(Opinion) Back in March 2014, NBA superstar Kobe Bryant was raked over the coals of the Internet fire for comments made regarding the outpouring of outrage from many in the African American community over the death of Trayvon Martin and what was perceived as an attempted cover up by the Sanford, Fla police department in support of George Zimmerman. Kobe was reported as saying.
“I won’t react to something just because I’m supposed to, because I’m an African-American,” he said. “That argument doesn’t make any sense to me. So we want to advance as a society and a culture, but, say, if something happens to an African-American we immediately come to his defense? Yet you want to talk about how far we’ve progressed as a society? Well, we’ve progressed as a society, then don’t jump to somebody’s defense just because they’re African-American. You sit and you listen to the facts just like you would in any other situation, right? So I won’t assert myself.”
Bryant was called everything from a sellout to a tool of “The Man”, and many held their tongues knowing that, while Kobe’s word’s may have caused a visceral backlash because of their timing, there was a painful truth to them. The growing hypersensitivity over the question of race and inequality as it pertains to the criminal justice system in the United States means that all issues of race seem to immediately fall into the “For us or against us” category. But what’s wrong with simply waiting things out? In retrospect, Black Mamba’s words seem prophetic.
When actress Daniele Watts was detained on September 11 by Los Angeles Police Department she immediately took her case to social media to air her frustrations. She said that she and her partner, celebrity chef Brian James Lucas, were showing affection in a public area when they were approached by a police officer and forced into handcuffs. It had only been a few weeks since African American television producer Charles Belk had suffered humiliation at the hands of the Beverly Hills Police Department after he was arrested for suspicion of bank robbery.
I even took to social media in defense of a gentleman who, by all accounts, was a classy guy who was misidentified as a criminal because he was tall, bald and black. Despite how things appear on television, the denizens of Black Hollywood are few and there aren’t that many degrees separating one individual from another as far as personal and working circles are concerned. So, she was likely well aware of that circumstance prior to her incident with the police.
Within days of her confrontation with the LAPD, the actress could be found on various television news networks in addition to telling her story to CNN. She said the officers arrested her because they thought she was a prostitute servicing a john and played the race card repeatedly at every media stop before portions of her story was called into question by Michaela Pereira of CNN.
The facts have continually trickled in since the incident. As it turns out, Watts was not racially profiled. The cops were called by employees working in nearby building who said they could actually see the couple performing graphic acts from their vantage point. According to several reports, an employee actually went down to the car and asked the couple to show a bit more discretion. The police were called only when they failed to do so. According to TMZ, witnesses said they saw Watts straddling her partner, lifting her shirt and gyrating on top of him. Then the couple cleaned their private parts with a tissue before discarding it on the grass.
Audio reports released by TMZ seem to show a level headed Los Angeles Police Officer investigating a call, and a Black woman who attempts to play up her celebrity, then her race, to remove herself from an embarrassing situation.
Upon listening to this audio the conscientious observer can hear how this situation could have easily been avoided if Watts had simply presented her identification. Whether she believed it or not, the officer does have probable cause to ask for identification when answering a call. Upon listening to the conversation between Ms. Watts and Officer Jim Parker, we find that it was Watts who caused the situation to escalate, it was Watts who became confrontational, it was Watts who mentioned race and it was Watts who flashed her celebrity by mentioning she had a public relations representative.
By all accounts, it appears as if it was Watts’ assumption that she had been profiled as a prostitute, not the police's. Prior to the release of audio and photographs that appear to refute the Django actress’s version of the story, the media rushed to report another incident of institutionalized racism perpetrated by a police officer. There were no fewer than ten reports on Google with headlines that seemed to take Danielle Watts’ story of being racially profiled at face value.
“Daniele Watts, black ‘Django Unchained’ actress, mistaken for prostitute, handcuffed and detained by police after kissing white boyfriend” (New York Daily News)
Django Unchained Actress Daniele Watts Handcuffed, Allegedly Mistaken for Prostitute (Parade)
According to police, Watts attempted to walk away from the officers without presenting identification or resolving the issue. That’s why the cuffs were slapped on. Watts was not “mistaken” for a prostitute nor does it appear that she was racially profiled. But the racial static that has saturated the media over the past year has left us all open to jumping to conclusions when waiting would have been the prudent action.
With the rush to break news in the modern era there will ultimately be times when we all get burned by “facts” that don’t hold up over time. There will also be times when we will be purposefully misled.
“I think I’d like to identify you…to my publicist. I serve freedom and love. You guys serve detainment. That’s cool. and I hope when you’re f***ing your spouses you really feel alive,” Watts reportedly told officers.
It is impossible to determine what Ms. Watts intent was, but her attempt to frame her belligerence and unwillingness to cooperate with law enforcement as some radicalized act of civil disobedience is bullsh*t and we would all be wise to pump our brakes on issues of race. Otherwise, we all look like fools at the end of the day. Answering the call of those who cry wolf leaves us all unprepared when the wolf is actually at the gate poised to devour us.