In a case where Hanlon’s Razor (“Never assume malice is the explanation if stupidity will suffice”) applies but one can’t really blame a mother for thinking otherwise, police in Newark inexplicably mistook an innocent pre-teen black boy for an adult robbery suspect and chased him through a Newark neighborhood with guns drawn. This is stupidity, not racism. Well, who knows: there could be racism mixed in there too, but what jumps out is the jaw-dropping incompetence.
Legend Preston, just ten years old, was fetching a basketball that had rolled into the street when he looked up and saw armed cops running towards him as if they meant business. So he ran.
“I was scared for my life,” Legend told reporters. “I was thinking that they were going to shoot me.” Good thinking, kid. If these cope were inept enough to get a ten-year-old confused with Casey Joseph Robinson, a 20-year-old, dreadlocks-sporting perp with facial hair (he was arrested in the next block), who knows what they might do?
Legend was quickly surrounded by neighbors who emphatically pointed out to the police that they were chasing a child, as the officers stammered that he “fit the description” of the criminal. Well, sort of. Okay, okay, now that we’re up close, we see that he’s under five feet tall, dressed like a kid, doesn’t have dreadlocks or facial hair, and looks nothing like the guy, except that he’s black, which means we also could also mistake him for Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, Morgan Freeman, or LeBron James.
However, once their mistake was explained to them, presumably s-l-o-w-ly, at least the humiliated police officers apologized abjectly to the boy, his mother, everyone in the vicinity, fire hydrants, the sidewalk, the ground, the sky, and God. Actually, no, they didn’t. “You want to make a report, go to 32 Green St,” one of them said, and walked away, without even a John Belushi apology…
The boy’s mother, who posted a video of her traumatized son crying on Facebook, now says that she is being forced into the arms of Black Lives Matter, and wants to see “reform of the system.” I understand her feeling that way, but honestly, does she really think that there is a systemic problem with the police mistaking little boys for adult criminals? How often does this happen? Yes, once is too often, but again: what does this strange incident add to our understanding of what ails law enforcement in black neighborhoods? The Ethics Incompleteness Principle applies: you don’t use anomalies to create precedents or to justify changing systems system.
The reaction of the police after the fiasco is more indicative of the need for a systemic overhaul than the rest of the story. Aren’t Newark police trained to try to build good community relations? To say “I’m so sorry; we screwed up badly here” when they screw up badly? To think, “Gee, how would I feel if my son was treated the way I just treated this poor kid” and act accordingly? I suppose it’s possible that Legend’s mother isn’t accurately relating the exchange, but in any case of “he said-she said,” I’m siding with the party who can tell the difference between 20-year-old armed robbers and ten-year-olds with basketballs.
The ubiquity of the Black Lives Matter narrative distorts the episode, however. Suddenly, the lesson defaults to “See? The oppressive white society wants to murder black children!” when all the story indisputably indicates is that some police departments are hiring idiots who draw their guns too quickly and don’t train them sufficiently in basics like judgment and human relations. Presumably all races, creeds, and colors will agree that this is unacceptable. Making Legend’s experience into a racial issue is counter-productive, divisive and destructive.
Meanwhile, the Daily News report states outright that inner city black children should be taught to run from police.
That is also stupid, and may well get one or more young men, maybe even Legend when he’s old enough to be legitimately stopped by police, shot by another badly trained idiot.
Such advice is irresponsible, doesn’t help. Nothing about the episode helps. The primary lesson ought to be that morons shouldn’t be given guns and allowed to wear police uniforms. Didn’t we already know that?
You’re right: it’s too early in the day for a story like this. Now I’m in a bad mood, and you’re in a bad mood.