Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blacks are treated equally. Yeah, right.

Can you imagine this happening to a white woman in the U.S.?


Elementary school principal Yvette Hayes will never forget the night of July 13, 2007. She was pregnant at the time and believes police jeopardized the life of her unborn child.

When Hayes was pulled over in the Kansas City suburb of Independence, Mo., on Interstate 70, she thought it was a routine stop. "I'm thinking they'd ask for my driver's license," she said.

Instead, police drew guns on the five months' pregnant mother — whose two children were in the back seat of the car — and told her to lie on the ground.

"Get your hands up," one officer shouted while another ordered her to "go down on to your belly. Arms out to your side! Palms up, palms up!"

Shocked and sobbing, all Hayes could say was, "I'm pregnant."

Hayes had just left a local JCPenney, where a store security guard misidentified her green Jeep as a vehicle involved in stealing cars from the parking lot.


I'll save Denis Bider some typing and anticipate his response: it is not unreasonable to target black people this way because black people commit most of the crimes in this country, just as it is not unreasonable to target young Muslim men as suspected terrorists because most terrorists are young muslim men.

As intuitively appealing as this reasoning may seem, it is false. Just because most people who fall into category A have characteristic B, it does not folow that people with characteristic B are likely to fall into category A. Neo-nazis are overwhelmingly white. It does not follow that a randomly chosen white person is likely to be a neo-nazi. So even if car thieves are overwhelmingly black (which is debatable) it does not follow that a randomly chosen black person is likely to be a car thief. (I note in passing that Denis Bider bears a striking resemblance to Ed Norton in American History X. But I'll wager that Denis would be quite upset (and rightly so) if I opined that this physical resemblance indicated that he might be a white supremacist.)

But this case is actually much, much worse than that because Yvette Hayes is not just a black person. She is a black woman. Not only that, she is an obviously pregnant black woman who had two young children in her car. Whatever else car thieves may generally be, they are generally not pregnant women with young children in tow. But these cops obviously didn't see a pregnant woman. All they saw was a black person.

Now, if there were any justice, these cops would not only be fired, they would be charged with assault under color of authority and do hard time. But of course that won't happen because policemen get to hide their racism behind the cover of "proper procedure." They pulled over someone fitting the description of an alleged car thief, and they did what they were trained to do with alleged car thieves. Trick is, this excuse only works when that description is "a black person."

But it doesn't even end there. Hayes's two young children now have to deal with the trauma of having policemen wave guns in their faces and forcing their pregnant mother to lie down on the freeway (and most likely get off with a slap on the wrist at worst). They have to live the rest of their lives with the not-unreasonable fear that this might happen to them again (and again and again and again and again). This is a source of stress that most of their white peers don't have to deal with. I stand foursquare with anyone who says that people have to take responsibility for their own lives. But there is not, there has never been, and there is no reason to expect that there will be any time soon in this country a level playing field.

8 comments:

joe said...

ummm.... yeah, i can imagine that happening to anyone who fits the description of a (mis)identified car thief.

Are you saying that if the police were called and told to go after a green jeep that was identified as involved with stealing cars, and they saw that it was a white woman driving, they would have just said "oh, whoops - better let her go"? I think anyone who is identified by a security guard as being a car-thief suspect should expect to be face-down on the road. Now if the security guard was stereotyping when he fingered her, maybe that's a question, but the cops were responding to a call like they should have.

As far as being pregnant.
1) 5 months isn't exactly "bulging pregnant". I just found out yesterday that a co-worker of mine is due to give birth in February, meaning she's 5 months pregnant now. I hadn't even realized she was pregnant until it was pointed out to me.
2) Being pregnant has no bearing on if you have or have not committed a crime. So a woman gets knocked up..... if she was the type of woman who was stealing cars before, i doubt being pregnant is going to make a difference. It's like how you often hear on the news "Local grandmother arrested for dealing drugs! Story at 11:00!!". What does being a grandmother have to do it with? All that means is that once upon a time you had a kid, then that kid had a kid of their own. That has nothing to do with your capability or desire to deal drugs.


My main point being - yes, there's a lot of fucked up racist shit going on, and cops are in prime position to exploit their power. unfortunately, they often do. But if you want to make an example out of something, surely you can find a better case than this.....

Ron said...

Are you saying that if the police were called and told to go after a green jeep that was identified as involved with stealing cars, and they saw that it was a white woman driving, they would have just said "oh, whoops - better let her go"?

I don't think they would have made her lie down on the freeway and pointed guns at her kids, no.

the cops were responding to a call like they should have.

Even the cops themselves don't agree with you. If they did, they would not have been caught on tape discussing how to "cover our ass."

Being pregnant has no bearing on if you have or have not committed a crime.

Neither does being black.

surely you can find a better case than this

There is no doubt in my mind that if I looked I could find many, many cases "better" (not the word I would have chosen by the way) than this. And your point would be...?

Luc said...

Not being a citizen of the USA, maybe I don't know enough to say this.

