'When did we begin profiling in our neighborhood?'

The Rev. J. Michael Culbreth. Photo by Lifetouch Portraits, courtesy of the Rev. J. Michael Culbreth.
The Rev. J. Michael Culbreth
Photo by Lifetouch Portraits, courtesy of the Rev. J. Michael Culbreth.
From 2006 to 2010, I served a cross-racial appointment in Savannah. I was appointed as the first Black pastor of this all-white United Methodist congregation. The church’s parsonage is located in a predominantly white neighborhood near a large city park.

One day, I was riding my bicycle through the neighborhood when I noticed two police cars approaching me from behind. The policeman stopped me and asked if I lived in the neighborhood. He informed me that a resident called them to check on a suspicious man riding a bicycle through the neighborhood. 

I informed the policeman that I lived in the neighborhood and I was simply riding my bicycle. The policeman also said the reason the resident called was because there had been some burglaries in the neighborhood. 

I told the policeman that I was shocked that another resident would call about me riding my bike, instead of stopping to ask me if I lived in the neighborhood. The policeman apologized and allowed me to continue riding. After this incident, I returned home. I was angry because I felt that I had been a victim of racial profiling.

Since I was a member of the neighborhood association, I wrote an email and asked this question: “When did we begin racial profiling in our neighborhood?” I shared what had happened to me and how I felt about being stopped by the policeman.

Commentaries

UM News publishes various commentaries about issues in the denomination. The opinion pieces reflect a variety of viewpoints and are the opinions of the writers, not the UM News staff.
Various residents responded to the email. Some were upset that I accused the neighborhood of racism. Others were more supportive. 

I also received a response from the person who called the police. He said he had called because I looked suspicious and because of the burglaries that had occurred. A few days later, I met this resident for coffee. Ironically, he was a white Presbyterian pastor, who lived in the neighborhood. He apologized for calling the police.

Incidentally, a few years later, this pastor, who moved to Texas, sent me an email. He asked for forgiveness again. He told me that after reflecting upon the incident, he concluded that if I had been a white man riding through the neighborhood, he would not have called the police. He asked me to forgive him for his racist behavior. I told him that I had forgiven him and I was glad that he had learned from the experience.

Culbreth serves at ConneXion Church in Savannah.

News contact: Tim Tanton at (615) 742-5470 or [email protected]. To read more United Methodist news, subscribe to the free Daily or Weekly Digests.

Like what you're reading?  United Methodist Communications is celebrating 80 years of ministry! Your support ensures the latest denominational news, dynamic stories and informative articles will continue to connect our global community.  Make a tax-deductible donation at ResourceUMC.org/GiveUMCom.

Sign up for our newsletter!

umnews-subscriptions
Social Concerns
Richard F. Hicks. Photo courtesy of the author.

Caught in a twilight zone of change

Even after the passage of civil rights laws, a white teen found change slow to come in the rural South of the 1970s.
Racism
The Rev. Chenda Innis Lee discusses anonymous letters criticizing her appearance that she received from among the congregation at Fairlington United Methodist Church in Alexandria, Va., where she serves as associate pastor.

Virginia church contemplates racism in the ranks

Anonymous letters criticizing the appearance of its African associate pastor have led to self-reflection for a Virginia congregation and a “Do No Harm” campaign seeking changes in The United Methodist Church.
Social Concerns
The Rev. Constance Hastings. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Constance Hastings.

When one's enemy becomes one's neighbor

A traumatic childhood memory, repressed for 40 years, came back to force United Methodist deacon Constance Hastings to confront racism in her upbringing.