A sad tale from Chapel HIll

This letter was written by a friend of mine. He posted it on our neighborhood message board yesterday. It is a sad commentary about the illusion of community present in one of Chapel Hill's older neighborhoods. Sad, sad indeed.

Dear Lake Forest neighbors,

My name is Allen Buansi. I am 21 years old. I'm 5-11, weigh around 190 pounds and I am a black man. More often than not, you may see me in the neighborhood on a bicycle and wearing a backpack. I've lived in Chapel Hill for about 10 years and have lived in the Lake Forest neighborhood for much of that time. I attend Dartmouth College, and I head back up to school on September 14. I work at the local YMCA. I am in Chapel Hill for the summer, and I am an assistant football coach for East Chapel Hill High School, the school from which I graduated.

You may see me on the corner of Tadley Drive and Ridgecrest during the day or at night talking on a cell-phone to my girlfriend who lives in Texas. Or you may see me there talking on a cell-phone with my mother who lives in Richmond, Virginia and is a Ph.D student at UNC. You may even see me on a cell-phone talking to one of my best friends, Andres, who also lives in Texas. You may see me there on my bike because I have just ridden back from football practice at the high school. The reason why I am on that corner in the first place? I do not get a good signal back at the house, which is in Avalon Court, a block down from Tadley Drive. And so the only places I get a good signal at are at the corners of Avalon Court and
Ridgecrest Drive and of Ridgecrest Drive and Tadley Drive.

I had made my way back home from practice late Monday night. I hadn't talked with Andres in a couple of months, and he's rarely available during the day. So I called him and talked with him for about a half-hour on the corner of Avalon Court and Ridgecrest Drive. After being bitten by many mosquitoes, I moved down one block to Tadley Drive, a road that I have gone down and up since the first week of July on my way to and from football practice. At that time I was talking to my girlfriend who had just arrived home from a month spent in the Honduras. About an hour into our conversation, a police car rolled up and stopped in front of me. The officer emerged from the car and proceeded to ask me many, many questions about what I was doing there, about where I was from, where I lived, where I worked, etc. I had to give him two forms of identification at which
point a second police car rolled up and stopped behind me, as if to cut off some imaginary escape route. The police officer emerged from that car and stood beside me as the other officer returned to his car to verify my identification.

A neighbor had called the police department saying that there was a suspicious man standing on the corner. "There have been robbers in the area, and we came check out the situation," one of the officers said to me. "I see," I say. "So can I not talk here on my cell-phone? I get a pretty bad signal back at the house."

The officer then recommended that I go down half a mile to the parking lot of Whole Foods to talk on my cell-phone. He recommended that I leave the neighborhood in which I live and have stayed for the past 10 years, so I could talk on the phone to my loved ones. "Otherwise if we get more calls, we're going to keep coming down here."

One of my biggest shocks in this whole ordeal was that the neighbor who had called did not approach me him- or herself to ask me what I was up to. To rely on the police rather than confronting me, your fellow resident and your fellow neighbor, whom you have seen many times ride up and down the street is very disappointing and shameful, to say the least.

The next time anyone sees me and is wondering about who I am, I highly encourage you to come up to me and to talk with me, even at night when I am on my phone. I'm a very nice person. I'm very generous, sensitive and understanding. I can talk about anything, from politics to sports. I promise you that a conversation with me won't disappoint.

I just wanted to make you all aware of my presence here in the neighborhood and to let you know that I plan to be out on the corner most nights because that's the only time of day that I can reach my girlfriend and my mother on the phone. Again, to make sure that you recognize me, but my name is Allen Buansi. I am 21 years old. I'm 5-11, weigh around 190 pounds and I am a black man.



I can understand the Chapel Hill police coming out to investigate a citizen's concern. The "suggestion" that Allan walk half a mile to make his phone call from a more public place, however, "suggests" the need for some serious remedial training for the officers involved.


That is truly sad

We have no cell coverage in our neighborhood and while ours is much smaller than yours, neighbors here are prone to call the police before ever approaching a neighbor with their concerns. There are only 26 houses in our neighborhood.

I understand he was out at night and maybe folks didn't recognize him. I don't fault neighbors for reporting something at night. It has only been four weeks and that's a large enough neighborhood that some might not have seen him often enough to be familiar. This letter should help, though....at least with the neighbors. The police have to respond, but they don't have to be ignorant. He was in his own neighborhood. He doesn't have to go anywhere else to use his phone.

Vote Democratic! The ass you save may be your own.


Mr. Buansi's neighbors said "burglars" but I'll bet you they were thinking something else.

He's black, on a street corner, with a cell phone.

This reminds me of a scene from the film Traffic.

"Hey, you got any drugs? You know where I can get some drugs? Could ya hook me up with some drugs?"

It takes a little more than refraining from burning crosses on folks' lawns to transcend racial prejudice.

