Thursday, July 23, 2009

Acting Stupidly

For those who don’t believe the racial angle to the Henry Louis Gates arrest, I offer this personal story; not as proof, but as perspective:

Chrissy won’t forget that it was June 16, 2008. It was the day our dear Chelsea gave us a great scare. At about 9 pm we heard Chrissy screaming, “She’s not breathing!” Laura and I ran upstairs to find a limp baby in her mother’s arms. Laura took the baby and attempted CPR while Chrissy called 911. The household was going crazy. I’m sure the 911 operator could hear Thomas yelling in the background even after he went outside. Paramedics arrived and walked (leisurely, nonchalantly) up our walkway. They told us that Chelsea would be okay and asked if we wanted them to take her to the hospital. We did. They took Chelsea and Chrissy in the ambulance. The rest of us [Laura; our son, Thomas; and our grandsons Damon (4) and Michael (17)] piled into the car en route to meeting them at the hospital. After a few minutes on the road, Chrissy called from the ambulance to ask us to go back home to get Chelsea’s diaper bag.

We arrived home to see a police car out front and an officer at our door. I got out of the driver’s seat to meet the officer. When I got halfway up my walkway, the officer met me. He stuck out a hand, while grabbing his gun with the other hand, as if to say, “No further!” He asked “And who are YOU!” Yes, just like that.

By then, my white wife and Michael, my white teenaged grandson, had also gotten out. They passed us unobstructed, walked up to the door, and entered the house. I responded to the officer, “This is my house. I own this house.”

He looked at me skeptically, then asked “So what was all the commotion?”

“Well, Officer, my granddaughter stopped breathing and there were a lot of upset people.”

“What happened to make her stop breathing? What was going on before she stopped breathing?” He was trying to figure out what I did to make her stop breathing.

“I don’t know; I just heard her mother screaming. But you know, Officer, we really need to get to the hospital.”

He extended his hand again, making sure that I didn’t go into my own house. He asked, “Who were you fighting with in the yard?”

“Excuse me?”

“Neighbors reported that there was fighting in the yard.”

“There was no fighting in the yard. My son was yelling because he was afraid he was losing his daughter. I came outside to calm him down.”

“Have you been drinking?”

“I had a glass of wine.”

By then Laura and Michael were out of the house. Laura spoke up, “We really need to get to the hospital.”

“Is there someone else who can drive?”

Laura said, “I can drive,” wisely not offering that she, too, had had a glass of wine.

Finally, the officer let me leave my own house to check on my granddaughter at the hospital, as long as I did so from my own passenger’s seat. Meanwhile my wife white, my white young adult son, and my white 17-old- and 4-year-old grandsons, all distraught over the plight of our Chelsea, have witnessed the added humiliation of my confrontation at my own house.

To re-clarify: I don’t write this to solicit pity, to inflict guilt, or even to make a political statement. I write simply to describe my reality to people whose reality is different.

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