Walking while black

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. Sincerely, Allen
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.


On an unrelated note, I've been doing some research about urban/suburban chickens ... with an eye toward eventually having free range eggs and chickens available right here in my own backyard.  Which of course, will run afoul (pun intended) of something, I'm sure.

If anyone has any insight, ideas, history or whatever related to the topic, please let me know.  

Sorry to hijack my own thread ... back to the originally scheduled programming.



Hey Jim,

It's  little complicated...

If you called Town Hall (or consulted Municode as many of us did!) you'd be told you were allowed up to 20 hens (no roosters) and some other reasonable restrictions...

Unfortuntely LUMO has more restrictictive provisions... 

Petitions have been filed to council, and the matter is "under review"... 

In the meantime, the community of backyard chicken ranchers is un-molested by inspections....

Give  holler or email and I'll tell you as much as you want... 

In brief, chickens are clean, quiet, fun and produce about one (organic, free range) egg per  day.  They are easy and ecconomical to keep, and their keeping (imho) should be encouraged - as it is in Carrboro.


Greg Bell

greg bell at nc. rr. com


I would hope the hens would be permitted short visits from a rooster now and then.

I actually hope not. Neighbors keeping chickens wouldn't bother me at all, but noisy roosters could be a problem.  If you have roosters visiting, you start having lots of baby chicks, and then you are running a different operation in my opinion...

BTW, my mother has a little coop with about 8 hens that she shares between two neighbors (not in Chapel Hill) and when I grew up in Chatham County we had about 20 hens and one rooster (I think).

This is an interesting story. The police response is quite unhelpful considering that Allen is as much their constituent as the complainer is. But I can also imagine feeling weird if someone I didn't know stood in front of my house for an hour.

I love the approach that Allan took, and I hope his letter reaches the right people. I'd be interested to hear if he has any other trouble, but hopefully this is the end of it.

And as a woman I wouldn't feel safe standing on a corner at the same time every night to use my cell phone.

I also like Allan's approach.


The real problem is that the approval process for more cell sites in Chapel Hill is insane.  This is why we have the poorest cell coverage **anywhere** and it is today a public safety issue.  Cell phones are almost ubiquitous per capita, but in Chapel Hill only those who live in certain choice places can use them at home.

The guy is just trying to talk on the phone, for goodness' sake! 

Verizon Wireless, Alltel, AT&T, they all want to add a few more cell sites in town to improve coverage.  They can't, so, Allen has to walk up the street and becomes a de-facto profiling victim.

The problem isn't profiling, which is a necessary evil.  Rather, the problem is not enough cell sites due to the onerous restrictions the Town places on them. 

I don't agree that cell phone coverage is the real problem in Allen's story. Nor do I agree that profiling is necessary - in my opinion it's usually used in lieu of actual investigative work.

However I do sympathize with the cell phone problem. I also suffer from not having coverage in my own home, due to the fact that I live in the Bolin Creek valley.  We manage to hobble along by going on our deck or upstairs, but basically we and our guests simply can't use mobile phones at our home.

Placement of cell towers may (or may not?) be limited by the town approval process, but likely it also has to do with FAA height requirements around the airport, located on a high and central part of the town.

However, improving cell receptivity wouldn't do a thing about the neighbor's attitude and the police's approach to the incident, which is indeed THE problem.

I, too, have to spend cellphone conversation time out in the street by my home because the signal is so unreliable. If police were summoned by a neighbor who suggests my presence there is a problem, I would be stunned and angry. I applaud Allen's approach as exceptionally measured and gracious under the circumstances. I hope the neighbor in question is duly chastened, but even more, I too wish the police had some insight into the implications of how the incident was handled. That is a "receptivity" problem, too.

(Would like to know now if there has been any response to Allan's letter and story.)

Hi there -- seemed like as good a time as any to drop in and cross-post the comment I left at BlueNC. I found Allen's experience quite discouraging, and would suggest another possible "real" problem besides insufficient cellular coverage that we need to address.

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 this afternoon. 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

The story is on WTVD (ABC) 5 pm News

Ok, I know I've been gone for a few weeks and haven't kept up on the forums, but the responses to this post and the news story I linked below just point to a huge level of denial in the Chapel Hill/Carrboro community.


