Charles Blow is a New York Times columnist. He is black. His son, also black, and a Yalie, was briefly detained by campus security, at gunpoint.
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN: One of the most illuminating voices we hear from “The New York Times” Charles Blow. He’s talked a lot on this program about his fears for his own son’s safety. Well, last Saturday, his fears seemed to come true. His son, a student at Yale, was walking back to his dorm room from the library when a campus police officer stopped him at gunpoint. He hadn’t done anything wrong, he did exactly as he was told by the police officer, got on the ground, hands raised. Later he was told he fit the description of a burglary suspect. Eventually he went back to his dorm safely. Here’s what Charles wrote in his column. “This is the scenario I’ve always dreaded. My son at the wrong end of the gun barrel face down on the concrete. What if my son had panicked under the stress, had I come close to losing him? Triggers cannot be un-pulled, bullets cannot be called back. I’m reminded of what I have always known,” he wrote, “but what some would choose to deny, that there is no way to work your way out, earn your way out of this sort of crisis. In these moments, what you’ve done matters less than how you look. ”
But here’s what Yale said about the incident in the statement that it released: “A Yale police officer detained an African American Yale college student who was in the vicinity of a reported crime and who closely matched the physical description including items of clothing of the suspect, even though the officer’s decision to stop and detain the student may have been reasonable, the fact that he drew his weapon during the stop requires a careful review.
Nothing to argue with here. I counsel my son the same way; if he or I were black, I’d really hammer home the point: “what you’ve done matters less than how you look”.
COOPER: Does the fact that the police officer involved was African- American? Does that change the equation in your mind in any way?
BLOW: It doesn’t for me because we don’t – when we have those conversations with our kids, we don’t say, well, if you run into a white police officer, behave like this and this, and this, and if you run into a black police officer, you don’t have to worry about that. Do whatever you want to do, jam your hands into all your pockets, and, you know, jump around and talk back. We talk about the police in general. And I am very happy that when he turned around and saw whoever was with the gun that he didn’t behave any differently. He didn’t see any difference. He saw a gun, and an officer and he followed the very same script.
COOPER: Do you believe race played a role even though the officer was African-American, do you believe race played a role in what happened to your son? Because there – you’ve come under criticism from some conservative sites, some even call it a race hoax. Because in your original article, you didn’t mention that the officer was African- American.
BLOW: Right. Because in my argument, I’ve been writing about this for probably, years now and I have stopped, almost altogether, mentioning the race of any officers. Period.
Isn’t the obvious follow-up: why? Why is “what you’ve done matters less than how you look” relevant in one case, but not the other? I don’t know how many Yale police officers are black, but as this NY Times report indicates, whites make up the overwhelming majority of police forces even in cities with overwhelming majority minority populations (if you could follow that). So, the detail that the officer was black was newsworthy, if not central to the story. Absent that information, the reader would have assumed he was white. Omitting it says reams more about Blow than Blow has to say about race in America today.
The facts of the story are unremarkable, save for the officer drawing his gun. That is a big deal, and should be investigated (as Yale said it will). But otherwise, a young black male who matched the description—down to the clothing—of a burglary suspect, being detained and questioned, is barely news. Except that the kid’s dad is a New York Times columnist. With an apparent agenda.