The black lady waiting for AAA said they could smell the ethanol on the breath of Susan Westwood, the slurring, unsteady white woman who had approached them in a dark parking lot in Charlotte. But Westwood had no trouble conveying a racially-tint message straight out of the Jim Crow era.
She is a white woman as she told the two black ladies and a resident of the apartment complex in one of the city’s most exclusive neighborhoods where they happened to be standing. She makes $125,000 a year and pays hefty rent, and her children attend Myers Park High School.
“This is Myers Park. What’s up? What are you doing swinging out here on a Friday night?” she asked. “I am white and hot. So what are you doing here?’”
Mary Garris’s night had started to sour even before Westwood wanders up. She was visiting her sister, Leisa, on Oct. 19, but when she went to leave, her vehicle would not start. They got on the phone with AAA, but the call was disrupted by Westwood’s meandering tirade.
So instead, the sisters used the mobile phone to record the moment when waiting for a tow truck became yet another thing you cannot do while black.
Over the past few years, black and brown people have found themselves worse while going about their daily lives, in almost laughably innocuous scenarios, such as waiting for a school van while black, throwing a kindergarten temper tantrum while black, drinking iced tea while black, waiting at Starbucks while black, AirBnB’ing while black and shopping for underwear while black.
People who surprisingly found themselves on the receiving end of racial harassment have been empowered by a new weapon: cellphones. Recordings of the incidents have sparked viral videos and spontaneous hash-tagged nicknames for people like #BBQBecky and #PermitPatty, who have been scorned publicly and on social media and, in some cases, fired from their jobs. Westwood has become known as #SouthParkSusan.
These incidents stir conversations about ‘over-policing’
The nation is tangled in a debate about the disparate treatment of black people after several incidents of apparent “over policing” across the U.S. (Taylor Turner /The Washington Post)
But the Garris sisters’ confrontation went beyond an uncomfortable moment for a black person in a public space, as Westwood escalated to profanity, racial stereotypes then threats.
First Westwood asked, “Is your boyfriend here? Is your baby daddy here?” she raised her cell phone in a mocking tone: “Mmm, girl-girl, I got you.” Westwood claim to know where the women lived and shouted, “You’re not going to sell drugs here!”
Then she warned him that it could be dangerous hanging out in the mostly white neighborhood.
Do I need to bring out my hidden weapon, too? she asked the women. “This is North Carolina, by the way.”
The sisters’ growing unease was showing in the 911 call Leisa Garris placed after retreating to an apartment balcony.
“The lady keeps coming out here harassing me still, she said to the dispatcher, crave officers to come faster as Westwood can be heard screaming insults in the background. “I don’t know what to do still. The lady was pushing me in my face.”
No one was hurt, but officers who arrived found Westwood’s actions merited criminal charges. Westwood could not immediately be reached for comment.
Officer Keith Trietley, a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Westwood has been charged with two counts of communicating threats and two counts of simple assault.
The police report is poor but notes Leisa Garris does, in fact, live at the apartment complex in question.
The drunken discharge also cost Westwood her job at the local cable company that paid her $125,0000 and allowed her to live in the exclusive community.
“The incident taped in Charlotte is a blatant violation of Charter’s code of conduct and clearly disregards the company’s commitment to inclusion and respectful behavior,” Patrick Paterno, a man for Spectrum Communication, wrote in a statement about the incident. “As such, Ms. Westwood’s employment with the company has been suspended, effective immediately.”
A few days later, the incident and the fact they could be accosted and threatened by a woman they had never met — still stung.
“We are so confused and still very upset about what has taken place only because of the color of our skin,” Mary Garris told Charlotte TV station WCCB. “It’s so saddened to know that today, we still have this over racism that’s going on in 2018.”