#LivingWhileBlack: Police Called on Black Student Eating Lunch

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For Oumou Kanoute, it began as a generally steady evening at Smith College, as she was minding her own business, doing some reading, and enjoying a late lunch in the women’s-only liberal arts school in western Massachusetts. She didn’t see anyone walk pass her, but apparently she was spotted because the police were called simply because she’s Black.

The individual, a representative of the school, thought Kanoute looked suspicious and called police on Tuesday, saying the student and teacher’s assistant, who happens to be Black, “seems to be out of place.”

“I was just walking through here in the front foyer … and we have a person sitting there laying down in the living room area over here,” the caller told a police dispatcher, according to a transcript released by the school. “I didn’t approach her or anything but um (she) seems to be out of place … umm … I don’t see anybody in the building at this point and uh I don’t know what (she’s) doing in there just laying on the couch.”

An officer responded to the call and quickly discovered that it “was a student relaxing in the living room,” as per the transcript. No charges were filed.

“Today someone felt the need to call the police on me while I was sitting down reading, and eating in a common room at Smith College,” Kanoute wrote on Facebook. “I did nothing wrong, I wasn’t making any noise or bothering anyone. All I did was be black.”

She wrapped up her argument in the Facebook video’s caption which captured some of her interaction with the officer. “This is why being black in America is scary,” she wrote.

In a New York minute, Kanoute went from being a teacher’s aide and student at the about 150-year-old school to being the most recent case of #LivingWhileBlack. The hashtag has been utilized to bring issues to light about instances where Black people are minding their business but they’re discriminated against and law enforcements get involved unnecessarily.

“Stuff like this happens all too often,” Kanoute told the apologetic police officer, reflecting on the phenomenon even as she was experiencing it. “People feel, just, threatened.”

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