'When did we begin profiling in our neighborhood?'

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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.

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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.

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