Just a little.

recently transplanted from Indianapolis, IN to Durham, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Garner, NC

I wouldn't recommend drugs, alcohol, violence, or insanity for everyone, but they've always worked for me. -- Hunter S. Thompson

Similar Story, different Details

In high school a friend and I went to a neighborhood barbecue in Morrisville (the one near Cary not Charlotte). We decided to leave, and walk back to his mom's house to pick up his car (less than a mile). It was late afternoon on a weekend, so more than enough light to feel safe along the more major roads. Along the way a cop drove by and stopped us, and started asking a lot of questions about who we were and why we were there. He also blamed the stopping on a "burglar". If it can happen to two white kids in the suburbs I can't imagine how often it must happen to African Americans, or even African American teenagers.

That this happened is (sadly) not surprising, but it is deeply shameful, and I for one am embarrassed that we live in a country that still allows such blatant prejudice.

"Keep the Faith"

"Keep the Faith"

A better experience with the Chapel Hill police

20 years ago or so, a teenager riding by in the back seat of an open station wagon pointed a rifle at my wife and me as we walked. I had better eyesight then and got his license number.

When we got home, I called the police (no cell phones then). An officer came over, got the license number, phone it in, and eventually called the house where the car was registered. From the conversation it became clear that the driver's father was shocked and would take care of the situation himself. I declined to press charges.

I wonder what would have happened if the officers detaining Mr. Buansi had simply called the person who had complained and told them what they'd found out and even invited them to come out and get to know a neighbor.

I know, I know.

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

Besta é tu se você não viver nesse mundo

The remedial training

Could start with "The Cost of Privilege" by Chip Smith.



The penalty that good men pay for not being interested in politics is to be governed by men worse than themselves.

Plato (427-347 BC)

If I could have convinced more slaves that they were slaves, I could have freed thousands more.

Harriet Tubman (1822 – 1913)

Many places I have been to have the "neighborhood watch" signs..

so if you are walking through, and stop to gander around, there's a good chance someone gets suspicious. This has been encouraged, and not about race, just about our world, and the way it is. I live on a busy county road, and if someone stops their car or stops while walking for some reason, I might make myself visible. Unfortunately, there are desparate people who might be checking your neighborhood out. We had a string of breakins not far from me, and they knew who wasn't home. These guys were caught, not because the people from those neighborhoods spotted them , but the people in the neighborhood they lived noticed all the extra 'stuff' they seem to accrue. And they were caucasian.

The more I think about this,

the more I come to the conclusion that this is an artifact of our times, and not (necessarily) an issue of race. Had this been a white 21 year-old male doing the same thing, the concerned neighbor would probably have called the police about him, too.

I can remember a time (and I'm not that old) when, especially during the Summer, sidewalks and yards saw busy traffic in the evenings, with children playing and adults shooting the breeze with each other. You still see people out and about these days, but they all seem to be on a mission: braving the elements so they can reduce their body fat or finding someone else's yard for their dog to poop in.

The fact is, we're so insulated these days many of us don't even know our neighbors anymore, and everybody's a "stranger", who might just be exactly like the child molester or serial killer we saw profiled on one of the many "news to keep you scared" stations.

We need to grow up, and stop being scared of the unknown.

I guess our neighborhood is a throwback to earlier times

Granted - not everyone knows everything about everyone - but we do all know each other, and if we saw a neighbor standing on the corner with a cell phone, we might be likely to go find out if something was wrong. Our neighborhood is mixed, about 60% white and 30$ black and 10% latino. We're out in the sticks, and we all kind of look out for each other.

I know that there is prejudice on the part of some of my neighbors, but I haven't seen them show it to each other. I guess it's because we're all out here together, so an "outsider" sticks out more than someone of a different race.


Steve may be right that this gentleman would have been deemed suspicious even if he were white, but one of the major problems we have in this country is that James' friend Allen will never, ever have the luxury of assuming that.

That is, he can always ask himself the same questions posed by Steve's observations, but he will always have to wonder because his experience and the experience of his family and his ancestors (assuming African-American heritage) has shown that the question is always there.

How many times can he tell himself, "Oh, I'm sure it's not because I'm black" and believe it?

Never say never, Bru

His posted (and patient) message to the community and our discussion of such represents progress. Maybe just a little bit of progress, but it's there.

Nope, not in our lifetime

My point is not that we don't have any progress worth celebrating. Of course we do.

Yet it remains a fact that African Americans are not going to stop being "the other" with Obama's election, nor, even assuming drastic changes in attitude in today's newly registered voters, in your lifetime or mine or Allen's.

Memory isn't erased by new experience, positive as the new experience may be. So don't get me wrong (you always get me wrong, Steve!). I'm not discounting progress and I'm not saying that things will never be different. But they won't be as different as we'd like them to be as soon as we might have hoped when we were younger and more naive about the resilience of racism.

All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing
-Edmund Burke

This is not true:

you always get me wrong, Steve!

There was that time a few months ago (I don't have specifics) when I didn't get you wrong! :)

All the other stuff you said is true.


I know. I could have said, "you NEVER get me right," but then you'd have some back with "never say never" and then we'd have to wrestle THAT one down, and I'd eventually have to concede that there was that ONE time a few months ago that neither of us can recall when you didn't get me wrong.

