HOW THINGS ARE
This column appeared in the Sunday edition of the Register Guard. It doesn't need much introduction except to note that I had a huge lump in my throat and was almost crying by the time I was finished reading it. Most small children have that expression that says "all things are possible." To see that change to "this is how things are no matter how hard I try" has got to kill part of their parents spirits.
LEONARD PITTS JR.: Race issue hits home with son
October 7, 2005
BY LEONARD PITTS JR.
My youngest son was arrested last year.
Police came to my house looking for an armed robbery suspect, 5-feet-8-inches with long hair. They took my son, 6-foot-3 with short braids. They made my daughter, 14, lie facedown in wet grass and handcuffed her. They took my grandson, 8, from the bed and sat him beside her.
My son hadn't done a damn thing. I was talking to him long distance at the time of the alleged crime. Still, he spent almost two weeks in jail. The prosecutor asked for a high bail, citing the danger my son supposedly posed.
A few weeks later, the prosecutor declined to press charges, admitting there was no evidence. The alleged perpetrator of the alleged crime, a young man who was staying with us, did go on trial. There was no robbery, he said. The alleged victim had picked a fight with him, lost, and concocted a tale. A video backed him up. The jury returned an acquittal in a matter of hours.
Too late now
But the damage was done. The police took a picture of my son. He is on his knees, hands cuffed behind him, eyes fathomless and dead.
So I take personally what William Bennett said. Bennett, former education secretary, said last week on his radio program that if you wanted to reduce crime, "you could ... abort every black baby in this country, and your crime rate would go down. That would be an impossible, ridiculous and morally reprehensible thing to do, but your crime rate would go down."
Bennett says critics are leaving out his denunciation of the idea and the fact that he was criticizing a thesis that holds that making abortion readily available to low-income women in the '70s led the U.S. crime rate to drop in the '90s.
I get all that. But what bothers me is his easy, almost causal conflation of race and crime, as if black, solely and of itself, equals felony.
The way it is
It's a conflation that comes too readily to too many. The results of which can be read in studies like the one the Justice Department cosponsored in 2000 that found that black offenders receive substantially harsher treatment than white ones with similar records.
They can also be read in that picture of my son, eyes lifeless and dull with this realization of How Things Are.
I asked a black cop who was uninvolved in the case how his colleagues could have arrested a 6-foot-3 man while searching for a 5-foot-8 suspect. Any black man would do, he said.
So how do I explain that to my son? Should I tell him to content himself with the fact that to some people, all black men look alike, all look like criminals?
Actually I don't have to explain it. A few months back, my son was stopped and cited for driving with an obstructed windshield. The "obstruction" was an air freshener.
So my son gets it now. Treatment he once found surprising he now recognizes as the price he pays for being. He understands what the world expects of him.
I've watched that awful knowledge take root in three sons now. In a few years, I will watch it take root in my grandson, who is in fifth grade.
The conflation of black and crime may be easy for William Bennett, but it never gets any easier for me.
LEONARD PITTS JR. appears most Wednesdays and Fridays in the Free Press. Reach him at the Miami Herald, 1 Herald Plaza, Miami, FL 33132; at 888-251-4407 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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