Renowned scientist Neil deGrasse Tyson says he has been detained by the police a dozen times over the years simply because he is black — even being stopped as he lugged textbooks to his office at Princeton University where he taught.
In a Facebook
post which borrows from his 2004 book, "The Sky Is Not the Limit: Adventures of an Urban Astrophysicist," Tyson writes:
"[I have] a dozen different encounters to draw from …There was the time I was stopped late at night at an underpass on an empty road in New Jersey for having changed lanes without signaling … The officer told me to get out of my car and questioned me for ten minutes around back with the bright head lights of his squad car illuminating my face.
"Is this your car? Yes. Who is the woman in the passenger seat? My wife. Where are you coming from? My parents' house. Where are you going? Home. What do you do for a living? I am an astrophysicist at Princeton University. What's in your trunk? A spare tire, and a lot of other greasy junk.
"He went on to say that the 'real reason' why he stopped me was because my car's license plates were much newer and shinier than the 17-year-old Ford that I was driving. The officer was just making sure that neither the car nor the plates were stolen."
Tyson, who is a best-selling author and director of the Hayden Planetarium in New York City, says that while teaching at Princeton, he was grabbed several times as he carted boxes of science textbooks into his office.
"They had stopped me at the entrance to the physics building where they asked accusatory questions about what I was doing. This one was complicated because a friend offered to drive me and my boxes to my office (I had not yet learned to drive)," Tyson wrote.
"Her car was registered in her father's name. It was 11:30 PM. Open-topped boxes of graduate math and physics textbooks filled the trunk. And we were transporting them into the building …
"I wonder how often that scenario shows up in police training tapes. In total, I was stopped two or three times by other security officers while entering physics buildings, but was never stopped entering the campus gym."
He said when he discussed the incidents with other black colleagues who had similar experiences, they agreed, "we were guilty not of DWI (Driving While Intoxicated), but of other violations none of us knew were on the books: DWB (Driving While Black), WWB (Walking While Black), and of course, JBB (Just Being Black)."
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