Oregon State Representative Janelle Bynum was canvassing door-to-door ahead of the November midterm elections, as almost all politicians do at some point. Canvassing is an innocent, non-intrusive task that involves walking from front door to front door, talking with residents about their plans to vote, advocating for their political party, and taking notes.
Unfortunately, the fact that representative Bynum happens to be black turned her harmless, commonplace actions into suspicious behavior for one biased resident.
One of Bynum’s constituents called the police, saying she was going door to door and then spending a lot of time on her cell phone after each house. (That’s where Bynum records her notes.)
Janelle Bynum is a great Representative. This tragic incident is a reminder of just how far we still have to go to become a more tolerant society. https://t.co/y5Bf9bBNHy— Senator Jeff Merkley (@SenJeffMerkley) July 4, 2018
In a rare moment of professionalism and goodwill, an officer responded and the misunderstanding was worked out with no hard feelings.
Bynum wrote in a Facebook post:
Big shout out to Officer Campbell who responded professionally to someone who said that I was going door to door and spending a lot of time typing on my cell phone after each house—- aka canvassing and keeping account of what my community cares about!
Live from the mean streets of Clackamas!!! Big shout out to Officer Campbell who responded professionally to someone who...Posted by Janelle Bynum on Tuesday, July 3, 2018
Bynum contacted the constituent who called the police, who apologized on the phone. Nevertheless, Bynum told the Oregonian that the incident was “bizarre:”
It boils down to people not knowing their neighbors and people having a sense of fear in their neighborhoods, which is kind of my job to help eradicate. But at the end of the day, it’s important for people to feel like they can talk to each other to help minimize misunderstandings.
I am so unsurprised by this. I have knocked on doors in Janelle Bynum's district. It's a miracle that a Black woman won it in 2016. #orpol— 'Restructure immigration enforcement' Damitio ?? (@andrewdamitio) July 4, 2018
One of my co-canvassers literally had a person mention black people as their top political concern.https://t.co/fkNaHwPMbF
She's a much nicer lady than I would have been. I know people should keep an eye on their neighborhoods, but for goodness sakes, people need to use a little common sense.— terri k ????? (@takaestner) July 5, 2018
This is the latest in a string of publicized instances where white people call the police on groups of black people doing completely innocent things. Some of the “suspicious behaviors” that warranted a visit from the police included a 12-year-old mowing a neighbor’s grass, a Yale graduate student sleeping in a Yale common room, a little girl selling water outside her apartment building, and a barbeque in a public park.
Incidents like these are not new to the African American community but are only now receiving the coverage and denouncement they’ve always deserved.
The police need to issue citations to those making false reports and fine them for it!— JanLentz (@GranJanis) July 4, 2018
I LOOOVE how this pale skinned dude sheriff is smiling as widely and is with her!! So good to see. I am indigenous and we rarely, if ever, see this support.— HEREB4U@4EVER1ST (@HEREB4U4EVER1ST) July 4, 2018
Social media is 100% on Bynum’s side:
I'm in Oregon. Please come knock on my door, let's have coffee ???— Blue California Native (@WFPBLifer) July 4, 2018
Stop using 911, like it's customer service! #CalmDown— knuckles67 (@fergusrulz) July 4, 2018
“Hello 911. There’s a black person out here existing.” pic.twitter.com/WWswHBKYqA— Justin (@MurphyFerguson) July 4, 2018
A politician running for office is, of course, always suspicious.— Dirik Lolkus (@pduri) July 5, 2018
I’m proud of how she handled it and she still has my vote!— Bawdy Broad (@RealBawdyBroad) July 5, 2018
Far from discouraging her from canvassing, the situation convinced Bynum she’s needed now more than ever:
We all know that we’re not in a society that is perfect, and we have wounds that still need to heal, but at the end of the day, I want to know my kids can walk down the street without fear…I hope everyone gets a good look at my face, because I’m coming to your door.