Most Black men who I know consider the barber shop a special spot. It is where they are able to gather in a safe space with friends and just shoot the shit. Boast a little, talk about “man things”, express their opinions, just let off some steam. My male friends tell me that there is a special type of bond that develops between men at the barber shop.
But, apparently in this day and age, the “War on Drugs” has evolved to the point that even the sanctity of the traditional male retreat, the barber shop, is not safe from the efforts of law enforcement convinced that any gathering of Black males is a bastion of criminal activities.
Officers with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office raided some 40 barber shops in black and Latino neighborhoods between August and September. Rather than go through the trouble of obtaining search warrants, they tagged along with inspectors from the Department of Business and Professional Regulation to enter the shops.
To hear the barbers and customers tell it, what happened next was nothing short of a nightmare.
According to the Orlando Sentinel and other news outlets, witnesses said the officers conducted SWAT-style raids on the shops, complete with police dogs and, in some cases, drawn weapons.
In some shops, barbers were forced to lie on the floor and submit to pat-down searches. Drawers and lockers were pried open with bars and a battering ram, and extensive damage was done.
Lawyers representing the barbers said that customers, including those who were in the middle of getting haircuts, were ordered out of the shop, and criminal checks were run on them.Source
Now, these raids on barber shops did not yield much results. Only three drug crimes were discovered during the two month assault on Orlando shops. But dozens of barbers were arrested for license violations. Some were forced to wait in police vehicles while they raided other local shops. And now, the barbers are suing for civil rights violations.
Orange county sheriff Jerry Demings (a Black man) is calling for an internal investigation, and has stated that the arrests for license violations were overkill. Three employees of the Department of Business and Professional Regulation have lost their jobs because of this debacle.
The “War on Drugs” is a war on Black and Latino men. Do not think for a second that the efforts of law enforcement in any way make communities safer. While most drugs are sold and consumed by white people, the “War on Drugs” has been waged almost singularly against Black and Latino men living in poor, urban communities. Although the white suburbs are flooded with all sorts of drugs, the militaristic tactics of the “War on Drugs” are seen almost exclusively in predominantly Black and Latino inner city areas.
This raid on barber shops across Orlando is reminiscent of the days when slaves were prohibited from congregating in groups, for fear that they would be planning an insurrection. It is proof that Black men are seen as a threat no matter where they gather, and no matter what legitimate activities they are participating in.