Ruby, just recently you were insinuating racism over the towing of cars at Abbey Court, yet all you can muster is that this story is "interesting" and the police response is "unhelpful" and that "hopefully this is the end of it." Let me say that your response leaves me somewhat weak.

How can the town of Chapel Hill hold a forum on race relations in response to racist scrawlings in the public works department, come away with the absolutely lame excuse of "it's the institutions, not the people" and NOT ONE PERSON OBJECTS on THE political site for the region??? How could no objection be registered? Aren't the institutions made up of individuals and don't these individuals make decisions for the institutions, or am I just living in a science fiction novel where institutions make their own decisions?

Sometimes the level of complacency and complicity is mortifyingly shocking...

How can no one even flinch (or even comment) when someone builds a sand sculpture on the Weaver Street Market lawn that shows white people enjoying the 20th anniversary on one side and has starving people who are obviously non-white on the other side begging for food, holding dying children and crying in angush? Is this not another example of the overt racism that occurs in this town, the assumption that the whites feed the non-whites? The assumption that none of the non-whites actually eats at WSM? Are there no hungry whites? Are there no WSM blacks? And everyone (except me, apparently) thinks it's a wonderfully uplifting sculpture (all white responses, by the way)... the Emperor IS wearing clothes after all, I'm just too dumb to see them, eh?

And while I'm pointing out examples, how about this long ago letter printed by the newspaper at the time of the tragic murder... did he really call Franklin Street "the Hip-Hop Highway" and suggest that we monitor intake and outtake along the streets to keep out thugs? And the local paper called it "anger"? Or was that one "suspicion"? Seems like flat out racism to me and it was printed, remains part of the public record and was registered as an acceptable way of blowing off steam...


I was told that no one would care about the racial forum (I was out of town) because the whole area is in denial. I tend to believe that's true on many occasions. It's a subject no one cares to discuss, so thanks to Mr. Protzman for bringing it up...

So the real problem here is that someone called the police on their black male neighbor who was talking on a cell phone in ultra-liberal Chapel Hill, the place without a racism problem... now what happens next? Do you keep denying there's a problem or do you work towards a solution?

I don't think that one person's actions can speak for an entire community, there are ignorant people everywhere.  Back in high school when I was a white kid on a bike, I was riding on the sidewalk in the shee shee neighborhood with the golf course in it across the street from Aurora restaurant.  Then a dude in an SUV started following me around the neighbrohood and cussing me out for riding on his "golf course golf cart path."  Do you think this man represents the tolerance of the community in general?  Do you think this type of person would tolerate a black man on a cell phone outside his house?  I'm just saying don't let the zip code fool you.  There are black people (sometimes even white people!) talking on cell phones on my street all the time and it does not bother me one bit, personally. My street is also one of the only downtown streets with a total void zone on the cellular reception maps.

Now if we have a "dialog" or "forum" on race relations in our community, let's talk about who will and won't show up. 

They already did hold a forum on race relations.  That's the first article I linked above.  Unfortunately, I couldn't attend because I was out of town (bad timing) and I hope they have another.

Intolerance comes in all shapes and sizes, I realize that.  I just think complacency with the zeitgeist comes in all shapes and sizes too... no one wants to admit there's a problem if it upsets their Jazz Sundays at WSM.

So what am I to believe now?  The "official" word from the town is that the racism is in the institutions.  The words from Anonymous (and plenty of other actual examples)  is that racism comes from the individuals.

I think my whole point was that the racism is institutional AND individual... and yet we don't ever have a good discussion on it.  We deny it and let people off the hook when they say something ridiculous like "it's institutional, not individual" or when they talk about how their reaction would be the same whether it was a black man, an hispanic man or a white man.

Where was the media after that forum?  Where was even any minor outrage?  When confronted with the news item, people I've known for years just sighed and said "No one cares.  That's just what white people say because no one cares."  And the reaction to this incident seems to justify that statement.

So, will there be another forum on race relations?  Has the first one solved the "divided community" stigma?  Are people really satisfied with the answers they were given?

I hope so, no it hasn't and I'm definitely not... 


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