White woman calls police on African-American political canvasser in gated Lancaster County community

"You don't belong here.'"

  • Marie Cusick/StateImpact Pennsylvania

(Lancaster) — A black woman canvassing for Democratic congressional candidate Jess King is detailing an incident where police were called on her in a gated Lancaster County community.

Dr. Amanda Kemp, a racial justice/mindfulness mentor and visiting scholar at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, says she and her husband, who is white, were allowed entry to Bent Creek in Manheim Township Sunday afternoon after giving the name of a voter they planned to visit.

But after they started knocking on other doors, Bent Creek resident Elizabeth “Duffy” Johnson told them they didn’t belong — saying Bent Creek was private property — and called police.

They left, but after they returned home, a police officer showed up and spoke to Kemp’s husband.

Kemp wrote a post titled, #Canvassingwhileblack on Facebook and says she is always aware of being a black woman, when moving in predominantly white places.

“The unequal power we had in that situation was very apparent to me,” said Kemp. “Canvassing while black refers to all that anxiety I bring to an interaction, combined with having to face people’s expressed hostility and outright rage, and her saying, ‘You don’t belong here.'”

Johnson is a member of the Republican Committee of Lancaster County and has been campaigning for Lloyd Smucker, the GOP incumbent King is challenging in the 11th district. She also teaches dining, social, and personal skills for the Etiquette School of Central PA. A woman answering the school’s phone Monday afternoon said she could take a message for Johnson but hung up when she was asked to identify herself.

Marie Cusick/WITF

Republican Rep. Lloyd Smucker debated his Democratic challenger Jess King Tuesday, October 30, 2018, in York County.

Johnson’s attorney Edwin Pfursich said in statement Tuesday that the story being portrayed on social media is not accurate.

“This matter is about trespassing. The volunteers from Jess King’s campaign entered private property and became aggressive,” he wrote in an email. “They were asked to leave and refused, so the police were notified.”

Neither Kemp nor her husband could say for sure why the situation unfolded as it did, but Kemp noted implicit bias is real, and it is a mistake to simply define racism as someone yelling the n-word.

“There was an undertone,” said Kemp. “Her attitude really reinforces racial attitudes about inequality.”

Smucker campaign spokesman Mike Barley said the matter was referred to law enforcement and “we have no further comment at this time.”

Manheim Township Police Department spokesman Sergeant Michael Piacentino confirmed they were called but said there is no investigation and that, “no criminal event was found to have occurred.”

“The fact the police came to my house–I don’t know what the basis of that was,” said Kemp. “That was really disturbing.”

King’s campaign manager Becca Rast says there have been, historically, disputes between political campaigns and home owners’ associations about what counts as soliciting.

Rast says the campaign will visit such communities but will leave if they’re asked to.

“Bent Creek is a majority white, wealthy community,” said Rast. “Amanda felt like her race may have escalated the situation.”

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