I apologize in advance for the heavy subject on what I intended to be a light-hearted blog.
This story in today's Charleston Gazette points out a reality in our city. I'm not sure if this is a reflection of the culture of our police department, or maybe just our culture in general but I know it is a reality. Anyone who will open their eyes around town can't help but see that race matters when it comes to the way motorists are treated on traffic stops by police. Some folks call this phenomenon "DWB" -Driving While Black.
Nine times out of ten, when I see a traffic stop where there are two or more police cars present, the driver of the stopped car is black. I have seen with my own eyes that officers have a different body language when they are dealing with a black driver. A different tone of voice. A different attitude. In my observation it doesn't matter much if the officer is white or black either. I have seen black officers act exactly the same way as the white officers. It is puzzling, but it is true.
In this case, Mayor Jones publicly apologized to Mr. Johnson and his family. The mayor knows Mr. Johnson and his family personally and so he got involved, but there are many more Mr. Johnsons out there who have been treated the same way and never had an apology. Many folks in the black community simply accept this reality and never make waves about it. The unique circumstances of this case - that Mr. Johnson was a former police officer, that he worked for the Human Rights Commission and that the incident happened right in front of his workplace - it was those circumstances that made this a public incident. The same kind of thing happens every day to less notable people in less notable places.
I'm not singling out police officers. They certainly have every right to be as cautious as they feel they need to be when out there enforcing the law on our behalf. This racism is part of our culture and I just wish we'd face up to it. It is apparent in other arenas as well. For example, I frequent a West Side bank where the racial makeup of the customers is probably close to 50/50 black vs. white. I have seen over the years that the tellers consistently will require ID from black customers who wish to cash checks and I've never been asked for ID once. I have seen black customers turned away when they didn't have "proper" ID and then the same teller who doesn't know me from Adam will cash my check without any question. It is real, folks. It is all around us.
As for Mr. Johnson's case, it seems that he was certainly in the wrong and was indeed driving with tags that had been reported as stolen. As a former police officer he should have know better. But I know in my heart that if it had been me, a middle-age white man, driving the same car in the same location I would not have been hand-cuffed or treated so rudely. I think we all know it. If we don't then we are blind.
Mayor Jones is quoted as saying, " I just want to nip this in the bud.” Way too late for that, Mayor Jones. This thing has gotten way past the bud stage.