Don Lemon has managed to upset people across Black America for a second time right before the year’s end. While providing radio commentary Tuesday, CNN anchor Don Lemon clumsily came to the defense of NYPD’s controversial stop-and-frisk program, which he redubbed “stop-question-and-frisk.” While pondering if the program might exist under Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio, Lemon seemed to lament that it was not “conducted like the occasional, random airport screening.” And as if that were not enough, he went on to conclude by saying, “Whatever the Mayor here decides will be reflected in your city, reflected in your crime rate, and in your economy. So the question is: would you rather be politically correct or safe and alive?”
This comes as no surprise to those of us who have watched Lemon go from bad to worse. In July of this year, Lemon channeled the ghost of Daniel Patrick Moynihan by defending FOX anchor Bill O’Reilly’s lecturing about what Black Americans needed to do to “fix” ourselves. His dry list escaped most and angered nearly everyone. Responding to the backlash, he invited white anti-racist lecturer Tim Wise to explain to him what he’d said incorrectly to Black people. The segment ended with Lemon curmudgeonly brushing off everything Wise had said, including his last statements about the illogicality of stop-and-frisk.
Don Lemon’s past experience with “shop-and-frisk” conflicts with his recent comments and exposes his hypocrisy. In 2001, Lemon was a general assignment reporter for WCAU-TV in Philadelphia when he experienced racial profiling while shopping. He brought a lawsuit against Tower Records, alleging that he was followed to his car after purchasing a compact disc player, assaulted, and accused of shoplifting by a security guard. It’s interesting that he cannot connect his own experience with that of all of the Black people who experience this everyday in New York. Just a dozen years later, Lemon’s self-induced amnesia prevents him from relating to Arabs who might be profiled by TSA, or Blacks and Latinos who are “stop-questioned-and-frisked.” It leaves us to wonder: would he have dropped the case and his allegations of racism if the store expressed they did it to make others feel “safe”?
Don Lemon has wandered towards the peripheries of Black self-actualization over time. But now, it seems he has completely exited the sphere. The person who once seemed to be a respectable news anchor is now becoming a self-depreciatory mouthpiece for Black victim blaming. Through his own experience, Lemon certainly knows better, but chooses to be wrong. It’s not much different from the reasoning that inspired Kenan Thompson to blame Black women for SNL’s lack of diversity.
People in the public eye who are honest about race often run the risk of effecting their livelihood. Being honest about such a disagreeable subject could cost someone their audience or supporters. Those who choose to decry racism may not be fruitful in their ventures to retrieve the public confirmation necessary to last in mainstream media. This might provide clarity for the reasoning behind Lemon’s hypocrisy and why he is okay with racial profiling now.
For a criminalized generation of Black youth, we need to know it’s okay being who we are and looking the way we look. I should not have to sweat uncomfortably every time I pass a police officer when I exit the subway. We do not need excuses for an ineffective racist policy, we need equal treatment. If it’s acceptable to make me, and everyone who looks like me, feel uncomfortable in order to make others feel secure, then justice is not being served.
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This piece originally appeared on Youngist