An Oregon state lawmaker said this week that she was reported to the police as a “suspicious person” who might be a burglar while she was talking to constituents in a suburban neighborhood southeast of Portland.
The lawmaker, Representative Janelle Bynum, who is the only black member of the Oregon House of Representatives, said that after canvassing more than two dozen homes in the Clackamas neighborhood on Tuesday, she was taking notes near a driveway around 5 p.m. when a deputy with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office arrived. The deputy said a caller had reported someone going door to door and using a cellphone “as if they were casing the neighborhood for houses that were unoccupied and they would come back later and rob them,” Ms. Bynum said.
Ms. Bynum said the deputy “responded professionally” and thanked her for her service after she explained who she was. At Ms. Bynum’s request, the deputy called the woman who had called the police, at which point the woman apologized to Ms. Bynum.
Ms. Bynum said she did not know the caller’s race.
“I don’t know if race had anything do with her call — she didn’t say that — but race had everything to do with my reaction, and my fear of not being treated well, my fear of maybe being misunderstood,” Ms. Bynum said in an interview. “I was, of course, in disbelief.”
The Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office did not respond to requests for comment Thursday. The caller did not identify herself to Ms. Bynum.
Ms. Bynum’s experience adds to a growing number of reports from African-American people whose everyday interactions have transformed into encounters with the police.
“This is not an isolated incident,” said David Johns, the executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition. “It’s an extreme one because Ms. Bynum happens to be an elected official. But this happens too often in spaces where otherwise people should celebrate and embrace diversity.”
In April, the police in Rialto, Calif., halted three African-American peoplewho were loading suitcases into their car after staying at an Airbnb because a neighbor had suspected they were burglars.
Earlier that month, two black men were arrested while waiting for another man for a business meeting at a Starbucks in downtown Philadelphia. They had asked to use a restroom, but had not bought anything, so an employee asked them to leave. The men declined, and a Starbucks employee called the police. The episode prompted Starbucks to close more than 8,000 stores in the United States for several hours on May 29 to conduct anti-bias training.
Such encounters, often amplified on social media after being captured on cellphone videos and police body cameras, have increasingly become a rallying cry to address entrenched racism in the United States.
“I would like to think we would get to a place where someone would see someone who is unfamiliar to them, and rather than calling the police, call that person into a place where they can have a conversation about who they are,” Mr. Johns said.
On Tuesday, Ms. Bynum posted a photograph of herself smiling with the officer from the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office.
Ms. Bynum said she had wanted to talk to the person who reported her to the police because she hoped it would help humanize the encounter. The conversation was short, she said, and the person declined an offer from Ms. Bynum to meet and “make amends.”
Usually, Ms. Bynum said, when someone wrongly calls the police on another person, the caller doesn’t receive feedback.
“There is no way for them to be able to discern whether their gut was right or their gut was wrong,” she said. “It’s O.K. for people to call when they think something is wrong, but it is also O.K. for people who have been called on to feel a sting and to acknowledge that being accused of something hurts.”
According to the Census Bureau, the ZIP code of the neighborhood where Ms. Bynum was canvassing is more than 70 percent white.
Ms. Bynum, a Democrat who is running for re-election in November, ran unopposed in a May primary, earning about 98 percent of more than 3,400 votes cast. She was first elected to office in 2016 after defeating her Republican opponent with 51 percent of the vote.
Ms. Bynum grew up in Washington, D.C., and she said she had not held public office before becoming a state representative. She has lived in her district since 2002, and owns and operates four McDonald’s restaurants in the area.
She said her political career was inspired by her mother, who told her that new leaders needed to build on advances made by African-Americans in previous generations.