Saturday, September 20, 2014

Ali, Hutchinson - Daniele Watts did not make you look dumb

Wait. Did I miss something? When did Daniele Watts call up Najee Ali of Project Islam Hope and Earl Ofari Hutchinson of the Urban Policy Roundtable and ask either of them to defend her or protest on her behalf?

Today I read that these two “Civil Rights leaders,” as described by CBS Los Angeles, have called for Watts to apologize for making them "look dumb." They declare that last week, when Watts, an actress, characterized her encounter with the Los Angeles Police Department as a racial profiling incident, she "did a disservice to the community" and to activists who defended her.

Ali said at their press conference, "We took her word that she had been a victim, but now we know it's not true."

He means that they now believe the LAPD was right in Watts's case because the officers sound so calm an polite on the audio. And they now believe the anonymous witnesses who say they saw Watts and her boyfriend, celebrity chef Brian Lucas, having sex in a car. These witnesses, who also say they saw Watts with her shirt up, revealing her breasts, were in an office building floors above the car. Another says he/she went up to the car and asked the pair to stop having sex, but they just kept at it.

This level of detail, of course, has all come out since Lucas's and Watts's Facebook posts about being harassed riled up the Web and made media headlines. I wonder how much detail might a witness add after assuming they've seen two people having sex.

In any case, it sounds to me as though these "Civil Rights leaders" want this young woman to apologize because they are embarrassed about having defended her before getting more information. Now that the audio of her in distress and sounding undignified while being questioned by police has surfaced with distribution of a photo of a Black woman's leg hanging from a car, Ali and Hutchinson are convinced that the police officer was right to ask Watts for her identification and then handcuff and detain her when she did not comply. Later the officer released her because Lucas showed I.D.

Regarding the photos, most of us have seen more on American beaches every summer between consenting adults with far less clothing on. But I guess blurry sex pictures are like blurry UFO pictures: reality is in the mind of the beholder. Of course, maybe we'd see more in the pictures if there wasn't a big TMZ watermark on them.

So what we have are fuzzy photos and hearsay. In other words, people's dirty minds have run amok in the rumor mill, hence the L.A. Times prudently files its latest Watts reports under the "Ministry of Gossip."

And is it a crime to sound hysterical, undignified, and even obnoxious when you think you're being unfairly harassed by police officers? I've listened to the audio. What I've discerned is that Watts was angry and ashamed about being accused of possibly prostitution and of committing a "lewd act" in public. Maybe she was so upset that she did not hear whatever else the police officers were saying.

One officer on the audio accuses her of pulling the "race card" because she says she is being racially profiled, and he declares, "I didn't say anything about you being Black."

Now, if I wanted to make the great leaps I hear others make from the audio, I could extrapolate from his comment that the officer is blind. Anyone can see that Daniele Watts is Black, and racial profiling is usually based on sight, not hearing.

Also, Watts did sound a bit arrogant and a tad simple-minded when she threw out her "I'm an actress" card and said she knew her rights because she'd played a cop on TV, but whether she was being racially profiled is the issue, not whether she behaved perfectly while being handcuffed?

The LAPD spokesperson says that the officers were within their rights to handcuff and detain Watts when she refused to show identification. The ACLU, however, agrees with Watts that she did not have to show I.D., reports the L.A. Times.

Apparently when the police arrived, the so-called “witness” of the “lewd act” was not present at the scene to support the accusation, and the police officer on the scene did not witness the “lewd act” (the pair having sex in the car) in progress himself. The police officer, explains the L.A. Times, had a choice:
Since the alleged lewd act was no longer in progress, he could either let her go or continue to investigate it, which would involve asking the person who complained to come forward to make a complaint — technically, a citizen’s arrest. If the complainant declined (Neiman [LAPD spokesperson] told me [Times reporter] that, in his 28 years of policing, he has never seen anyone make a citizens arrest over consensual sex), he can’t detain her for simply refusing to produce her ID.
This makes sense to me. I’m not an attorney, but I seem to recall something in Civics class about citizens being “innocent until proven guilty” in the United States of America. But the officers involved, while sounding exceptionally polite, decided to escalate the incident rather than do the harder work of tracking down the witness and asking them to file a complaint.

The next issue for Watts was the accusation that she had walked away from detention. The ACLU thinks the law favors Watts here as well:
“Of course you can't walk away from a detention,” said the ACLU’s Bibring. “But the officer didn't actually tell Ms. Watts she was being detained. She was upset, and she told the officer she was walking away and did so. The officer didn't tell her to stop. Instead, he let her go, continued to talk with Mr. Lucas then called another unit who brought Ms Watts back handcuffed, and accused her of fleeing a detention. This isn't just a technicality.”
So, back to the big question: Is this a case of racial profiling or not? I think, in part, it is. Let me explain.

Just as police officers in Florida arriving at the scene of Trayvon Martin's murder believed George Zimmerman when he said a Black Trayvon Martin had assaulted him and so Zimmerman shot him in self-defense, and just as a non-Black witness called 911 in Ohio and said a Black man had a real gun in a Wal-Mart and was aiming it at customers and so police rushed in and shot that Black man to death, the Los Angeles police in Watts's case also believed an anonymous caller who said a Black woman was having sex with a man in broad daylight with the car door open. The police did not initiate the profiling in any of these cases, but they did buy into a story that they may not have otherwise readily believed if the accused had not be Black.

