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Reporting Crime While White

We have been treated with stories of black people allegedly being stopped by police for the “crime” of “driving while black” or “walking while black”. I have no doubt some of these stories are true. Back in my youth I worked in a store at a very high end mall and mall security followed young blacks around until they left on a regular basis. Of course they also followed young white kids around as well because in general large groups of unsupervised teens can cause trouble. In the years since we have been treated to story after story of large groups of teens causing mass disruptions in malls. For example, just a few weeks ago there was a huge brawl in the Buckland Hills Mall. According to reports there were around 300 teens fighting. When it comes to public spaces there is a fine line between freedom of movement and protecting your business.

Anyway. On a semi-regular basis, someone on Facebook shares a post from someone called Tray John. It is a recreation of a blog post from a guy named Steve Locke. The original post came in December of 2015. Mr. Locke is a teacher at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. I have never heard of it either but it really isn’t my scene. He is also an artist apparently. You can buy some of his “art” for the low, low price of $300 like this:

From linked photo on Mr. Locke’ s page,

Pretty impressive, right? Well how about this?

Screenshot from Mr. Locke’s page, see link above

A little boy with “God is love” on one side and then reversed it says “you little faggot”. Huh. I guess that is like profound and stuff. It mostly looks like something he slapped together in a couple of minutes with MS Paint and is now selling for $1,000. I guess I just am not all that cultured. Anyway, my point here is not to poke fun at his “art”. It is to look at his post that keeps going viral on Facebook.

Here is the gist of the story. Mr. Locke was headed to work and was going to get a burrito for lunch. A cop car pulled up behind him and two cops, two white cops he takes pains to point out, get out of the vehicle and approach him. They start asking him some questions and inform him that someone that fit his description had just tried to break into a lady’s house nearby. He was a black male, wearing a puffy coat and a knit hat, about the right height and weight. We are entirely reliant on his narration of what happened, what was said (he places the statements in quotes which implies these are exact words) and how it was said and even still as I read the post several times what struck me was that the cops were professional and courteous. They were responding to a 911 call (I assume) and looking for someone that was attempting to engage in a violent crime and still they were polite. He fit the profile, although he was quite outraged that the cops didn’t know how unique his knit hat was or that his puffy coat was a Ralph Lauren. The police were just trying to respond to a call and they noted this to him. The woman that reported her house being broken into was there and they wanted her to take a look so they could confirm it wasn’t him. Then he writes this:

It was at this moment that I knew that I was probably going to die.  I am not being dramatic when I say this.  I was not going to get into a police car.  I was not going to present myself to some victim.  I was not going let someone tell the cops that I was not guilty when I already told them that I had nothing to do with any robbery.  I was not going to let them take me anywhere because if they did, the chance I was going to be accused of something I did not do rose exponentially.  I knew this in my heart.  I was not going anywhere with these cops and I was not going to let some white woman decide whether or not I was a criminal, especially after I told them that I was not a criminal.  This meant that I was going to resist arrest.  This meant that I was not going to let the police put their hands on me.

Again note that he goes to great pains to point out that “some white woman” was the victim of a crime. But no rational person would have thought at this point “I am going to die”. The idea that him telling the cops “It wasn’t me” was supposed to cause the cops to immediately abandon their investigation of someone fitting the description of a violent criminal stretches the bonds of credulity. Do cops stop suspects on the street and typically have them confess their crimes right there? Of course not. I am pretty confident that almost everyone arrested protests their innocence. Afterward he writes about how shook up he was and that he needed a hug and a “good cry” in his car.

We are supposed to read it and feel bad for him, and empathize that he thought he was in imminent danger of being killed by the polite, courteous cops. But I didn’t feel that way at all. I kind of wondered why he was being so hysterical, other than simply reinforcing the false media and cultural narrative that cops are gunning down black men left and right in our cities.

Even though the police were doing their jobs, courteously and professionally from what I can tell, this is supposed to represent some huge injustice. Oh, and his post has a link to a gofundme account right at the top so he can raise money to buy his own studio to create his, um, art.

Reading between the lines, what he mostly seems mad about is that two white cops were responding to a call from a white woman and how dare they not just pass him by. Don’t they know he is a professor?! I mean, my God the man had a lanyard on! How could you suspect someone wearing a LANYARD of a crime?! With a card (ironically enough in the photo accompanying the post the ID is flipped around so you can’t tell what it says). The outrage here is that a white woman dared to report a crime involving a black man and that two cops who happened to be white were responding to a call of a break-in and looking for a dangerous criminal that matched his description. My wife and daughters were stopped once in Ohio. They were driving a car that was similar to a car in an APB. The cops stopped them, asked a few questions and sent them on their way. It happens.

We hear a lot in this post about how shook up he was. Well, we all get shook up when interacting with the police, even for something as minor as a traffic stop. What is not mentioned is the woman that had reported the attempted break-in. She is just some evil older white woman that is looking for an excuse to jail a black man. But why were the cops out? What did they say to him? He reports (and this is all from his memory so we have to take his word for it how this went down and even that it went down at all):

“We had someone matching your description just try to break into a woman’s house.”

So this happened in the late morning/noon-time (he was getting a burrito for lunch on the way to work). The home of an older woman was being broken into. We can assume she was home at the time and infer that she was alone. I have never had my home broken into but even as a man and a man with the means to protect myself, that would be a terrible thing. Imagine being an older woman, presumably home alone, in your house, your sanctuary, when someone tries to break in. She must have been terrified. I bet she was shaking and a wreck for days afterward. But no one posted her story. No one cares.

