As long as we’re having this frank discussion about race and everything, let me express something that really bugs me: the ability of some black people to turn literally any legitimate police stop into an example of “racial profiling.” The Henry Louis Gates arrest, in which a cop was merely following up on a legitimate report of black men breaking into Gates’s house, is but the latest example — but this goes on all the time. We constantly have to read stories about black men being allegedly oppressed by cops — yet once the facts are known, turns out that the officers are simply doing their jobs.
Take today’s L.A. Times article on racial profiling, titled Black males’ fear of racial profiling very real, regardless of class. Here’s the passage that caught my eye:
And yet [Lorenzo] Wyche is also gripped at times by the gnawing suspicion that his black skin makes him a target. He was recently driving in midtown Atlanta. In front of him, an attractive white woman walked across the road, catching his eye. Behind him, a white policeman turned on his lights and pulled Wyche over.
But there would be no fireworks. The officer warned Wyche about an expired tag on his Porsche, and drove away.
You might think this would be the point where Wyche says: “So that showed me that not every stop is necessarily racial profiling.” If that’s what you’d think, you’d think wrong.
“So that was my moment,” Wyche said, with a laugh. “Did he run my tag just because I stared at this white girl?”
Wyche figures he will never know whether he was profiled.
This is the point where many of us want to tear our hair out in frustration. Jesus Christ! His tag was expired — and the cop even had the courtesy of giving the guy a warning instead of a ticket! Nevertheless, the cop is suspected of racism. [UPDATE: Jack Dunphy adds in the comments: "[T]he officer didn’t need to run the tag to see that the Porsche’s registration had expired, all he had to do was look at it. I’ve long had the habit of scrutinizing the license plate of every single car I find myself behind. Should I be discouraged from doing so, out of fear of giving offense, when the car is driven by a black person?”]
Ironically, even the fact that he wasn’t issued a ticket can be spun as evidence of racism. For example:
Kwame Dunston says he has made the calculated choice to take it — repeatedly. The public school administrator says he has been pulled over more than 20 times in the last decade, but has rarely been issued a ticket. What factor other than race, he wondered, would account for all of those stops?
Gee, I dunno. Maybe Dunston did something wrong, and the cop was courteous and didn’t issue a ticket? Like Wyche, the guy with the expired tag who got off with a warning?
But what I find the most galling is when a black man commits a crime, and another black man who fits the description is stopped — and the man who got stopped blames the cop, rather than the black man who committed the crime. And Big Media always seems to join the chorus of condemnation for the cop.
Here are two examples from recent days. First, the Washington Post:
Coming out of another hotel, [Bob Johnson] was stopped by security — locked in a revolving door — because a black man had committed a mugging in the building and they were stopping all black men coming out of the building.
Wow. Looks like the mugger inconvenienced a lot of people. Was that the focus of the article? No. The responsibility of the criminal is never discussed — nor does it come up in a similar story in the Boston Globe:
[S. Allen] Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.
“This is very disturbing that this could happen to anyone, and not just to a person of such distinction,” Counter said. “He was just shocked that this had happened, at 12:44 in the afternoon, in broad daylight. It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment.”
No, they’re being targeted by cops looking for a robbery suspect. Presumably Counter was mistaken for a robbery suspect because another black man with a similar description had robbed somebody. Perhaps even in broad daylight. The cops didn’t make the black robber commit the robbery — nor did they pick the time of day when it happened.
Again, who was doing something wrong? The cops doing their jobs? Or the guy who committed the crime?
In Big Media, the answer is always the same: the cops. Why does nobody ever bring up the fact that the actual criminal is actually to blame??
Wouldn’t making that simple point contribute to mutual understanding, and help ease those racial tensions Big Media claims to be so worried about?