There's a certain irony to the great-grandson of the first African-American Ohio Highway Patrolman being the victim of racial profiling.
It's an irony not lost on Brandy Sharp. Her youngest son, Uriah, became the target of suspected racial profiling on the first day of his newspaper route. Mom followed along in the car as Uriah and his older brother hit the streets of Upper Arlington, a suburb of Columbus, to make their deliveries.
About midway through the route, Sharp said she noticed that Uriah had delivered papers to a few wrong addresses. Familiar with Upper Arlington's solicitation ordinance, Uriah returned to collect the wrongly delivered papers. It was then that someone calledUpper Arlington Police to report the junior carrier for suspicious activity, she said.
Sharp said she knew something was up when a police car showed up. She was in her car monitoring Uriah's progress and reading a book.
After about 10 minutes the officer approached her car and asked if they were soliciting. No further action was taken after her explanation, but Sharp said the experience left her feeling angry. The anger was not directed at the police. Her grandfather was Louis Sharp, the first black patrolman hired by the Ohio State Highway Patrol.
"I have high respect for police," Sharp said. "I know how they are treated."
Her anger was directed at the person who "profiled" her son.
"You called the police on my 11-year-old son," she said. "I'm insulted."
Sharp, known as Bmai Love on Facebook, turned to social media to share her experience with friends never expecting the post to go viral.
The police officer pulled up and asked questions “as if we were intruding in their area,” she wrote in her public Facebook post of July 6. “Totally disgusted.”
Sharp continued on Facebook:
“***My apologies Upper Arlington for bringing my 12 year old African American son into your neighborhood to deliver the paper and make a few dollars on the side...NO HARM INTENDED ."
"I will make sure my boss changes his route.”
Sharp clarified that her son is 11. She was still upset when posting to Facebook and doesn't know why she referenced Uriah as 12.
In a July 8 Facebook post, Upper Arlington Police spoke to the online outrage over the incident.
The police responded to a report of suspicious activity concerning a vehicle and two people on foot walking near Barrington Elementary. A caller to the police department reported seeing one of the people approach a home empty-handed but leave holding something, the post said.
Response to the department’s post was mostly supportive with most commenters lauding the department for its work. One commenter said the problem wasn’t with the police, but with residents who “feel compelled to report issues that are benign in nature because of the color of someone’s skin.”
The paper carrier’s mother also chimed in on this thread:
“Yes I am the mother of the boys that were doing their paper route Friday evening...to have police called and be accused is so disheartening...HOW DOES SOMETHING SO HONEST AND HARMLESS get this kind of outcome...I am VERY UPSET my children have to experience something like this...every paper was put on the porch and MY CHILDREN DID NOT REMOVE ANYTHING FROM Anyone's HOME!...This is insulting and ABSOLUTELY EMBARRASSING...maybe next time more investigation should have been done before we just ACCUSE!”
Sharp said she hopes that her posts help to bring about change.
"I don't want this next generation to experience things we tried to get rid of in the 1950s," she said. People should not jump to conclusions of a person's intent based on skin color.
"To prejudge someone, especially at a young age, is horrible," Sharp added. "Anything I can do to make sure this doesn't happen to someone else, I'll do."
Upper Arlington Police could not be reached for comment.
Follow Sheila Vilvens on Twitter: @SVilvens