#SummerJobWhileBlack: Police called over 'suspicious' tween delivering newspapers

Elise Solé
Someone called the police about a boy who was delivering newspapers because he looked “suspicious.” (Photo: Getty Images)

An African-American kid who landed his first job as a paperboy was “racially profiled,” says his mom, by a neighbor who found her son “suspicious.”

“First day of paper route and we are pulled over by policeSad I can’t even teach my son the value of working without someone whispering and looking at us out the side of their eye perhaps because we DON’T ‘look like a person that belongs in their neighborhood,’” mom Brandie Sharp of Columbus, Ohio, wrote of her young son Uriah in a July 6 Facebook post.

“Police officer pulls up and ask us questions as if we were intruding in their area,” she added. “Totally disgusted and disturbed that this kind of behavior still exist. My apologies Upper Arlington for bringing my 12 year old African American son into your neighborhood to deliver the paper and make a few dollars on the side…NO HARM INTENDED. I will make sure my boss changes his route.”

Someone had called the Upper Arlington Police Department after spotting Uriah, who was accompanied by his 17-year-old brother, Mycah, and his mother, approaching a house in the Columbus suburb where he had mistakenly delivered a paper, according to local news station WABC TV. The boy was following a new town ordinance that required him to deliver newspapers to porches or mail slots, not the driveway, per the station.

“It looked like at first they were delivering newspapers or something, but I noticed they were walking up to the houses with nothing in hand, and one of them came back with something,” the caller, whose identity isn’t known, told dispatchers, according to WABC TV. “I mean, I don’t want to say something was going on, but it just seemed kind of suspicious.”

Three thousand comments flooded Sharp’s post. Some expressed pride in the boy’s work ethic, and others offered of hugs and sympathy. However, some people voiced pessimism about recent cases of overzealous 911 calls directed toward black people — a family who used the restroom at a Georgia Subway restaurant, a woman smoking a cigarette in her own apartment complex’s parking garage, and an Oregon politician who was canvassing a neighborhood. People also began using the hashtag #SummerJobWhileBlack on Twitter. 

“Uriah was so excited to have his first job,” Sharp tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “It’s a tradition for the boys in our family to hold paper routes.” The boy, who is a huge wrestling fan, wanted to purchase WWE tickets with the money earned from his gig.

Throughout the route, Sharp had driven her car alongside her son while he stopped at each house, but when he got the hang of it, she agreed to meet him at the end of the street. While waiting for Uriah in her car and reading a book, Sharp was approached by a police officer.

“He asked me what I was doing and whether I was soliciting people, and I explained that I was waiting for son to finish his paper route,” says Sharp. “He was condescending.”

Upper Arlington spokesperson Officer Bryan McKean, tells Yahoo Lifestyle, “A resident at a nearby park who called our non-emergency line, saw a person approaching people’s homes empty-handed and leaving with an object. The caller noted that the person may have been delivering papers or soliciting others, the latter of which is legal with a permit.” 

After Sharp explained her purpose, says McKean, the officer determined there was no illegal activity and waved goodbye to Uriah. “This was not racially motivated and the caller was concerned that the behavior — not the people —may have been suspicious.”

Uriah quit his paper route, and Sharp says she won’t visit the neighborhood again. The experience has also been upsetting to Uriah. “I explained to him that we were in a predominantly Caucasian neighborhood,” says Sharp, “and some people don’t like our skin color.” 

Sharp welcomes the opportunity to share her story to prevent people from making snap judgments. “My son did nothing wrong and he was persecuted,” she says. “I don’t want him to pay for other people’s perceptions.” 

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