It was an ordinary day in Scottsdale, business as usual. Nothing unusual happened. Real estate appreciated. The sun shone. A black guy was viewed with suspicion and got hassled by the cops. Nothing unusual.
You could believe it hadn't happened, if not for all the people who saw it. One of them thought it so outrageous that he contacted me.
The alleged victim apparently doesn't want to talk about it, so I'm not going to name him. But I'm going to tell the story anyway, because it shouldn't go unreported. There should be a record of life in the "No-Nigger Zone."
E.D. Marshall's jewelry store is in a strip mall at Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard. The center also houses a pawn shop and a real estate school.
On the afternoon of April 24, a black man entered the store. He was in his 30s or 40s and was wearing a black suit. He told store staff he wanted to buy a link for the band on his watch.
Someone called the cops. And when the man left the store, several Scottsdale police officers were waiting for him. Some witnesses say they had their guns drawn, others don't. They threw the man up against a car and handcuffed him. They ran a check on him and, finding his record clean, let him go.
Jim Marrion, who owns the nearby real estate school, claims that Marshall, the store's owner, called the cops. One of Marrion's employees, who asked not to be named, claims that Marshall told her he'd called the cops because he "didn't like the guy's looks."
"I just turned around and walked away when he said that to me," she says. "The [black] guy came in and talked to me. He was very articulate. He said he thought his rights had been violated."
Was there anything about his looks that could have been considered objectionable?
"No. He was wearing a suit."
"That's how things work in the 'No-Nigger Zone,'" says Marrion.
"No-Nigger Zone" is a term allegedly coined by Scottsdale police to describe affluent areas of the city.
The shopping center that contains Marshall's store is quiet when I arrive and park my car. I'm wearing a Beavis and Butt-head tee shirt, baggy denim shorts and a pair of ratty old sandals. My baseball cap is on backward. I'm unshaven. I'm going to see how the folks at Marshall's feel about my looks.
The store doesn't look like the kind of place you'd visit to get a link for your watch band. It's the kind of place that sells pieces of jewelry that cost thousands of dollars. It has a carpet so elegant you feel like you shouldn't be walking on it. I wander around, looking at the items on display. I get some interesting looks from the staff, but no one says anything. Finally, rather than calling the cops on me, one of them asks if I need any help. I tell her I do, and ask for the owner.
Ed Marshall is somewhere in his 40s, and looks like the stereotypical Arizonan. His steely gray hair is combed straight back, and his skin is brown and leathery. He wears a white shirt and a tie. His manner is hearty.
He admits that the incident happened but says it wasn't him or his staff that called the cops.
The Scottsdale cops say otherwise, that a 911 call about a suspicious black man came from Marshall's store.
He denies any racism on his part.
"Black people are welcome here," he says. "Anybody is."
He says someone had let the air out of one of the man's tires, and, as well as wanting a link for his watch band, he asked to borrow an air pump, which Marshall didn't have. "So I went to the pawn shop to get him one. I'm a nice guy . . .
"The guy told me he'd been to five jewelry stores trying to find the link he wanted. And somebody in one of the stores had called the cops and given them his license number. A cop told me they were one digit off, so they thought the car was stolen. I felt bad for the guy. I told him I'd get him the link he wanted at cost, as an apology from the jewelry community."
Asked about the witness's claim that he'd said he didn't like the guy's looks, Marshall at first denied it, then reconsidered. "You know, there's a good chance I said that to someone. I don't remember saying it, but there's a good chance I did say something like that. But it wasn't the guy's color I was talking about. It was his suit."
What was wrong with his suit?
"That he was wearing one. Nobody wears a black suit in this heat. [The high temperature that day was 84 degrees.] He was a decent-looking guy, nicely dressed. But he looked out of place. People in Phoenix don't walk around in the heat dressed like that. There have been robberies in jewelry stores in Scottsdale. A guy looking like that is going to make people nervous."
"Look, if a guy comes in here dressed like you are, that's normal. A guy in a suit looks strange. If you come in here, it doesn't matter what you're wearing--I'm gonna try to sell you some jewelry. But if you look strange--like you've got a suit on--I'm gonna watch you. Can you tell me that if a guy in a suit came into this store right now, you wouldn't be nervous?"
Marshall doesn't think the cops were out of line.
"If I was that guy, I personally would be madder than hell. But you can't blame the cops. If they thought the guy might be a robber, they had to do something. And they had to be careful."
When I left Marshall's store, I drove around Scottsdale for a while, stopping in stores and malls. I saw a few people wearing suits, and no one seemed to be calling the cops on them.
I called the Scottsdale Police Department and asked if a report had been cut on the April 24 incident at Marshall's. No report exists. But Sergeant Douglas Dirren, the SPD's public information officer, was able to tell me what happened.
"We were called by different jewelry stores, who said there was a suspicious subject driving around the stores. We were given his license plate number, but it was one digit off, and the number we had was the number of a stolen car. We were unable to locate the subject at first. Then Marshall's made the 911 call.
"Three officers were dispatched, but I can't say how many were actually there. Rather than go into the store, they waited for the subject to come outside, which I think was a good decision. They followed standard procedure, which means they would have handcuffed him. Obviously, he wasn't charged with anything. The car wasn't stolen."
It would be hard to blame the cops for this incident. They were responding to a call, and they were wrongly given reason to believe that the guy was a criminal. The ones to blame are the ones who called the cops in the first place. What made them consider the man to be "suspicious"?
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"The fact that he was going to the stores and not buying anything," says Dirren. "In their words, he was 'casing' the stores."
I called the man who had been cuffed. He's a resident of Glendale, so I wanted to ask him why he was cruising jewelry stores in Scottsdale, and how he feels about what happened. He didn't return my calls. Although witnesses say he was angry at the time, for whatever reason he obviously doesn't want to make an issue of it now.
An ordinary day in Scottsdale. A black guy puts on a suit and goes shopping. The police are called, and they show up to ambush him as he leaves a store. They handcuff him and throw him up against a car. It turns out he hasn't done anything. Nobody minds; the incident doesn't even merit a police report. An ordinary day in Scottsdale. Business as usual.
Contact Barry Graham at his online address: firstname.lastname@example.org