Let cops err on public safety’s side 

Do you lose sleep at night knowing that Attorney General Eric Holder is the country’s chief law enforcement officer?
I sure do. Now, I slept pretty good when Holder made his first major gaffe as attorney general, and he did it early on. That was when he presumed to chide Americans for not speaking candidly or courageously about matters of race. Translation: Today’s white Americans don’t grovel enough, flagellate themselves enough or feel guilty enough about the racism of their long-dead
ancestors.

Then in late May, Holder chimed in with his two-cents worth about Arizona Senate Bill 1070, which is either a racist law targeting Hispanics (the hysterical, inaccurate view shared by Holder) or the finest piece of state legislation ever passed to address the problem of illegal immigration (the correct view). Here’s Holder’s assessment of 1070, destined to make the Law Enforcement Hall of Fame nowhere in this nation:

“We could potentially get on a slippery slope where people will be picked on because of how they look as opposed to what they have done.”

As one who was, years ago, picked on precisely because of how I looked as opposed to what I had done, I’m in a perfect position to say what hogwash Holder’s assessment is. Sometimes, law enforcement officers are obliged to pick on people because of how they look rather than what they’ve done.

My story goes like this: I was a junior at Franklin and Marshall College, living off campus near downtown Lancaster, Pa. One day while I headed to my apartment, I decided to jog part of the way. I hadn’t gone far when a police officer got out of his patrol car and ordered me to halt. I did. The guy was a cop, after all.

It seemed a black teenager around 14 or 15 years old had just snatched some woman’s purse. The officer got the description and decided to stop the first black guy he saw running. Now, I had a legitimate gripe if I’d wanted to make one. I was 5 to 6 years older than the described suspect and carried nothing in my hands. And I was running in the direction of the crime scene, not from it.

But, I answered the officer’s questions about who I was, where I lived and what I was doing, and I went on my merry way. Some would call what I went through an egregious example of racial profiling. Indeed, if I had been mistakenly identified as the culprit, tried, convicted and sent off unjustly to prison, then what happened would have been a big deal.

Since none of those things happened, then the officer simply erred on the side of public safety. I’m a big fan of public safety. It tends to work for me. I like public safety.

But in Holderworld, I’d been “picked on” because of “how I looked” as opposed to what I had done. Is the chief law enforcement officer in the United States suggesting that the police officer who stopped me shouldn’t have stopped me? Because I’m the guy who got stopped, and I’m here to tell you nearly 40 years later that the officer most certainly should have stopped me. What else was he supposed to do? Say, as Holder no doubt suggests Arizona law enforcement officers do, “I’d better not stop that black guy running there. He might think I’m picking on him because of how he looks as opposed to what he’s done.”

In the real world, that would be a stupid cop. In Holderworld, he’d be a good one.

Examiner columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to Sudan.

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