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Police are on the front line of race relations



I think I was probably more upset with my own failure to react as much as I was with the perceived racial profiling by one of Rosenberg’s finest.

It was just after 10 p.m. and I was waiting in front of the Cinemark movie theaters with my son and his date waiting for her ride to arrive. There were several people going in and out of the theater for the opening night of “Captain America: Civil War.” A group of African-Americans came out and sat down on the curb in front of the theater, quietly minding their own business.

That’s when a white police officer approached them and demanded to know what they were doing. They told him they were waiting for their ride. The officer authoritatively insisted that they get up immediately and go back inside the theater to wait. They dutifully and respectfully complied without complaint.

The officer ordered some other young people to go inside as well but never bothered me or several other people lingering outside the theater. I kept waiting for him to say something to us, but he never did.

At first I didn’t know what to make of it. I tried to figure out if these young people had broken some kind of ordinance or law. Did the theater have a problem with loitering, thus the need for law enforcement? I don’t know, though I suspect that may be the case.

The more I thought about it afterward, the angrier I got. This group of black people did absolutely nothing wrong. They were quiet and respectful, much more so than some of the other people there. Were they singled out because of their race? Was it a curfew issue (which the police department’s public information officer guessed it might be)? I don’t know. I didn’t speak to the officer and I don’t know his motivation. I do know what I saw and it disturbed me.

It’s no wonder there is so much tension in this country between blacks and law enforcement. If these young people had carried a chip on their shoulders things could easily have escalated out of hand. Rosenberg could have become another Ferguson, Mo.

Before I continue, let me say this: I have the utmost and deepest respect for law enforcement and the men and women who put their lives on the line each day and night to protect lives and property. They have a tough and often thankless job and most of them perform their duties with excellence.

What I saw Friday night was not excellent. It appeared racist and from what I could see, a blatant disregard of their First Amendment rights. I salute these young people for not reacting negatively and creating a scene. They did what was right, even if what was being done to them may have been wrong.

After witnessing this and seeing things like the Sandra Bland case in Waller County, you have to wonder if some in law enforcement aren’t overstepping their authority. There is a lot of heavy-handedness going on that needs to be brought under control. Someone needs to remind law enforcement that they are here to serve and protect. We still live in a free country, not a police state.

If we have any hope of seeing improvement in race relations in this country and a change in attitude among minorities toward law enforcement, then the first step has to be made by the men and women in blue. They must take the initiative. They must take the high road. Respect and trust are earned. They can’t be demanded or enforced.

At the same time, we need more people like the group of African-Americans who were willing to overlook the disrespect shown them in a potentially volatile situation. Trust and respect must flow in both directions and these young people seem to understand that.

My biggest regret in all of this was in not saying anything. I saw something wrong happen and I stood by and did nothing. To these African-Americans, I owe you an apology for not doing the right thing by confronting what I perceived to be a wrong committed against you. If you happen to be reading this, please forgive me.

To the officer, I would ask for an explanation. If you were indeed doing right by your actions, I would like to know what law, rule or ordinance you were enforcing. If you are in the right, I owe you an apology for wrongfully singling you out. But if I am correct and you were violating their rights, you should be held accountable for your action. At the very least you could have been more courteous toward those people while carrying out your duty.

Don’t get buffaloed by the bison as a symbol

It appears as if the North American bison is about to be designated as the national mammal, making it a symbol of our nation akin to the bald eagle.

There are many pros and cons to this symbolic gesture that I don’t think many have thought through very far. The bison, more commonly known as the buffalo, is a truly majestic beast and worthy of this honor in many respects. It’s a large, imposing figure that has been used to symbolize strength and virility.

It was vital to the Native Americans and was as versatile in its use as food, clothing and shelter as it was in its symbolism to many of their cultures. In many ways, honoring this animal pays homage to a once thriving species that was nearly hunted to extinction along with the native peoples whose lives and culture were so closely tied to it.

On the other hand, the buffalo is also a very stubborn and stupid creature, which is partly why it was so quickly and easily eradicated from the Great Plains. There once were tens of millions of bison on the continent and now there are around 500,000, mostly living on ranches, wildlife preserves, parks and zoos.

It would seem to me that if America were to have a national mammal that it would be something more representative of Americans. With its prolific and invasive nature, its inventive curiosity and short attention span, I submit to you for your consideration the squirrel!

No, seriously, as appropriate as the squirrel may be as an American symbol, I am honored and pleased to have the North American bison hold that distinction. The bison, like the people it represents, is mighty, bold and resilient and … hey look, a SQUIRREL!

1 Comment for “Police are on the front line of race relations”

  1. Wil Smith

    Great observations Joe. And good luck with the new assignment. There are two critical points I would like to address with this story: First of all, we don’t know if there was any trouble brewing at the theatre on the night of this occurrence that we don’t know about. Young people—of all colors, tend to congregate at theatres late at night, and sometimes cause trouble. The officer might have been responding to something he saw earlier, or to a report that we are unaware of. However, this situation smells fishy. But young Black males do on occasion give police officers reasons to come after them, even though it’s not a topic most of us are comfortable talking about. Fortunately, these kids were well-coached. As a parent of a young Black male, I have incessant fears about my son getting into an encounter with a rogue lawman. But I have taught him to give all officers the benefit of the doubt and acquiesce when approached. My motto is for him to survive the incident and live to fight another day, hopefully in court, if he is mistreated. But the reality Joe, is that due to the exorbitant number of young Black males in prisons and with criminal records, innocent young Blacks males are paying a heavy price in society. The only way to change this paradigm is to encourage more of them to react peacefully like the young men you observed that night. And by training police officers to operate lawfully and professionally in diverse social settings.

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