Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Virginia Walmart: Those Don't Look Like Your Kids

The other day I stopped in my local grocery store to pick up some items. I saw a black man and white woman couple. They had a white girl and a younger black (mixed) boy tagging along with them. Obviously the black man was a pimp and the white woman was his prostitute. The two kids were either criminals in training or had been kidnapped for some other unspeakably nefarious reasons. So I went to the store manager and pointed these miscreants out. The manager called the police. The police bopped the two criminals on the head with their nightsticks and threw them in the squad car. So I had done my good deed for the day. But sometimes we are called to do more. When I turned into the bread aisle I saw a white man with two young black girls. So he HAD to be a pedophile. Why else would they be calling him Daddy and asking for donuts. I couldn't let this stuff go down. Not on MY watch. So I tackled him and this time called the police myself.
And this sicko was hauled away just like the couple before him. I felt good about myself. My spidey sense was on the job, amplified by my bigotry, resentment and paranoia. What's that you say, that doesn't sound like me? Well you're right it doesn't. And it wasn't. Nevertheless there are some people in this country who still think exactly like that. And they aren't exactly shy about getting officials with guns and authority to follow up on their suspicions. Witness Virginia:

              DC Breaking Local News Weather Sports FOX 5 WTTG

A Virginia couple was shocked to find a police officer in front of their home when they returned from running errands, but they were even more surprised by the reason for the cop's visit-- to question whether or not they were in fact their children's parents.
Joseph, a white man who didn't want his last name revealed, and his black wife Keana told Fox5DC that they were outraged after the policeman told them a security guard at their local Walmart had suspected Joseph of kidnapping his three young daughters."He asks us very sincerely, ‘Hey, I was sent here by Walmart security. I just need to make sure that the children that you have are your own,’” Joseph said.
"I was dumbfounded," Keana said. "I sat there for a minute and I thought, ‘Did he just ask us if these were our kids knowing what we went through to have our children?’The couple, who have been married for 10 years, have a four-year-old daughter and two-year-old twin girls. Joseph had taken the girls to a Walmart near their Prince William County home to cash a check and left after spending a short time in the parking lot. After speaking with the officer, they called the store demanding an explanation...
Now far be it from me to suggest that citizens not be vigilant about protecting children from pedophiles, kidnappers or other adults who would do them harm. But in order to have a suspicion and act on it I think both citizens and law enforcement ought to have a little more to go on besides the fact that two people or a group of people out and about in society are of apparently different races. What happened in Virginia, although it thankfully did not rise to the level of official police violence or arrest, was wrong. It was a hunch based on stereotypes about the way the world works. Although most people still date or marry within their race, increasing numbers do not. So it's obviously incorrect to assume that any adult accompanied by a child of a different race is some sort of deviant. 

I don't know legally what exactly rises to probable cause or reasonable suspicion. I can say that if that had been me purely on principle I probably wouldn't have answered any questions from the police. This may have escalated to my disadvantage of course but I feel pretty strongly about avoiding unnecessary contact with the police or for that matter other government agencies. The ironic thing is that in the almost Kafkaesque system we've built around "protection of children", the parents may have done the right thing by speaking to the police because sometimes the police appear to be more bound by rules and protocol than child protection services. Child protection services may well have just stormed the house and removed the children first and asked questions later. So maybe all's well that ends well.

Still the same racial assumptions that started in someone's brain about seeing a white man with black (biracial) children are the exact same beliefs that I listed in the first paragraph that can rebound to people's disadvantage in several ways. Is that white man driving in the inner city at night coming home from work or is he looking to buy crack? Is that black youth walking in a nice neighborhood the son of a successful black attorney or is he a thug casing the area? Is that white woman in a SUV with a bunch of black teens a kidnap victim about to be raped or she is a suburban mom driving her son and some of his baseball team home from the game? Is that black young woman walking down the street trying to solicit sex or is she a teacher walking home late from student-teacher conferences?

We all definitely have biases and prejudices. There's no denying that. But we should try our best to rise above them. And before we stick our nose in someone else's business we ought to have a greater justification for interference than "well you and them just didn't look right together". I don't think bigotry is probable cause. It's ironic that it was a Virginia court case featuring a black woman and white man that the Supreme Court used to overturn anti-miscegenation laws.


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