See? I'm not without my sunny rays here and there.


See? I'm not without my sunny rays here and there.

Blinding. Absolutely blinding.

Steve Martin quote:

"Always...no, it's never...always carry a trash bag in your car. It doesn't take up much space, and if it ever gets full, you can just toss it out the window."

It isn't news

On the basis of what interesting new development would you have this presented as a "news" item?

Is there any policy change that would reduce events like this?

How about ending the failed federal "War on Drugs"?

Our forty-year experiment with federal drug prohibition has not meaningfully impacted addiction rates. Drugs are no less accessible, they are more potent/dangerous, and the only "change" we've made is to radically increase the number of people we lock up:


I just returned from taping an interview with Mike Smithson of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) in Greensboro. He was in town for a meeting, and had a few hours free to tape a segment for a public access TV spot we're producing on the topic.

The interview was fascinating, and we also set up shop at a convenience store on MLK Blvd in Greensboro looking for "man on the street" interactions. There was no shortage of folks eager to give opinions, and when we asked anyone "what the war on drugs had accomplished", everyone gave the same answer: "We've locked up a lot of people".

Not only that, but Mike was honest about some of the "collateral damage" from the war on drugs from a law enforcement perspective. Despite the high-minded rhetoric, enforcement of the War on Drugs (as evidenced by incarceration statistics) is targeted at poor and minority communities, and racial profiling and the corresponding assault on civil liberties are real.

Not to say that we'd all be singing kumbaya if we ended the "war" and began regulating drugs like we do tobacco and alcohol, but a whole class of crimes would just disappear... and most importantly, the black market for illegal substances would go away, as well.

Without an underground drug market, a Black man on a corner with a cell phone and backpack would just be a neighbor trying to get a signal on his phone. What a concept.

Is there any evidence for these seemingly radical assertions?

When's the last time we had to lock up gun-toting gangs of underground alcohol or tobacco pushers?

More objectively, study Switzerland:

A number of studies have found that Switzerland's heroin-assisted treatment plans help ease the scourge of addiction for users and society.

Initially met with criticism and apprehension, the Swiss model is now attracting the interest of other countries.

Programmes for the administration of heroin under medical supervision are still viewed warily by the World Health Organization, which is heavily influenced by governments with repressive drug policies, principally the United States.

"In the beginning, people worried that the Swiss government's liberal policy would attract even more people to heroin. Those fears have proved unfounded," Nordt stressed.

Nordt and Stohler's research shows that in the canton of Zurich, home to more than a fifth of Switzerland's addicts, there were 850 new heroin users in 1990 but just 150 in 2002.

Such a downward curve is not found in other countries, especially those that have tried to crack down on drugs. In Britain and Australia, drug use rose during the same period. In Italy, it vacillated from one year to the next, but the Zurich researchers view that data as incomplete.

"In Switzerland, the medicalisation of heroin use has helped change the image of users: from rebels to losers," Nordt said. "In the eyes of the young, they're mostly just sick people, forced to get medical help."

The harm reduction policy followed by the Swiss authorities has also been successful in reducing heroin-related deaths, which have fallen by more than half over the course of a decade, and the transmission of Aids.

And there is more good news concerning the fight against crime and prostitution.

"Compared with countries like Britain, where crime is very often linked to substance abuse, this trend has almost disappeared in Switzerland over the last few years," said Nordt.

Interesting idea -- "harm reduction". Sounds vaguely Hippocratic. We've been trying the same thing for forty years, and not liking the results. Insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting different results.

It's time for change.


William (B.J.) Lawson, M.D.
Congressional Candidate, North Carolina's 4th District

William (B.J.) Lawson, M.D.
Congressional Candidate, North Carolina's 4th District

A Brother in Switzerland?

Without an underground drug market, a Black man on a corner with a cell phone and backpack would just be a neighbor trying to get a signal on his phone. What a concept.

Is there any evidence for these seemingly radical assertions?

When's the last time we had to lock up gun-toting gangs of underground alcohol or tobacco pushers?

More objectively, study Switzerland:* BJ

We have! There are no brothers in Switzerland hanging on the corner for a drive-bye sale or shooting. Remove the profit! Of course, who do you think is waiting in the wings for the war on drugs to end. The medical-industrial complex with it's super sales teams ready to go. The war on Drugs is a cultural thing and the product of government schools and Richard Nixon.

Racism In America

Hi Allen, I'm a 58 year old white guy and I wish things were different today. Yes, I realize we live in a time when people are afraid. Most are afraid of what they don't understand. Either from not taking the time to understand or from sorry, just being (southern plain stupid). I recently wrote a letter to the editor of my local paper Winston Salem Journal on racism in america. It was titled Darkness. I apologize for the lack of sensitivity of the neighbor and the total lack of professionalism of the policeman.Please don't let other peoples phobias change you as a person. We are changing its just taking far too long. Peace and LightSjB