Keep in mind, while TMZ has some potentially incriminating pictures now, the officer that demanded Watts's identification did not. Still, he believed the caller.

I also observed that Ali and Hutchinson, in their statements, run the risk of defining racial profiling rather narrowly, and that's dangerous. Based on their comments, Hutchinson and Ali seem to confine racial profiling to its "compelling" cases. I guess they mean cases that they feel are cut and dry. Like, confronting racial profiling is hard, so please, no muddy cases. Yet, we know that the practice of racial profiling does not always kill, as the recent lawsuits against Barney's and Macy's will show. Neither is it always easily shown. How many black men have been stopped and when asked why, the police simply say they had a complaint about a "generic Black man" doing XYZ, making the stop sound somewhat legitimate?

Like its father, racism, racial profiling functions also to humiliate, ruin careers, and wastes our time, as Toni Morrison might say.

So, this tendency of police officers to assume that non-Black or anonymous people are always telling the truth when they accuse a Black person of committing a crime, and so the police in turn stop and treat the accused Black person accordingly, is more evidence that the police act with racial bias when it comes to Black people. Racial bias is the foundation of racial profiling and is worthy of address.

Are Black People Citizens?

When police officers behave this way and assume anonymous witnesses against Black people are telling the truth or have seen whatever it is they think they've seen, the police show us that Black people do not have the right of innocent until proven guilty in this country. Unfortunately for Black women, some Black men seem to feel the same way about Black women, too: the assumption of innocence does not apply to Black females. Is this a case where it's clear that Black men, who benefit from patriarchy, completely buy into that patriarchy at the expense of Black women? I throw that out as something for the reader to think about.

I am not saying that the specific police officers who dealt with Watts were guilty of racial bias. I'd have to know how they've dealt with similar cases in the past when two heterosexual White people were the accused. Nonetheless, Ali and Hutchinson also have no way of knowing whether these officers acted with racial bias, so who are they to demand an apology from Watts?

Likewise, I don't know what Watts and Lucas were doing in the car, but neither do Ali and Hutchinson.

These men demanding an apology is merely another case of Black men who wield a little power choosing to believe that a Black woman is in the wrong based on the flimsiest of evidence: hearsay from anonymous witnesses and fuzzy cell phone photos. It's also two black men shaking in their boots over a whiff of White criticism. I gather concern about White criticism is at issue here since Hutchinson is perturbed that he and Ali may "look dumb."

Yes, looking dumb or as though you may lack integrity in front of White people is a concern for some of us. I guess that's why the male leadership of the NAACP so quickly denounced Shirley Sherrod. They didn't want to look dumb or as though they lack integrity, so when they heard a story by a White bogus "journalist" saying Sherrod used her power to get revenge against White people, they believed it straightaway and condemned her. We know how that turned out.

Here is the real problem, though: As is typical of the male ego enthroned, these Black male leaders have made Watts's story about them and their wounded egos.

Is it Watt's fault that they love the media spotlight so much that they immediately made themselves visible after the first kernels of a racialized story fell? And if they are the responsible activists they claim to be, why did they jump into the fray so quickly here? After all, didn't Watts's unvetted story first appear on her Facebook page, not a major news network?

The other troubling matter I see in their demands is evidence that some Black males expect Black women to rally behind every Black male victim of police overreach, regardless of what his past may be, but they will turn and readily apply the same "perfect victim" standard to a Black woman that they reject when it's applied to Black men. Do I hear the echo of respectability politics when it comes to women here?

And then there is the problematic specter of probable "slut shaming." These men want Watts to stamp an "A" for apology on her breasts and repent. She must be shamed for even appearing to have sex in a car in broad daylight--with a White man no less!--and then for daring to think her blackness may factor into why the police asked for her identification. Is that it?

Bottom line: Ali and Hutchinson jumped the gun on-air regarding Watts. Maybe they should have been having a press conference to apologize for speaking without knowing enough information, not to demand an actress apologize for being, perhaps, overly-dramatic. Watts can perceive what happened to her however she chooses to perceive it. They haven't walked in her shoes. They can't see what she sees.

No, no, Mr. Ali and Hutchinson, Daniele Watts did not make you look dumb. You've done that all by yourselves. Everything else is between Watts and her God or therapist.


Unknown said...

The issue is precisely how she behaved when questioned by the officer. Apparently you and a significant number of other black people believe you have the special right to disobey a lawful order from police.

Cooperate with police, they represent all of us and have a job to do. You will find you're on your way in a flash.

If you behave like a hooker you may be mistaken for one. Miss Watts not only behaved inappropriately she is a cry-baby and a liar.

Why would you support her rather than offer some sage advice to your readers about how to behave?

Vérité Parlant said...

And apparently, Mr. Holder, you can't read. This post is not about whether or not I support Daniele Watts. It's about whether she should have to apologize to two men whom she never asked for support. They need to take responsibility for not waiting for more information before hitting the airwaves with their so-called "defense." But I see you're locked and loaded for Ms. Watts, so enjoy that feeling.