Grits For Breakfast

has a harrowing encounter with the Austin Police Department.

Read about it here.

This was an upsetting incident, obviously.  There is an unfortunate racial angle, because Scott Henson (Grits) is white and his 5 year old grand-daughter is, or I guess looks, black.  So when it’s just the two of them walking around town together, people in Austin see something which in their experience is anomalous, and then suspicious:  a middle aged or older white man with a young black child that they assume could not possibly be related to him.

So they call the police.

When the police show up it isn’t just anyone they’re investigating now, but rather Scott Henson, who has chronicled and documented police and prosecutor misconduct for years.  Writes a blog about it.

The little girl identifies Scott as her grandfather for the questioning police officer.  Should that have been enough?  Maybe.

The perceived anomalous appearance of Scott and his granddaughter had generated a previous police encounter.  One of the commenters to Scott’s post about all this says:

So this was the second time-in three years no less- that this has happened in the same city with the same department, right? Scott, all you have to do is get a copy of the police report from last time, along with the entry into the police database (available under the Freedom of Information Act) that shows the report was indeed digitized and you have them dead to rights. As soon as they ran your name they knew this has happened before, and knew Ty’s name and where you lived. They knew everything about the previous encounter. The female constable should have gone back, called it in with your name and it would have been a done deal. Make no mistake folks, when they run you against the database, even a local LEO database, they know every time you have been detained (NOT even arrested!!!) since you were 18, 16 in some states.

Of course, there’s just one problem with this take on the event:  Scott had refused to give the officer his name in the initial encounter:

Then she [the police constable] pulled out her pad and paper and asked “Can I get your name, sir, just for my report?” I told her I’d prefer not to answer any questions and would like to leave, if we were free to go, so I could get the child to bed. She looked skeptical but nodded and Ty and I turned tail and walked toward home.

After that, I guess the constable thought better of her decision to let the pair go and called it in.  The response was immediate and overwhelming – nine police cars surrounded Scott and his granddaughter a little ways up the road, a few minutes later.

The story is distressing on a number of levels.  It seems sad that a little thing like an intra-family racial divide would generate such suspicion in 2012.  But the fact is it probably would, and not just in Austin, TX.

The police reaction was over the top.  Granted.

Scott Henson didn’t have to give his name or answer any questions from that first constable.  Granted.  He can stand on his rights in that regard.

But if he’d given his name that probably would have ended it, and the police over reaction would never have happened.  Harrowing though this incident was – for his granddaughter in particular – this was an all’s well that ends well incident, in the grand scheme of things.

Scott Henson didn’t do anything wrong, but when he refused to give his name he invited further inquiry and that’s what he got.  I’m sure it’s frustrating and demeaning to encounter suspicion from others simply because your no-doubt cherished granddaughter is mixed race and seeing her and you together, by yourselves, clashes with people’s experience and expectations.  I don’t think there’s any answer to that other than patience and understanding from all concerned.

And that should extend even to the police.



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2 responses to “Grits For Breakfast

  1. Actually, fwiw, I’ve learned from the police chief that the APD did not know the constable had stopped me, so whether or not I gave her my name was irrelevant to how APD behaved.


  2. Well, that’s what the police chief said to you. That may or may not be accurate for lots of potential reasons, but the sequence of events you described strongly suggested that the constable called it in, probably with a somewhat urgent spin. Then again, maybe every house or business you walked by called 911, so suspicious was every soul in Austin of what they saw walking calmly by.

    I’m sorry that happened to you and your grand-daughter. I don’t mean to minimize it by saying it was all’s well that ends well; it’s only in the grand scheme of things”, since so many worse things happen.

    Life’s not fair sometimes. Many times, it seems.


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