Chicago Sun-Times
Discussions across the racial divide

Unequal justice?

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There's a perception among many in the African-American community that black and brown citizens are subjected to harsher treatment than whites by the criminal justice system. You may or may not agree. But how do you explain an incident, described for us by a professional African-American woman who witnessed the chain of events while waiting for the No. 6 CTA bus:

What she saw:

A dingy gold Ford Explorer stopped short in on Lake Park Boulevard in left lane just after going through a green light. The driver of the Explorer jumps out and stomps over to another SUV (a Honda) that had screeched to a halt just behind him. It's about 3:25 in the afternoon. Explorer yells, "You cut me off." Honda driver rolls down his window and argues back. A war of words ensues.

A street brawl erupts:

Honda rolls up his window. Explorer spits out a final retort, punching the closed window to show how much he means it, and then begins to stomp back to his vehicle.

But now, Honda is pissed off. He gets out and confronts Explorer face to face. Man to man. More angry words exchange. Someone spits. Someone throws the first punch. Pretty soon shirts are being pulled up and off and fists are flying. Both their SUVs are idling in the middle of the street, threatening to obstruct traffic.

Police arrive:

In swoop the police, two of them in an unmarked maroon car. One officer is speaking into a radio, presumably calling for back up. By now, Explorer had gotten back into his vehicle and tries to drive away but the cops pull in front and block him in.

The cops get out and begin to assess the situation. Soon, they are joined by a dozen or so officers who arrive in another unmarked car, three or four squads, a wagon, and a police SUV carrying some district honcho types.

Cops are milling around. We witnesses relay what we saw. Honda is painted the victim. Explorer is placed in cuffs. One cop gives him a verbal dress down, saying Explorer's version of events doesn't jibe with what witnesses are saying.

No arrests?

Then, things fall apart. Honda is back in the car and drives away. What? We witnesses don't understand. Shouldn't this guy remain on the scene, or be escorted to the police station? Don't the cops need to write up some kind of report or dispense some tickets for traffic violations? (Obstructing traffic, for starters.)

Then the cuffs are taken off of Explorer and he, too, is allowed to go on his merry way. No ticket. No arrest.

Huh? An officer comes over to tell witnesses that there was nothing they could do because Honda had decided not to press charges. What about disturbing the peace, we say? Disorderly conduct or assault? What about their both creating a dangerous situation on the street that could have caused an accident?

Nope, the officer said. There was nothing they could do. (I have since learned that citizens have the right to press charges in these kinds of situations. Of course, the officer did not offer this suggestion.)

Not equal justice:

This is American justice for white men. The other side of what is typically picked up by the media. Images of black and Latino men, young and old, who get yanked from their vehicles, strong-armed, handcuffed, frisked, and physically held, sometimes by the bottom of an officer's shoe, on the street until they are loaded into a wagon and carted off to the nearest holding pen.

This is how white men are (not) held accountable for their actions. I can imagine how this whole scene would have been dealt with by authorities had the brawlers been men of color.

Not one of the cops I saw held their hand instinctively, protectively over their weapons, a hair trigger away. I suppose everyone knows that old white guys, even when they're perps, are just not that scary.

Still, I wouldn't take any chances. Beware of an angry white man driving a Ford Explorer, who thinks, and now knows from experience, that he is entitled to do whatever he wants whenever he wants to whomever he wants with little fear that there'll be consequences or repercussions.


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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Mary Mitchell published on July 8, 2008 11:25 AM.

Column: Media's bias is showing was the previous entry in this blog.

Jesse Jackson's ugly comments is the next entry in this blog.

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