A Coconut Grove neighbor turned to the popular Nextdoor app to warn fellow residents about “suspicious activity” days after Hurricane Irma knocked down trees and left parts of the neighborhood without electricity.
The activity the poster saw: Three African-American young men riding bicycles.
In the Crime and Safety section, the poster wrote, he approached the young men and told them, “We are here.”
One neighbor replied, “Not helpful to racially profile people. Greet and ask if they need assistance before assuming they are criminals.”
This is not the first time an incident that a neighbor considers racial profiling has been noted on the app where neighbors can help reunite lost dogs with their owners or ask for referrals for a housekeeper.
The tech company rolled out an ambitious plan to help deal with racial profiling after communities around the country reported black neighbors and people of color were being singled out in the crime section simply because of their skin color. In some cases, these incidents were happening in neighborhoods that are rapidly gentrifying, but were once predominantly black.
The app’s “Nextdoor Guidelines on Neighborly Behavior,” prohibit racial profiling. If a post is flagged it can be removed and the offending poster can be suspended. In directions on posting about criminal activity, users are encouraged to lead with the crime or criminal activity observed and to give detailed descriptions that include more than sex and race. The goal is to have people check racial prejudices or unconscious biases before posting.
In the Coconut Grove Nextdoor thread, the original poster defended his claim that the young men were suspicious because “people riding bicycles at walking speed, checking houses left and right and leave rapidly after approaching them are not tourists neither residents of our area.”
Miami Commissioner Ken Russell, who represents Coconut Grove, is an active participant on the app, saying it's a modern way to keep in touch with constituents and bridge the divide between government.
In an interview with WLRN, Russell said he did not see the post titled "Suspicious Bikers," but he said young black men on bikes could have easily been someone from the neighborhood.
West Grove is a historically black neighborhood that abuts the more affluent sections of Coconut Grove, and there are also black residents in the more well-to-do sections too.
“For someone to have a preconceived notion and to post that online is unfortunate,” said Russell. “It's a keyboard to hide behind something racist, but it's also a perfect opportunity to call it out."
Most of the neighbors on the thread did not call it out.
One person wrote that perhaps the young men were riding on a stolen bicycle. Another chimed in, “Same guys with the same attitude were seen by my next door neighbor. We need to keep an eye out for each other at all times.”
Someone else added she saw the young men in the area and told them to go home.
And the person who wrote that the original poster was racial profiling the young men, followed up with, “If they bolt after being approached - call the police. Also get a good look so they can be positively identified in the future. Maybe take a photo.”
It turns out, according to another neighbor, the young men were supposed to be there.
“They are helping one of our neighbors on Kumquat [Avenue],” the person wrote.