To that list we now can add … riding a roller-coaster at Dorney Park & Wildwater Kingdom while black.
Yes, the latest outrage allegedly took place at the amusement park in Allentown just after 10 a.m. on Father’s Day, shortly after Benjamin Slater of East Mount Airy, a 36-year-old special-education teacher, entered with three friends — his girlfriend, a young man he mentors, and that man’s girlfriend.
Slater has been to Dorney Park before, and he likes to start at the back and work his way forward. So he headed straight for the Steel Force roller-coaster.
After getting off the ride, Slater said, an armed Dorney Park security officer approached him saying, “Your pockets are bulging. I want to know what you have in them.”
At first, he thought he was getting punked, that it was a Father’s Day joke. Slater — who has an education degree from Bucknell and a master’s from Arcadia — already had been through the park’s security screening. Still, he showed the officer that he had a wallet, keys, and a cellphone.
But that was not the end of Slater’s confrontation with the security officer, he told me Friday.
“I started to walk away from him to get on another ride, because I figured the conversation was over, and then he approached me again, and that’s when I started recording what was happening to me,” Slater said. “He said he had gotten phone calls and that I matched the description of someone who was … going through purses and bags.”
As he suffered the indignity of being escorted through the park like a common criminal, Slater said, he didn’t hold back. Slater, who is certified to teach children with social and emotional challenges, let officials know what he thought of his treatment. Whitehall Township Police officers were waiting, and cited him for using obscenities and “causing a public inconvenience.”
Eventually, authorities released Slater. They also walked him to the park’s exit and banned him from returning for six months.
“My Father’s Day was ruined,” Slater told me.
As someone who has been treated like a suspect because of my skin color more times than I can count, I can relate to Slater’s righteous outrage. So can a whole lot of others who’ve been in the news lately.
Earlier in the week, I reached out to Breea C. Willingham, an assistant professor of criminal justice at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh, to ask her about all the examples of blacks falling victim to people’s prejudices that have been clogging my inbox.
“What’s driving all of this is pure evil and hatred, a recycling of the same script — different century — that’s ripped from the pages of the American playbook of white patriarchal racism that is the foundation of this country,” she said.
In a lawsuit filed on Slater’s behalf Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Philadelphia, attorney Brian R. Mildenberg wrote, “It is a violation of the federal Civil Rights Act to deny or restrict the provision of services at a public accommodation or amusement based upon the color of a patron’s skin. Dorney Park needs to immediately apologize to Mr. Slater and change the park’s treatment of African American customers.”
No one from Dorney Park was willing to discuss the lawsuit with me, but the park released a statement about it Friday: “Dorney Park security responded to a guest complaint concerning Mr. Slater and were joined by local law enforcement in the investigation. While we regret that Mr. Slater’s experience at the park was not as he expected, we believe that the case is without merit.”
I probably should call myself the #livingwhileblack columnist, because readers are constantly telling me about incidents in which the cops have been called on an innocent African American and they usually have cellphone video to prove it.
It’s a lot like riding the Steel Force roller-coaster at Dorney Park: Every time I think we’ve put these awful incidents behind us, along comes another one to get us worked up all over again. Up and down we go, over and over again.
Hang on tight, folks. Summer’s just getting started.