But I find it really worrying that most people from USA see themselves as being "the good guys" living in "the land of freedom", while reality shows otherwise. Cases like this, and your own official statistics too, show that yours is no land of equal opportunity. I'm not mentioning Irak, Afghanistan; those just serve to exemplify how your country see and treat the rest of the world.

But here, even in the third world, in poor and indebted countries, we have free and universal healthcare, free public schooling up to university. And the president is elected by direct ballot, so the 2000 debacle can't happen (there's ballotage also). Even your bipartisan political system prevents any meaningful change, while here parties transform, change, disappear and new ones are forming out of alliances.

I mean, you are a society (in my humble opinion) that is self delusional. I believe you're mostly good spirited, but an overwhelming majority don't want to think about the bad things that happen. Much less do something about them.

For me, at least, you're not completely lost, I find lots of great people trying to transform USA into something better. As someone I know use to say: USA is very conservative, so progressive people are VERY progressive.

Ron, I may not comment a lot, but I read all your posts.


P.D.: the reasoning you're referring to in your post is so common it has a name: affirming the consequent fallacy. And politicians use it here too, of course.

denis bider said...

Ron, my first reaction to this anecdote - before I came to the part where you start mentioning my name :) - was "appalling".

I don't think the police should be treating people this way, especially not pregnant women with children in the car with them.

I don't know what experience U.S. police officers in general have had. Perhaps it's their experience that makes them so prone to overreaction. But from my limited experience with them, the caution and paranoia exhibited by a U.S. police officer at work seems to be a level or two beyond what I would think is reasonable. The police in the EU don't seem to treat people as harshly. I wonder if the difference is all due to training and conditioning, or whether there are things that U.S. police officers experience that their EU counterparts do not. I wonder.

The basic fault I find with the U.S. police officers is that they assume that everyone they are confronting has a gun. The resulting harsher treatment seems to be a consequence of their expectation that it's very likely that people have guns. Perhaps the police in the EU feel less threatened, and thus less paranoid, because there is a much lower chance that they will encounter people with guns.

Beyond that, I think Joe has said the rest.

FWIW, American History X is one of those great/awful movies. On the one hand Edward Norton does a great job in it - and on the other hand, that scene where he cracks the other guy's skull on the pavement is still giving me the creeps. Excellent movie, but... awful. :)

denis bider said...

That said, I have had a "similar" experience, to an extent, of being discriminated against by the police in Slovenia for having walked in the wrong part of town at night. I used to go out on walks when I was contemplating things work-wise, and this one time I was walking about around midnight in a neighborhood of shops. A security guard spotted me and called the police thinking that I might have criminal intent. Two police officers arrived and confronted me. One behaved professionally, and the other didn't. The guy who didn't felt apparently insecure and kept threatening me, calling me names and trying to pick a fight with me even though I was entirely peaceful.

After the event I had a chat with the security guard who spotted me and who had been observing from the sidelines. I wondered why that police officer behaved that way, and he said I wouldn't believe how bad people can treat them - women cursing at them and even spitting in their face. Combine that with the low levels of education for police officers in Slovenia at the time, and you have what you have - immature people trying to cope with a job for which a much greater level of maturity is needed.

In the United States, I would think that a portion of the police force is mortally afraid of being shot. They probably have nightmares about it that usually feature the bullet coming from a latino or a black guy. That sucks a lot for the black pregnant women, but - is the police officer at fault from having nightmares featuring latinos and black guys? After all, is he likely to receive a bullet from a white guy in a business suit? I'm not sure about that.

Should the police officers be reprimanded for having reality-based but racially biased nightmares about who bullets will be coming from?

Ron said...

Should the police officers be reprimanded for having reality-based but racially biased nightmares about who bullets will be coming from?

No, they should be reprimanded (actually, they should be criminally prosecuted) for acting on their irrational fears under color of authority. If they can't leave their nightmares in the bedroom they need to find another line of work.

denis bider said...

You are proposing punishment for specific officers when the actual problem may be

(1) in training the officers or, even more importantly, selecting them in the first place - which has to do with organizing the workplace and marketing the job so that people with characteristics desirable of police officers actually apply for this line of work and are accepted - as opposed to attracting and accepting people who do not have qualities desirable of police officers;

or

(2) perhaps the problem is in the environment itself - perhaps, despite the effort you invest, you can't get police officers guaranteed not to slip up this way, because the environment is so hostile (so many blacks with guns, so many violent gang members, so many instances of people getting hurt in the line of duty, etc).

You address these issues, you are making progress. You send a couple of police officers to prison for mishandling a pregnant black woman with kids, you are improving an infinitesimally small proportion of the police force. Two out, everyone else - still the same.

Graham said...

You send a couple of police officers to prison for mishandling a pregnant black woman with kids, you are improving an infinitesimally small proportion of the police force. Two out, everyone else - still the same.

Crime prevention initiatives (here in the UK) have long since shown that the causes of property based crimes such as robbery are not the result of a criminal mind but of circumstance. People steal because they are born into a capital based world with no opportunities, no means of bettering themselves and they react accordingly. It would therefore seem to logically follow that catching a car theif would not solve the problem as a whole but punish the one person. But we still do it, that is the paradox of law & order and not one that officers of the law should be above.