Wednesday, March 09, 2005

 

Cary Clack on so-called "racial profiling"

E-N columnist Cary Clack unwittingly illustrates how far we have come from Selma, 1965. It seems that a black man was falsely accused of shoplifting by a white woman. Was he taken out and lynched? Was he hosed down with water cannons? No. He was...given a free soda for his inconvenience.

Clack begins by implying the usual stereotype of the North Side as some sort of dangerous place for anyone but Anglos:

When college student Everett Dotson went into a North Side convenience store
Note also Clack's sly descriptions of his protagonists as "college student" and "Rev." (later in the column), to establish their credibility. Not untrue descriptions, but rhetorical clues to Clack's perspective in the column. (Note also how my own representation of Clack's descriptions as "sly" implies he is crafting some sort of devious argument ;-)

Clack is normally more evenhanded. This opening line signals that he is dealing with a subject for which his passion overcomes his usual moderation. But let's examine how he overplays his hand and ends up destroying any hope of actually reaching any readers not already drunk on Racial Profiling Kool-Aid.

The woman who made the allegation and the two clerks are white. Dotson is black.
Well, there you have it. Logical proof that racism is in play.

Dotson's parents, the Rev. Winfred T. and Sheila Dotson, believe their son was racially profiled.
The Dotsons, bless 'em, have no idea that unsubstantiated, anecdotal charges such as this do nothing but weaken the case against "profiling"...because the charge here is so obviously tenuous, and the result so obviously negligible. An affront to their son's pride, at worst.

"We moved from Los Angeles (in 2000) to come here for peace, quiet and safety," said Mrs. Dotson. "If this is peace, we ought to go back."
If this is how you contribute to our community, by stirring up unwarranted racial antagonism, perhaps you should go back.

But, yes, I would be offended if a store clerk unfairly accused me of shoplifting and embarrassed me in front of other customers by making me empty my pockets to prove my innocence. So, there was a wrong done. The question is: who was in the wrong?

Was it the store clerk? Was he supposed to ignore the report of shoplifting, simply because the accused was black - for fear the clerk might be seen as racist? Is he required to ignore all such reports? Imagine, then: a shoplifter defiantly stuffs something down his pants while staring you, a customer, in the face. You report it to the clerk or manager. They respond they are unable to do anything, lest they be accused of racism. This is justice?

Was the Tetco Corporation wrong? After all, it's a corporation, and therefore Evil, or so we are told. Well, the Dotsons themselves don't seem to think so:

The Dotsons were impressed with the manager.

"He seemed to be trying to do the right thing," Mrs. Dotson said.

Well, you say, obviously the woman who falsely accused the man has done the wrong! There is no doubt she was wrong. But was she racist? Is it not possible that for some reason, she truly believed the man to have stolen something, and would have also reported to the clerk whether the alleged shoplifter were white or Hispanic? Is it not possible that the woman did deliberately lie, but not for racist reasons? Perhaps Mr. Dotson offended her in the aisles by leering at her (or perhaps he rebuffed her own unwanted advance) and she chose to retaliate. This would not excuse her, but it doesn't make her a racist, either.

We just don't have enough information to know. That's why this story is merely anecdotal, as with most racial profiling stories. All we know is, a mistake was made.

The Rev. Dotson said there should be a change of policy.

"Make the person who is accusing stay there," he said.

Now there's an excellent idea! It even accords with our Constitutional right to face our accusers. This policy would bring the entire debate above the level of racemongering to one of Justice. Clack does expand on this point, but not firmly enough to leave the reader with anything other than an overall sense from the column that "yet another racist has accused an innocent black man of wrongdoing".

A larger question than race is whether one customer's accusation that another customer was stealing is enough to embarrass that customer.

A business has a right to protect its merchandise but also a responsibility to protect the dignity and reputation of its customers. Is the word of one anonymous person enough to risk breaching that responsibility and losing the patronage of loyal customers?

But this comes too late in the column. Clack's earlier, race-drenched arguments set the wrong tone much too early for the casual reader to gear down and profitably reflect on this "larger question".

In his conclusion, Clack refers to the understandable frustration of the Dotson family at not receiving a formal apology from Tetco.

And if a mistake is made, is it too much to acknowledge it and extend an apology more meaningful than a free 32-ounce drink?

Perhaps Mr. Clack is too immersed in racial indignation to note the obvious: Tetco has no intention of putting an apology in writing, because doing so would open themselves up to a lawsuit. That's the real story here. This whole kerfuffle could have been avoided if trial lawyers had not instilled an overriding fear of litigation into our society. A simple apology, a bringing together of the community, forgiveness...made impossible by the litigious greed of trial lawyers.

Tort reform. Faster, please.


Resources:

In today's SAEN: Racial profiling data called deceptive

Heather MacDonald: The Myth of Racial Profiling

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