We’ve heard of driving while black, walking while black, and well, living while black, but what about babysitting while white?
According to Scott Henson, former journalist turned “public policy researcher and blogger,” he was unfairly stopped, detained and nearly arrested for walking home with his granddaughter.
Henson says this isn’t the first time he was questioned by the authorities for being out with his granddaughter–whose mother came to live with Henson and his wife when she was young. Back when his granddaughter Ty was two (she’s 5 now), they were stopped and questioned by police, but this time, things got out of control.
I asked Ty if she’d like to walk home and let Grandma take the car. It was cool but pleasant out, and we were just a short distance from the house, with a city-bike path where we often walk dogs together taking us most of the way there. She was elated…
This was a terrible mistake on Grandpa’s part. Not because we live in a relatively rough neighborhood. I know many of my neighbors, saints and scoundrels alike, and I did not and do not fear becoming a crime victim walking that route, even with a five year old in tow. No, apparently the only folks Ty and I had to fear were in uniform.
After being questioned by a female police officer when they left the skating rink, Henson and his granddaughter continued walking home, only to be stopped again by a slew of cops who handcuffed him and whisked his granddaughter away for further questioning.
As soon as we crossed the street, just two blocks from my house as the crow flies, the police car that just passed us hit its lights and wheeled around, with five others appearing almost immediately, all with lights flashing. The officers got out with tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child. I complied, and they roughly cuffed me, jerking my arms up behind me needlessly. Meanwhile, Ty edged up the hill away from the officers, crying. One of them called out in a comforting tone that they weren’t there to hurt her, but another officer blew up any good will that might have garnered by brusquely snatching her up and scuttling her off to the back seat of one of the police cars. (By this time more cars had joined them; they maxxed out at 9 or 10 police vehicles.)
I gave them the phone numbers they needed to confirm who Ty was and that she was supposed to be with me (and not in the back of their police car), but for quite a while nobody seemed too interested in verifying my “story.” One officer wanted to lecture me endlessly about how they were just doing their job, as if the innocent person handcuffed on the side of the road cares about such excuses. I asked why he hadn’t made any calls yet, and he interrupted his lecture to say “we’ve only been here two minutes, give us time” (actually it’d been longer than that). “Maybe so,” I replied, sitting on the concrete in handcuffs, “but there are nine of y’all milling about doing nothing by my count so between you you’ve had 18 minutes for somebody to get on the damn phone by now so y’all can figure out you screwed up.” Admittedly, this did not go over well. I could tell I was too pissed off to say anything constructive and silently vowed to keep mum from then on.
Apparently, the cops thought Henson had kidnapped his granddaughter–presumably because he’s white and she’s black–and wanted to make sure the child was safe. While this is a valid concern, they could have easily handled the situation much differently as to not traumatize the little girl who was shaken and crying at the sight of her grandfather in handcuffs.
This situation is yet another reminder that when dealing with issues of race, people often overreact.
What do you think? Did the police handle things properly or could they have acted differently?