When A Black Woman Kisses A White Man

Ashley Southall tells the story of a possibly racist misunderstanding:

The actress, Daniele Watts, who appeared in “Django Unchained” and plays Martin Lawrence’s daughter on the FX show “Partners,” revealed the incident last week in a note on Facebook. She said she was “handcuffed and detained” by the officers “after refusing to agree that I had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.” … Ms. Watts’s boyfriend, Brian James Lucas, a celebrity raw food chef, said in his account of the incident posted to Facebook on Friday that the officers’ questions indicated that they suspected the couple were a prostitute and her client after observing their different skin colors, his numerous visible tattoos and her shorts. He did not say what questions the police had asked. Mr. Lucas also accused the officers of threatening to call an ambulance and to drug Ms. Watts “for being psychologically unstable.”

Yomi Adegoke contextualizes the incident:

Cases such as Daniele’s illustrate why intersectionality is crucial to any discussion of racism and, more pressingly, any discussion of feminism. We must face the facts — this would not have happened to Daniele had she been a black man, nor would it have happened if she were a white woman. … As it stands, black women are sexualised to such a degree — and black people criminalised to such a degree — that it appears the police are unable to fathom something as common as an interracial relationship in anything other than sexual terms, despite an incumbent biracial president.

And Elizabeth Nolan Brown takes the occasion to describe the extent to which non-black women are not hassled by the police.

The only correlate I have to stories of routine street harassment and cruelty by cops is how often I haven’t been bothered, arrested, or abused. And let’s just say I’m no angel. I have absolutely walked the streets of so many cities drinking alcohol from travel mugs, ducking into dark parks and alleys to sneak a joint or a kiss; purchased drugs and even untaxed cigarettes in the relative open; and generally engaged in the kind of semi-suspicious and minimally-criminal public behavior that I’m certain would get someone with darker skin or more testosterone at least harassed (if not arrested or assaulted) many times over. …

I wish everyone had the privilege I’ve had to not just break dumb laws without really fearing repercussion but even simply to go about regular life without being treated like a criminal. Incidents like this one with Watts, however, show how it’s not merely about the attitudes of cops. Excluding everything the officers did or didn’t do once they showed up, there’s still the fact that someone seems to have called them on an assumption that this young black woman cozying up to a white man must be a prostitute. Absent anything the cops did in Chris Lollie’s case, there’s still the fact that someone called them in to investigate a black man suspiciously sitting idly. There’s the fact that in my decade of living, working, walking, loitering, and sometimes breaking the law in cities, no one has ever called the cops on me.

Update from a reader:

Listening to the police tapes of the encounter clouds the narrative a bit. The police can’t go around randomly asking for ID – but they do have a right to ask for ID when they receive a call about a potential crime in progress, in this case what witnesses thought was public sex in a car. While that initial call to the police might have been racially-motivated (or they might have actually been getting frisky in the front seat), the actions of the officer seem to be pretty standard response: check IDs and move along. She was briefly detained when she refused. But come on: a cop, after getting a call about a possible crime, is obliged to investigate and is not just going to walk after if someone is being uncooperative. Racial bias in policing is deplorably common, but alleging racism over basic policing protocol doesn’t help the cause.