…”On April 19, after a day of teaching classes at Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania, I went out to my car and grabbed a box of old poetry manuscripts from the front seat of my little white Beetle, carried it across the street and put it next to the trashcan outside Wright Hall.
Upon my departure, he called the local police department and told them a man of Middle Eastern descent driving a heavily decaled white Beetle with out of state plates and no campus parking sticker had just placed a box next to the trash can. My car has NY plates, but he got the rest of it wrong. I have two stickers on my car. One is my highly visible faculty parking sticker and the other, which I just don’t have the heart to take off these days, says, “Kerry/Edwards: For a Stronger America.”
One of my colleagues was in the gathering crowd, trying to figure out what had happened. She heard my description — a Middle Eastern man driving a white Beetle with out of state plates — and knew immediately they were talking about me and realized that the box must have been manuscripts I was discarding. She approached them and told them I was a professor on the faculty there. Immediately the campus police officer said, “What country is he from?”
“What country is he from?!” she yelled, indignant.
“Ma’am, you are associated with the suspect. You need to step away and lower your voice,” he told her.
At some length, several of my faculty colleagues were able to get through to the police and get me on a cell phone where I explained to the university president and then to the state police that the box contained old poetry manuscripts that needed to be recycled. The police officer told me that in the current climate I needed to be more careful about how I behaved. “When I recycle?” I asked.
The university president appreciated my distress about the situation but denied that the call had anything to do with my race or ethnic background. The spokesperson of the university called it an “honest mistake,” not referring to the young man from ROTC giving in to his worst instincts and calling the police but referring to me who made the mistake of being dark-skinned and putting my recycling next to the trashcan.”