Page 4 of 5

In the wake of Mallet's death, Valley blacks are in something of a bind. How much hell do they raise? Indignation is matched by numbness to yet one more "unfortunate accident." Charles Fanniel, head of the county NAACP, has formally asked local police departments to abandon use of the carotid-artery neck hold.

But most blacks have watched Charita's protests from the sidelines.
Part of the widespread rage in the minority community exists because they believe the only reason Mallet was stopped in the first place was his skin color. Blacks all share that experience with the dead man.

Pastor Warren Stewart, who became a national figure when he led the fight to establish a paid Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in Arizona, has been on sabbatical for a year writing a book about the experience. He is successful, middle-class and looks it. Yet he knows the drill.

"I was pulled over on Grand Avenue by a policeman. First thing he asked was if I'd been drinking. As it happens, I do not drink. I told him I was coming from the church, and he said, 'Just checking.'"

Pastor Stewart is used to having cops pull in behind him, follow and punch his license plate into their squad-car computers to see if he has stolen the car he is driving.

"This is nothing new," explains Stewart. "Almost any black man can tell you of similar experiences."

It is difficult to describe the anger that can build behind a lifetime of cops stopping you to ask that you explain your black self. You can "deal with it," or it can fester on you like a boil.

"A lot of young people are frustrated at the continual harassment," says the NAACP's Fanniel. "They are not going to take the abuse that those of us from the World War II era took, that baby boomers took. These kids would rather die."

"Profile stops"--the grilling by law enforcement of minorities who've broken no law--are so common that the NAACP's Van Braswell offers instructions to blacks about how to avoid a confrontation when the police stop them. Rather a unique classroom exercise for a democracy.

"These kinds of stops by the police are a matter of fact for us," says Pastor Stewart. "Most of us have resolved it will be a matter of fact as long as we're here. It was a deadly matter of fact for Ed Mallet. Here was a young man who'd reformed his life, left the gangs and talked to schoolchildren to warn them about gangs. His voice and witness are now silenced as a matter of fact."

Rather than continue to see the Constitution as a poignant tombstone upon the graves of their young, blacks like Stewart are taking another, more pragmatic tack.

"We're partly responsible for Ed Mallet's death. It's a matter of survival. We haven't taken the time to teach our young people how to survive in a society that still suffers from systemic racism. I have told my sons, I said, 'If you're ever out with your friends or by yourself and you get pulled over, cooperate. Be respectful. Do not raise your voice, because if you do, you may end up in jail or dead. I'm not playing with you.'"

Pastor Stewart's homilies to his boys are almost mundane. But there is more to his lesson than simple curbside manners. For law enforcement and blacks alike, it is long past the moment when a thoughtful person might worry about the consequences of an entire people looking upon the police as an occupying army.

Pastor Stewart's 16-year-old responded to his dad's lecture by popping off about just what he'd say if a police officer pulled him over for no reason at all.

"And if you do that," Stewart told his son, "I may be attending your funeral."

Charita Anderson Curry, understandably, feels intimidated by the cops in her neighborhood. But there is an entirely different response to Mallet's death at police headquarters, and it is without precedent in Phoenix.

On September 17, Phoenix Police Chief Dennis Garrett wrote to the city manager asking for a citizens commission to review the department's use-of-force policies and to explore the cultural sensitivity of its officers.

Elsewhere, such a proposal would be looked upon as a bureaucratic two-step, an attempt to bury meaningful reform in the death-by-committee ruse.

And so it may yet prove to be.
But for now, the proposal stands in harsh contrast to what blacks came to expect under Garrett's predecessor, chief Ruben Ortega.

KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Michael Lacey
Contact: Michael Lacey