Library Visit, Then Held at Gunpoint – Charles M. Blow, JAN. 26, 2015.
Charles Blow: At Yale, the Police Detained My Son
The Op-Ed below was written by Charles M. Blow, columnist for the NY Times. It is a report of what happened to his son, Tahj Blow, a 3rd year student at Yale University, on Sat. Jan. 24, 2015. At the end of the piece, we post our own thoughts about this event.
“Saturday evening, I got a call that no parent wants to get. It was my son calling from college — he’s a third-year student at Yale. He had been accosted by a campus police officer, at gunpoint!
This is how my son remembers it:
He left for the library around 5:45 p.m. to check the status of a book he had requested. The book hadn’t arrived yet, but since he was there he put in a request for some multimedia equipment for a project he was working on.
Then he left to walk back to his dorm room. He says he saw an officer “jogging” toward the entrance of another building across the grounds from the building he’d just left.
“I did not pay him any mind, and continued to walk back towards my room. I looked behind me, and noticed that the police officer was following me. He spoke into his shoulder-mounted radio and said, ‘I got him.’
“I faced forward again, presuming that the officer was not talking to me. I then heard him say, ‘Hey, turn around!’ — which I did.
“The officer raised his gun at me, and told me to get on the ground.
“At this point, I stopped looking directly at the officer, and looked down towards the pavement. I dropped to my knees first, with my hands raised, then laid down on my stomach. (Underline placed by OneWorld; this is how many young black men are taught –by their parents– to respond)
“The officer asked me what my name was. I gave him my name. “The officer asked me what school I went to. I told him Yale University. “At this point, the officer told me to get up.”
The officer gave his name, then asked my son to “give him a call the next day.” My son continued:
“I got up slowly, and continued to walk back to my room. I was scared. My legs were shaking slightly. After a few more paces, the officer said, ‘Hey, my man. Can you step off to the side?’ I did.”
The officer asked him to turn around so he could see the back of his jacket. He asked his name again, then, finally, asked to see my son’s ID. My son produced his school ID from his wallet. (Why wasn’t the ID the first request made by the officer?)
The officer asked more questions, and my son answered. All the while the officer was relaying this information to someone over his radio.
My son heard someone on the radio say back to the officer “something to the effect of: ‘Keep him there until we get this sorted out.’ ” The officer told my son that an incident report would be filed, and then he walked away.
A female officer approached. My son recalled, “I told her that an officer had just stopped me and pointed his gun at me, and that I wanted to know what this was all about.” She explained students had called about a burglary suspect who fit my son’s description.
That suspect was apparently later arrested in the area.
When I spoke to my son, he was shaken up. I, however, was fuming.
Now, don’t get me wrong: If indeed my son matched the description of a suspect, I would have had no problem with him being questioned appropriately. School is his community, his home away from home, and he would have appreciated reasonable efforts to keep it safe. The stop is not the problem; the method of the stop is the problem.
Why was a gun drawn first? Why was he not immediately told why he was being detained? Why not ask for ID first?
What if my son had panicked under the stress, having never had a gun pointed at him before, and made what the officer considered a “suspicious” movement? Had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be unpulled. Bullets cannot be called back.
My son was unarmed, possessed no plunder, obeyed all instructions, answered all questions, did not attempt to flee or resist in any way.
This is the scenario I have always dreaded: my son at the wrong end of a gun barrel, face down on the concrete. I had always dreaded the moment that we would share stories about encounters with the police in which our lives hung in the balance, intergenerational stories of joining the inglorious “club.”
When that moment came, I was exceedingly happy I had talked to him about how to conduct himself if a situation like this ever occurred. Yet I was brewing with sadness and anger that he had to use that advice.
I am reminded of what I have always known, but what some would choose to deny: that there is no way to work your way out — earn your way out — of this sort of crisis. In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look.
There is no amount of respectability that can bend a gun’s barrel. All of our boys are bound together.
The dean of Yale College and the campus police chief have apologized and promised an internal investigation, and I appreciate that. But the scars cannot be unmade. My son will always carry the memory of the day he left his college library and an officer trained a gun on him.” http://www.nytimes.com/2015/01/26/opinion/charles-blow-at-yale-the-police-detained-my-son.html?
All the blue highlighted comments in this post were added by N’Zinga Shäni, author of this blog, to ensure the salients points are not missed.
