November 6, 2015

Anger verboten

police-officer-policeman-stop-hand_fkMLWO8u_L-e1447445103892-624x612

Offense of the Month: November 2015.
A little hard to classify, this one. You’ve probably already read the story. A black woman in a hoodie is taking morning exercise in the street in her neighborhood in an affluent Dallas suburb. Cue white cops. They suggest she walk on other side of street, or even sidewalk, to better see traffic, to be safer. They ask to see ID and radio police station for a “name check.” All in three minutes. Police leave. A few days later, woman, a professor and dean of the University of North Texas Mayborn School of Journalism, publishes angry op-ed in the Dallas Morning News, claiming racial profiling: “Walking while black is a crime in many jurisdictions. May God have mercy on our nation.” Police release dashcam video of entire encounter. It is non-confrontational, officers politely expressing concern for her safety. Police chief defends her officers, saying they followed standard procedure in asking for ID and thank heavens for the video or “these officers would have serious allegations against them. Every white officer that stops an African American does not constitute racial profiling.” Former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk, who is African American, says the woman “took advantage of a very innocent and thoughtful police response.”

So were the police being offensive in stopping a woman for committing a misdemeanor and treating her as if she were a criminal or was she being offensive in denouncing the police in the morning paper? Neither, I’d say. True, the police might have told her that she was stopped only because a truck driver who nearly hit her in the street signaled the officers to ask her to move. They might have told her that asking for ID, and name, and birth date were routine requirements of the situation. And true, the dean of a journalism school might have taken the time to do a little reporting and find that out for herself. Her remarks could have been more temperate; she might have raised questions, rather than assumed the worst.

No, the offensive ones, rather, are the more than 3,500 people who have signed a petition demanding that the university fire her. Fire her? For expressing an opinion? In a newspaper? On a subject that is about as fraught as you can get these days, whatever you believe and whatever you write? If we were all fired for getting it wrong or for sniffing something in the air that wasn’t there, who’d get the work done?