her district. When Stubbs returned to the car, she showed the officer her campaign materials and name tag.“I felt humiliated. I felt outraged, I felt angry. I felt embarrassed,” Stubbs said. The caller has not been identified, although Stubbs notes that she was in a predominantly white neighbourhood at the time. The incident, which garnered national attention this week after Stubbs spoke with the Capital Times, is just the latest in a string of incidents in which the police have been called to deal with black people waiting in Starbucks, barbecuing, napping in a dorm, swimming in pools, selling water, mowing a lawn, and riding in a car with a relative. In fact, Stubbs isn’t the first black politician to report being approached by police as they canvassed. Earlier this year Oregon state legislator Janelle Bynum was forced to defend her presence in a neighbourhood after someone called 911. In September, a local Florida politician was surrounded by several police officers and a helicopter after accidentally tripping a security alarm as he campaigned. These stories and others have seen media coverage so frequently that they’ve formed a new news genre: “Living While Black,” a phrase encompassing the myriad ways black people are viewed with suspicion, profiled, and threatened with responses from police for minor infractions, or less. Collectively, the incidents illustrate the ways people of colour are subjected to arbitrary social expectations, and how violating those expectations is punishable. Decades after the collapse of legal segregation, they also show that spaces like clothing stores, coffee shops, neighbourhoods, and universities remain strongly controlled along racial lines.