#LivingWhileBlack raises awareness of racial profiling in the wake of high-profile incidents

The hashtag gained popularity after several racial profiling incidents recently.

ByABC News via logo
May 11, 2018, 5:15 PM

#LivingWhileBlack is the latest hashtag to raise awareness of racial profiling incidents that have spawned headlines and even outrage on social media.

The hashtag, though not new, has grown in popularity on Twitter recently after a Yale graduate student, Lolade Siyonbola, shared a video of her interaction with campus police. She was allegedly racially profiled by a white student who initially called the police.

Four officers responded to the incident after Siyonbola had fallen asleep in a common room inside the dorm, demanded her campus identification and even opened her dorm room to prove she lived there.

"I deserve to be here. I pay tuition like everybody else," Siyonbola, 34, told police when questioned. "I'm not going to justify my existence here."

The same white student had called campus police on another black student, Jean-Louis Reneson, back in March, calling him, he told ABC News, an "intruder" and telling him, "You need to leave."

Lynn Cooley, Yale's dean of graduate school of arts and sciences, said in an email to students Tuesday that "incidents like that of last night remind us of the continued work needed to make Yale a truly inclusive place."

The incident at Yale comes just days after a group of black Airbnb renters in Southern California said they planned to sue the Rialto Police Department over how officers responded to a 911 caller reporting a burglary at their rental location.

A similar situation unfolded in downtown Philadelphia last month involving two black men at a Starbucks, where a white manager called police on them because they hadn't purchased anything.

Many on Twitter have taken to including the hashtag, #LivingWhileBlack, while recounting their own experiences of racial profiling.

One user wrote that when she was 18 years old, she was helping her dad "put up a shed in the back yard" when a "white lady calls the cops" because it "'wasn't allowed' in the neighborhood. (That was BS) (SHE had a shed)."

Another online commentator wrote that "when I was in college I went into the small very affluent and very white town to try and get some quality groceries and 15 minutes into my grocery shopping an employee started searching my backpack accusing me of stealing."

A third Twitter user recalled an incident that happened when she was "staying in a hotel in NYC." She wrote that she "went to get food & returned with my keycard in my purse. Walks in the lobby, & is stopped by a cop bcuz 'this hotel is expensive & I don't look like I can afford to stay here.' Got escorted to my room & had my bags verified."

Former Dallas police chief David Brown, who retired in 2016, told ABC News that although the hashtag is helping raise awareness, it doesn't go far enough.

"I think using a hashtag -- and this whole idea of spreading awareness -- has made us aware," Brown, who is an ABC News contributor, said. "I don’t know that until that awareness prompts political activism that we will see significant change in all of these very complex areas that have racial overtones."

Brown, who's now a managing director at New York security consulting firm, added, "Awareness alone is not enough in my opinion. You have to prompt the local democracy to change its police departments. You have to insist on implicit bias training and hold officers accountable. Democracy makes changes."

ABC News' Josiah Bates, Karma Allen and Dominick Proto contributed to this report.