The problem in this incident (as reported) is the manner in which black people are often approached when they are being questioned. When it comes to accosting black people, the assumptions made by the police (almost universally) seem to be — you are guilty until you can prove your innocence. The foregone conclusion seems to be – blacks are inherently thugs and criminals. This is an integrated perception; it is not always conscious; it is how many Americans (black, whites, Asians, everyone) are acculturated; it seems to be in the DNA of how many police officers think; it is how they are trained and conditioned to think. Incredibly, it does not always matter whether the officer is black or white. In fact, when white officers are present, some black officers might want to demonstrate that the brotherhood in blue is more important to them than skin color.
I am not saying skin color should be more important; far from it. I am saying there seems to be a need on the part of many black officers to prove their loyalty to their white partners in blue. Given the society in which we live, and the role that race plays, it might even be understandable. They go along to get along; although some black officers in uniform do believe in the prejudicial idea that good, decent black people are the exception. We, the brothers in blue, are the good ones. Carter G. Woodson wrote about the Mis-Education. This attitude, and the concurrent abusive behaviors by many law enforcement officers are what many black people resent. It is also what many parents and young black people fear — the fact that there is no place (including an Ivy League university campus) where young black men can find safety from negative perceptions.
1) How often are young white men –who are driving expensive cars — stopped and asked to show their license and registration?
2) How often are they stopped for no apparent reason and asked if the car they are driving belongs to them?
3) How often are they pulled over at random because the police is just checking for stolen cars tonight?
4) How often are they stopped, told to get out of their cars and stand spread-eagle while the police pat them down and ask if they have any weapons? And if they refuse to allow an unauthorized search of their car they are arrested on some trumped up charge?
These things happen to young black men all the time; it is standard. The expensive car is not assumed to be their own or their parents; rather, the assumption is that they are drug dealers, or the car is stolen. This is likely to be one of the areas in which this type of behavior is carried out mostly by white officers.
As a society, why is this so? What is at the root of this type of thinking? What is the overall costs to America? What can be done to put an end to racial profiling, bigotry and overt racism? What can be done to effectively prevent Racial Battle Fatigue for black Americans?
Why not ask young Tahj Blow for his ID before having him on the ground at gunpoint? Is it because this African American officer believes that young black men are dangerous and violent? Or could it be that this African American Yale police officer wants to demonstrate that he is a good officer; even more important, he is a good black man. He tows the line. Had the suspect been white, would every white male –vaguely matching the description of the suspect– been told to get on their stomachs on the ground at the point of a gun, and before their IDs were checked? That is most doubtful. Not having a gun pointed at him before, what if Tahj Blow — being frightened– ran to his dorm? What would have happened to him then? The comment being made right now by many whites reading this is– well if he was not guilty of anything, why would he run? Because young black men do not have to be guilty of anything to be shot and killed by police officers. It is also true that they are more likely to be killed by white police officers.
Tamir Rice was in a parking lot playing with a toy gun when– without warning– he was gunned down by the police. America’s distant and current history is replete with evidence of this happening. Young black men are — understandably — afraid of white police officers, and with good reasons. Importantly, they are also afraid of police officers, period. Some black police officers are particularly brutal to black suspects because these officers feel a need to prove themselves.
Finally, let me reiterate what Charles Blow said: It is not about the stop; I want to know that my child, a student at Yale, is in a safe environment. It is how the stop was carried out that is a cause for concern. What if the student in question did not have a parent who has a national voice? Would we, the public, have heard anything about this incident? It is good to know that Yale will be looking into the matter more fully. As a parent I ask myself, what if Tahj Blow did not have parents who adequately prepared him for such an encounter? What if he had been an ill-prepared young man who panicked and ran? What would have been the outcome of this encounter? No parent of any color should have to find that out.
Regarding some of the comments posted to the NHI article – they are truly revealing. The seething bigotry is palpable as is the sense of inferiority. Charles Blow is arrogant and elitist because he objects to a gun being drawn on his son! He is arrogant because he expresses his disapproval of the manner in which the accosting of his son was conducted? Clearly, his son would have reported that the police officer who ordered him to the ground on his stomach was an African American officer. The real arrogance is being expressed by those who think they “know” what it feels like to be treated as a third class citizen in one’s own country every day of one’s life. That is pompous, arrogant and uninformed. http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/they_picked_the_wrong_guys_son_to_stop/
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