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Shelia Stubbs discovers a new crime: Campaigning while black

Shelia Stubbs was going door-to-door to meet with voters. Naturally, someone thought she was doing a drug deal.

Shelia Stubbs was going door-to-door to meet with voters. Naturally, someone thought she was doing a drug deal. Shelia Stubbs

Nothing about Shelia Stubbs says “criminal.”

She’s a 47-year-old mother who’s among the more ranking officials in Madison, Wisconsin, having spent a dozen years on the Dane County Board of Supervisors.

Last month she was out campaigning for a new job in the Wisconsin Assembly. This would speak well for Stubbs. She was going door-to-door to greet constituents, an idea that some politicians believe to be an avoid-at-all-costs portion of the job. (See Paulsen, Erik.)

Stubbs was wearing a nametag, carrying campaign literature, and was trailed by an SUV ferrying her 71-year-old mother and 8-year-old daughter.

Yet one man in the predominantly white Madison neighborhood misread this obvious set of tea leaves. He called 911, reporting that “they are waiting for drugs at the local drug house.”

Police soon rolled up, having no choice but to respond to what they presumed was a drug deal. Stubbs, well-armed with evidence, quickly disabused them of this notion.

The cops told her to carry on. She couldn’t. “I was embarrassed,” she told the New York Times. “I couldn’t demonstrate how I really felt on the inside. I just wanted to go.”

This isn’t the first time police have been summoned for the crime of campaigning while black.

A month earlier, Janelle Bynum, the lone black member of the Oregon House, was campaigning in a suburban Portland neighborhood when police were called. Once again a resident confused a middle-aged politician with a “suspicious person” who appeared to be casing the neighborhood for a burglary.

The fact that she was doing this in broad daylight, with no attempt at stealth or subterfuge, appeared to be lost on the female caller. Add it to the multitude of crimes – shopping while black, driving while black – that one mustn’t do with unauthorized pigmentation.

At least Stubbs might be able to do something about it. It appears most of Madison sees in her not a criminal, but a worthy representative. She walked away with the Democratic primary, and is now running unopposed in the general election.