When this story first cropped up it didn’t even seem worthy of any column space because of the very ordinary nature of it. Dorothy Bland is a professor at the University of North Texas who also happens to be black. One day, while out for a power walk near her home an in affluent suburb, Ms. Bland was asked to stop for a chat by the police. What happened next, according to an op-ed she published in the Dallas Morning News, was nothing short of a horror show.
Flashing lights and sirens from a police vehicle interrupted a routine Saturday morning walk in my golf-course community in Corinth…
Like most African-Americans, I am familiar with the phrase “driving while black,” but was I really being stopped for walking on the street in my own neighborhood? Yes. In the words of Sal Ruibal, “Walking while black is a crime in many jurisdictions. May God have mercy on our nation.”
Knowing that the police officers are typically armed with guns and are a lot bigger than my 5 feet, 4 inches, I had no interest in my life’s story playing out like Trayvon Martin’s death. I stopped and asked the two officers if there was a problem; I don’t remember getting a decent answer before one of the officers asked me where I lived and for identification.
Lights! Sirens! Demands for ID without even giving a reason! Trayvon Martin! Somehow, though, Professor Bland managed to escape with her life and go on to publish her accusations. Unfortunately for her, it turns out that the police had a dash cam in their car and they were on microphones for the entire encounter. As described at Fox News, the short movie which unfolds tells a rather different story. Or perhaps I should say, an entirely different story.
The video is short enough that I won’t bother transcribing for you, but you’ll want to give it a listen. There were no sirens. The two officers didn’t shake the woman down. Before she even had a chance to begin badgering them about why they were there they patiently and politely explained that a truck had come close to hitting her because she was walking on the right side of a narrow road and they asked her to walk on the left side so she could see the oncoming traffic. They repeatedly explain that they are concerned for her safety while addressing her as “Ma’am.”
Because they want to file a report after having spoken to her they ask her for her ID which she does not have. As is the case with people who don’t have their ID, one officer gets on the radio to confirm her identity. She keeps acting upset over the fact they stopped her to talk and insisted on taking their picture, but in the end they all shake hands and walk away.
The Washington Post is referring to this as a Rorschach Test, but the cops see it in fairly blunt terms.
Corinth Police responded by releasing the officers’ dashcam video of the interaction and claiming Bland had turned a “cordial” stop into a “racial issue.”
“If we didn’t have the video, these officers would have serious allegations against them,” police chief Debra Walthall told Fox News. “Every white officer that stops an African-American does not constitute racial profiling.”
Now it is Bland, not the cops, who is facing pressure as nearly 2,500 people have signed a petition urging UNT to fire her.
Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk (who is also black) referred to Bland as someone looking for her Skip Gates moment. He makes some good points and I have to wonder if this isn’t yet another offshoot of the Ferguson Effect. Is every interaction between police and civilians now going to have to be conducted by officers of the same race as the person being interviewed? And body cameras may not be enough. We might have to have private film crews following the cops around every moment of every day. If the dash cam hadn’t been on and the audio good enough, we would have had two more officers branded as racists and facing all sorts of problems after they had been as polite as you could imagine anyone being.
Honestly, who wants to bother going into law enforcement any more? As we’ve discussed here before, enrollment numbers in academies are down, particularly in the larger cities. It’s bad enough that police wind up in violent encounters with suspects at the risk of their own lives and are then carted off to the inquisition over it. But if you can’t even talk to someone without having accusations lobbed against you in the press and protests outside your door it hardly seems worth the meager salary most cops make to put on the badge.