African Americans in Des Moines Worry About Future of Nation’s Race Relations

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- 24 year-old McKenna Sowden says she feels like a target because of the color of her skin.

"Most black people know. You can ask anybody, it doesn’t matter whether you’re middle class, upper class, what side of town you live on, your educational level, that doesn’t matter. You get looked at, you're black, you're black," said Sowden. "So, when the police pull you over, you know, that, it’s automatic in most people’s minds, you know, to watch what you do, to watch your actions, because you know they’re more likely to try to arrest you or hurt you, if you make the wrong moves, so you know any time I’ve been pulled over, you know, we always know to keep our hands visible and things like that."

Sowden alleges that police have repeatedly pulled both her and her boyfriend, 29 year-old Marcedas White, over because of their skin color.

"I`ve always been taught to cooperate, but sometimes even when you cooperate that doesn`t get you anywhere," said Sowden. "We would kind of have to yell out the window to let them know we’re normal like, we’re not doing anything, you know," said Sowden. "It’s hard. I don’t know what to tell people anymore, because everybody’s scared. I mean, I’m scared myself for my neighbors, for friends, for family, and there’s so much tension now between the police and the citizens that I don’t know what’s gonna happen . I really don’t."

"I`ve got pulled over several times saying I fit the description of someone that just committed a crime, and literally I just pulled from the house and it`s been this way for several years now," said White.

White starts to panic in those situations.

"I start sweating and I stutter, because I don`t know what to do," said White.

White says during those situations, he thinks about other incidents that have happened around the country where African Americans have lost their lives at the hands of police officers.

"Yeah, because you don`t know what people have planned or how they`re feeling or how their day`s going. Most people let their emotions get the best of them, especially when they`re on their job, so you never know," said White.

So, how can relations between law enforcement and the African American community get better?

"That`s a good question," said White. "It`s always been the same. Nothing`s changed. We just sweep it under the rug. Nothing`s changed since the 60`s."

69 year-old Jamal Muhammad, who grew up in Birmingham, Alabama and marched for civil rights, agrees. In fact, Muhammad believes race relations are actually worse now than in the 1960's and he fears for the lives of young black men.

"When I see four or five black guys riding around in a car, maybe they ain’t doing nothing, but most likely if they get stopped, ain’t no telling what may happen. That’ the tip of the iceberg where we at today," said Muhammad. "They could just be riding around, just hanging out, not doing nothing. One thing can tip the scales, and they’ll end up being shot. That’s my biggest concern right now as we talking, that`s my biggest concern, because I know sometimes brothers might want to ride around. They may want to have their music up loud, and they might not be doing nothing, but if they get pulled over, and they make the wrong move, say the wrong thing, boom. That`s it. They gonna get shot."

Muhammad believes that one possible solution is having a dialogue, but he says the only way that dialogue can truly be meaningful and make a difference is if people are completely honest with each other and don't just say the things that people want to hear, but instead say what they actually really feel deep inside.