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‘I was just reading a book’: Canadian cops called on black man reading C.S. Lewis in his car

(Courtesy of Louizandre Dauphin)

After the blue and red police lights flashed behind his car, Louizandre Dauphin figured he may have added another “prohibited” item to the list of things you can’t do while black: Reading.

Dauphin, 33, a former high school English teacher, had decided to relax last week with a few books at Stonehaven Wharf, a parking lot for fishing boats that’s frequented by tourists to the Canadian province of New Brunswick. He sat inside his Volkswagen Golf hatchback watching the waves and poring over “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis and another book by theologian Timothy Keller.

As he drove home afterward, Dauphin recounted on Instagram, an officer with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police pulled him over, saying someone nearby had called authorities “because … a suspicious black man in a white car was parked at the Wharf for a couple hours. My response, Really? I was just reading a book.”

He snapped two photos that he’d later use for the Instagram post, which says Canada experiences some of the same racial tension that has made headlines in the United States.

In the post, he tells his countrymen “not to get too comfortable on their high horses.” He hashtagged the post #DangerousNegro.

Dauphin, the director of the department of parks, recreation and tourism in the small New Brunswick town of Bathurst, told The Washington Post that he didn’t feel threatened by the officer, who seemed bemused about the situation before letting Dauphin go without incident. Still, he said, the encounter and a handful of previous ones show “we’re not immune to situations like this.”

“There’s still intolerance and suspicion,” he told The Post. “I’ve been pulled over for driving in my own neighborhood.  I’ve gotten asked where I’m from and when I tell them I’m from my hometown of Hamilton, Ontario, the question is where are you really from? As if I can’t actually be from here.”

The suspicion that American police target people based on race spawned the phrase “driving while black” and led to countless offshoots — like waiting for a schoolbus while black, throwing a kindergarten temper tantrum while black and drinking iced tea while black.

Dauphin said other Canadians he’s talked to believe their country doesn’t have similar racial issues, although some commentators have questioned whether Canada is truly more tolerant.

Video: Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau apologizes for 1914 Komagata Maru incident

Terry Glavin wrote in the Ottawa Citizen:

Canadians have long boasted that this country was born in 1867 without the “original sin” of slavery. We’ve prided ourselves on being unblemished by the thing that disfigured the American republic of 1776. The wickedness that persisted in Jim Crow laws a full century after the bloody civil war of the 1860s was pulled down only by the great civil rights movement that Martin Luther King led to the steps of the Alabama legislature in Montgomery that day in 1965.

As people in the United States take a close look at whether law enforcement officers treat minorities differently following a spate of deadly police shootings of blacks, Dauphin’s Instagram post has sparked dialogue — and some criticism.

“What a joke, if the police get calls, they need to check it out,” a commenter named Jamiel Robinson wrote on the website of the National Post, a Canadian newspaper that covered Dauphin’s encounter. “If you call that racism, you are as much of a problem as actual racists.”

An Instagram user named dedoman99 commented on Dauphin’s post and said the situation was overblown: “Big deal you were reading a book sitting for hours at a wharf…You got stopped … You’re not a victim.”

A spokesperson for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police wouldn’t provide details about the call that prompted the officer to stop Dauphin or name the constable involved.

“There was no arrest and no charge in that incident,” said Constable Derek Black, media relations officer for the RCMP in New Brunswick province. “We received a report of a suspicious vehicle. We stopped the vehicle, spoke with the driver and the report was unfounded.”

Dauphins’ traffic stop happened around the same time as the family of Philando Castile, a black man who was shot to death on July 6 by Minnesota police officers, alleged that Castile was stopped primarily because he was black. Officers say he was pulled over for a busted tail light. An Associated Press review showed Castile had been stopped by police 52 times around the Twin Cities for mostly minor infractions like speeding and driving without a muffler.

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A day after Castile was killed, a black man fatally shot five police officers on patrol at a Dallas demonstration over Castile’s death and another deadly officer-involved shooting in Louisiana.

Since Instagram post went viral, Dauphin has responded to some of his critics with a longer, more detailed post on Facebook saying he wasn’t taking a swipe at the RCMP or the officer, who he wrote was “professional, polite and courteous.”

But he feels there’s still a big problem:

I do not know the true motivations behind the individual who called the police to report my presence at the Stonehaven Wharf, but I struggle to understand why my actions of driving my vehicle to a public space, reading a book, and never once exiting my vehicle was cause for a level of suspicion which prompted this individual to call the police. Be it my vehicle (a white Volkswagen Golf) or the colour of my skin, which I believe was a contributing factor, there was something that prompted an individual to consider my presence threatening enough to warrant attention by the police. If all are truly welcome at this location, why would a person acting in a non-threatening manner have the police called on them? And, after such an incident, why would this person feel any motivation or desire to return to that location? I never once identified this person who called the police as racist, but I do suspect there is some degree of bias, fear, and ignorance-based suspicion which lead to the reality that the police were alerted to my presence at the wharf.

This post originally said that the Royal Canadian Mounted Police was responding to a 911 call. The RCMP says it was a non-emergency call. The post has been updated.

Read more: 

Black doctor to police: I defend you, I will care for you — but I still fear you

How Philando Castile’s killing changed the way blacks talk about surviving traffic stops

Aren’t more white people than black people killed by police? Yes, but no.