I am close to a large number of black men: brothers, nephews, in-laws, friends and a significant other. I worry about them a lot.
My unease increases as I hear about such tragedies as the deaths of Sean Bell, Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin and Jonathon Ferrell, the Charlotte man who went rapidly from automobile accident victim looking for help, to home invasion suspect, to a cold black body on a morgue slab.
The men in my life are all-American males. Among them are a retired U.S. Army colonel and a Vietnam War vet. Most are college graduates with a history of steady employment and obeying the law. They tend to avoid risky behavior, if you dont count the penchant for jogging and playing basketball on aging knees.
Nonetheless, I know that any of them could become ensnared in a situation where they may not be given the benefit of the doubt.
An accusation after breakfast
That concern was driven home on a recent gorgeous fall morning when my boyfriend announced that he was treating me to breakfast. Actually, the treat was mostly his in that he had chosen North Raleighs Courtneys Restaurant, where he is fond of the hearty breakfast fare.
After the meal, I was at the cashiers station paying the bill when another customer a middle-age white man began speaking to the cashier.
He asked whether people often leave the restaurant without paying. Not often, the young woman at the register responded. Well, the man declared, someone just walked out without paying. The cashier nodded politely at Dudley Do Right and turned to me.
It suddenly occurred to me that he was talking about my companion, who was outside but visible through the restaurants front window.
Bazz is a smoker. He is desperately trying to quit, but he tends to have a strong craving after a meal. He doesnt smoke in the car when he has passengers and generally avoids smoking in my presence. On this morning, he asked me to take care of paying the bill while he grabbed a quick smoke outside.
Left with many questions
The cashier did not sound the alarm about the alleged perp getting away with a bellyful of stolen eggs and bacon because she had seated us when we arrived and knew that no one was skipping out on the check.
But my mind raced with thoughts of what could have happened. What if the cashier had not been the person who initially greeted us? What if I had been in the womens room when the accusation was made? What if someone had confronted Bazz. An honorable man, he would definitely have copped an attitude and would not have taken a false accusation lightly. What if a confrontation escalated and the police became involved? I had no illusions that Bazz would be the one given the benefit of the doubt.
Mostly, I wondered. Whats with this guy? How did he come to such a conclusion? What world view allowed him to make such an emphatic statement of wrongdoing?
Several people came and left the restaurant during the hour or so we were there. How did he know who paid and who didnt? Did he have the entire room under surveillance or was he just watching Bazz? What about him merited watching? And if he was observing him, why hadnt he seen that we were together?
Incensed, I firmly told Mr. Do Right that no one was walking out on the bill. He slowly got it and gave me a weak smile. He said he was glad I said something.
Getting angrier by the minute, I responded, You know you could have gotten him shot. He was not fazed. His demeanor indicated that he didnt think he did anything wrong. There was no introspection there about making a reckless and false charge.
His attitude is not surprising. If you spend time on the Internet, you will see responses to false accusations against blacks that go something like this: Its too bad the innocent are accused. But were just playing the odds because so many blacks commit crimes. They are at fault.
But theres a problem with that kind of thinking the math is wrong. Disproportionate representation doesnt mean majority. If youre playing the odds, the black man you encounter on a dark street is more likely to be a college student than a criminal. The oft-repeated statistic that there are more black men in prison than in college is simply not true.
And if statistics matter, why do whites not pay a price for the awful crime categories where white men are amply represented? Anybody want to talk about race and mass shootings?
After settling the bill, I walked out of Courtneys and found Bazz sitting on the bench in front of the restaurant. I gave him his receipt for the tab and informed him that he had been accused of eating and running. But Ive been here the whole time, he said.
Yep. Dudley Do Right seems to have discounted that the dash part was missing from his dine and dash scenario.
Linda Darnell Williams is Page One Editor of The News & Observer.
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