Resident calls police on black student canvassing voters in Georgia

Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Credit: Jessica McGowan/Getty Images

Morehouse College junior Eli Sabur has been canvassing since 2015. He’s spent countless hours knocking on doors, trying to get metro Atlanta residents to support causes — from political candidates to public broadcasting — that he cares about.

Approximately three times a month, someone calls the police, Sabur said.

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That happened on June 30 in Snellville. Sabur and a friend were canvassing for Democratic congressional candidate David Kim, who is in the July 24 runoff election for the 7th Congressional District, when three Gwinnett County police cars pulled up. Someone in the neighborhood had called 911 and reported a suspicious vehicle, said Cpl. Wilbert Rundles, a Gwinnett County police spokesman.

The caller told a 911 operator that one man had been sitting in a parked car near the caller's house for about 20 minutes while another man walked around the neighborhood, according to audio from the call. The caller did not say he saw either man doing anything potentially criminal, but wanted officers to come check on the situation.

Sabur pulled out his phone and started recording. In the brief clip, he counted the police cars and shook his head. Once officers learned Sabur and his friend were legally canvassing, they left without issuing any citation or warning.

Sabur posted the short video on social media after the encounter. The clip blew up online when social justice activist Shaun King shared it on Twitter. The video has been viewed more than 149,000 times.

Sabur was surprised that the clip had gained such attention, mostly because he has to deal with the same situation so often. Sabur, who is black, believes it’s racial profiling, but has gotten used to dealing with cops showing up when he’s knocking on doors.

“Just growing up black you kind of have to be aware that you have to live like you’re being feared,” Sabur told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “If I went out every day and a cop got called, I wouldn’t be surprised. It happens so consistently, it makes no difference to me.”

In the June 30 call, the caller made no mention of race until asked by the 911 operator for identification purposes.

Gwinnett police spokesman has said the incident had nothing to do with race, and that the resident was only doing as law enforcement has instructed citizens, to speak up when they suspect suspicious behavior.

Sabur has supervised other canvassers before and has noticed the disparity in how often black canvassers and white canvassers deal with police. For black men and women, Sabur said, it’s a regular occurrence, but white canvassers rarely encounter law enforcement on the job.

“You can blatantly see it,” Sabur said.

He expects that he’ll still have to regularly deal with the police being called on him, but he’s not deterred.

“Canvassing is super important. I love people and it’s always work for purpose,” Sabur said. “If there’s any drawback, it’s the Georgia heat and unpredictable weather.”

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