According to the events described, a man tried to break into the home of a woman. She was undoubtedly terrified and not sure what would happen. Would the man get in? Would he rob her? Beat her up? Maybe even murder her? But somehow in this story, she becomes one of the villains. No one I have seen post this story has given any thought to the older woman who was the actual victim of an actual crime.

What about the cops? Day in and day out they are called on to pull people over with no idea who is in the car and what they are up to. They approach people on the street not knowing if they are carrying a weapon and potentially dangerous. They respond to 911 calls knowing they could be walking into an ambush. Just a few moments ago as I am writing this there was a report of a cop in Alabama investigating a crime and being killed. These cops in Mr. Locke’s story were responding to a call of a man trying to force his way into a home. They see a man on the street that matches that description. They stop the man and politely ask him a few questions and detain him for a brief time. They are not hassling him because he is a black man, a professor no less!, but because he matches the description given to them by a frightened woman. Did the cop actually do as he says and “unsnapped the holster of his gun”? Maybe but then again in his next sentence Mr. Locke writes: “I took my hands out of my pockets.”

So let’s look through this scenario. Cops have been called to an attempted break-in. They are canvassing the neighborhood and see a man that matches the description they were given. The cop gets out of the car. The man they approach has his hands in his pockets. Is he keeping his hands warm or does he have a gun? You can’t tell and neither could the cop and by the time you figured it out, you are already dead. I assume it is standard procedure for cops to snap your holster shut when sitting in the car so that you gun doesn’t work itself loose from the holster. I also assume that if the man you think might be the same one that tried to break into a house might have a gun in his pocket, you don’t want to have to unsnap your firearm in case you have to draw it. A split-second is the difference between you going home to your family or having a folded American flag handed to your wife at your funeral. There is no indication from the story that the cop had his hand on the gun or was in any way threatening Mr. Locke with it. I am sure most cops doing stops like this are running on adrenaline all day long, every day.

In Mr. Locke’s story, he was a victim. He was seconds away from death. He was unjustly stopped and questioned, even though it was in the investigation of a crime. He seems to think that having a lanyard and saying “It wasn’t me” should satisfy the police. He spares not a second of thought for the cops doing a dangerous and thankless job. He doesn’t even spare a second of thought for the woman who was terrified by someone trying to break into her house. He was enraged at being questioned and for being embarrassed. Mr. Locke writes:

“That white woman could just walk up to a cop and talk about me like I was an object for regard. I wanted to go back and spit in their faces.”

He wanted to go back and spit in their faces, including “that white woman”. He wanted to spit in her face and in the face of the cops, who by his own recollection were polite and courteous while responding to a call from a frightened woman. I have been stopped by the police before and been grouchy about it but never to the point of ever even thinking about spitting in their faces. Again, from everything that he wrote from his own recollection, the cops were professional and courteous but Mr. Locke was embarrassed.

So what we seem to have here, based strictly on my own reading of his words, is a man who was briefly questioned by police in the course of an investigation of a violent crime. The police were professional and courteous, but they were white. The alleged victim was white. The writer, Steve Locke, is black and fit the description of body type, race and apparel of the suspect in this violent crime. My take-away from this is not that Mr. Locke was wronged in any way and was in legitimate fear for his life. It is that he was mad that the police questioned him at all and were unsatisfied with his declaration that he was not a criminal. When I read this story, as I have done several times, I don’t get what the hand-wringing is all about. What should the cops have done? Or perhaps a more pertinent question, what would all of these people reposting this story have wanted the cops to do if it was their mother home alone when someone was trying to break in? I know if it was my mom, I would want the cops to do their absolute best to find the man trying to break-in. I also know that if I were briefly detained by a couple of black cops because I matched the description of the suspect in a violent crime, I would be happy to cooperate with them.

Yes, I know that there is a deep suspicion of the police in the black community. I know historically there is reason for that suspicion. But I also know that as long as blacks live in America, they will run into the police and that those same police are the ones called out when a young black man is gunned down by another young black man. What would have been helpful would have been Mr. Locke writing about his experience and then pointing out that he had nothing to fear. He wasn’t really a suspect. He was simply being asked a few question by cops trying to catch a bad guy. He cooperated and they went on their way. If he had pointed out that black men don’t have to fear the cops, then his post about his experience would have been helpful. Instead what you get is an overwrought post about a man who was treated with courtesy and professionalism that reinforces for black men that they are in danger from the police and tugs at the heartstrings of whites who don’t ask the hard questions after reading his post.

The hard reality is that we live in a world where people do awful stuff and hurt other people. A world where cops in urban areas spend their days chasing after people that have done bad stuff, one after another after another. Steve Locke was asked a few questions and inconvenienced but a woman was terrified in her own home and cops were trying to find the person that did it. Yet we are told that Locke is the sympathetic character in this story and that the actual victim was really the villain because she is white and dared call the cops on a black man.

When you read stuff like Steve Locke’s story on the internet, take some time to think it through before you share it. Ask what you would have wanted the cops to do in this situation. Ask how they could have handled the situation differently so that Mr. Locke would be satisfied or if there was in fact no way they could have acted that would have been acceptable to Mr. Locke. It is a complicated world we live in and often thinking through a topic and getting all of the evidence is a way to avoid leaping to conclusions, conclusions that are often divorced from reality.

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