Two incidents over the weekend caused many Americans to reflexively fall along partisan lines regarding race, racial mistreatment and disparity, and our criminal justice system and law enforcement. But what these situations also provide is ample opportunity to listen to fellow Americans about their experiences, as these incidents seem, unfortunately, increasingly common.
On Saturday at a Pennsylvania golf club, a man who identified himself as the club’s owner told a group of five black women they were playing too slowly and requested they leave, then called the police to remove them.
All five women were members of the club. The man confronted them on the second and ninth holes, though the women said they checked with other club staff regarding their pace and were told they “were fine.”
According to the York Daily Record, the women completed their first nine holes in one hour and 45 minutes, so “doubling the time of the first nine would have put the women under the total course rule of four hours and 15 minutes,” even with breaks.
Following the arrival of the police and subsequent interviews, the county police chief concluded “the issue did not warrant any charges.” The police did a remarkable job in how they handled this issue — despite being frivolously treated as a personal security force.
The man who called the police and treated the women so poorly was apparently not even the club owner, as he had told the women, but the father-in-law of the club co-owner who serves in an advisory role.
Meanwhile, on Monday a white judge in Texas who forged fake signatures in order to secure a place on a primary ballot was sentenced to five years of probation.
Russ Casey pleaded guilty to tampering with government records and providing fake signatures to get on the primary ballot to represent Precinct 3 in Tarrant County.
Casey violated Texas election law — not to mistakenly cast a vote he thought he was allowed to cast, as in the case of Crystal Mason, but to get himself elected to office. Even so, he received a much more lenient punishment than Crystal Mason, who was sentenced to five years in prison for her election-related crime — though Casey received five years of probation for his.
Both of these sentences were handed down in Tarrant County, Texas.
There was pushback on the notion that either Mason’s or the Starbucks stories were affected by race, just as there has been pushback that either of the two recent incidents were influenced by race.
But I believe part of this pushback is due to opposition to the Left and to the media — and the (sometimes accurate!) belief that both entities intentionally push narratives and the (sometimes valid!) frustration that occurs as a result.
However, regardless of what the Left says, and regardless of how the media tells us to think, conservatives should still give these incidents the careful examination they deserve. In situations similar to these, many of us on the Right are not only too quick to insist there is no evidence of racism, we are too quick to dismiss even the possibility race played a factor.
Many have argued committing election fraud is worthy of prison, and disparities in punishment for similar crimes are simply due to different criminal jurisdictions, and the men in Starbucks were loitering and trespassing because they hadn’t yet made a purchase so therefore calling the police and the police arrests were appropriate responses.
That instinctive defensiveness and refusal to even consider other possibilities prevent us from engaging in thoughtful and useful analysis, such as asking the following questions to fairly assess the incidents:
Is five years in prison really a reasonable punishment for a non-violent crime?
Is calling the 9-1-1 emergency hotline really a reasonable reaction to two men peacefully and quietly sitting in your store?
Is arresting two non-disruptive men for hanging out in a coffee shop without yet making a purchase and then holding them for eight hours without any charges really a reasonable response by the police?
Is calling the police really a reasonable way to handle a group of golfers you believe are playing too slowly?
I believe the answer to each of these questions is “no.” And as advocates of limited government, we conservatives should not defend but criticize such blatant misuse of the enforcement arm of our government.
Secondly, it is doubtful white individuals would have encountered the same treatment; for example, the American Psychological Association found black men are often perceived to be more threatening than white men:
Wilson and his colleagues conducted a series of experiments involving more than 950 online participants (all from the United States) in which people were shown a series of color photographs of white and black male faces of individuals who were all of equal height and weight. The participants were then asked to estimate the height, weight, strength and overall muscularity of the men pictured.
‘We found that these estimates were consistently biased. Participants judged the black men to be larger, stronger and more muscular than the white men, even though they were actually the same size,’ said Wilson. ‘Participants also believed that the black men were more capable of causing harm in a hypothetical altercation and, troublingly, that police would be more justified in using force to subdue them, even if the men were unarmed.’
With that knowledge, let’s rationally re-examine how these Americans of color were treated.
Crystal Mason committed a non-violent crime and made an honest mistake — one that poll workers did not catch, either.
Starbucks welcomes its image as somewhere to work, study, read, and hold meetings, which countless people do every single day — sometimes for hours, with or without purchases. And it is a sit-down coffee shop; sometimes people do not make purchases right away. People may believe it is rude to sit in a Starbucks without making a purchase or argue it would be polite and simple to buy something small, but calling the police is still excessive.
The golfers were stopped on the second hole for playing too slowly; they occasionally caught up to the group in front of them; they were on pace to complete the course in the required time; and when three of the five women left, so ostensibly the group would move much faster, the two remaining women were still asked to leave, until the police were called to yet again act like a personal security detail.
Based on these circumstances, it is logical to wonder if there were other issues behind the decisions to see these Americans as more threatening, impose strict punishments on Americans of color, or oust black Americans from the premises.
And it may seem unusual we are increasingly hearing about such incidents, just like we suddenly heard more about police brutality, racial injustice, or sexual misconduct. Unfortunately, it is without doubt these situations have been occurring for years; the only difference is Americans of color finally have evidence (in the form of cell phone footage) and a platform (in the form of social media and its reach).
It’s better for America we are being forced to acknowledge and confront these issues, and this is an opportunity to ensure every single American receives justice.
There was no explicit racism present in any of these incidents. No racial slurs were uttered. None of these individuals were told they were not welcome at these establishments, or they were being punished, because of their race.
But racism exists in forms other than just obvious acts, and it would behoove the Right to understand this — if not for their fellow Americans’ sake, then at least for their own self-preservation. The United States is becoming a more diverse country every day, and if the Republican Party wishes to continue to be a competitive national party, it must make inroads within minority communities and ensure they receive justice. That starts with at least trying to understand their experiences.
The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent those of any other individual or entity. Follow Sarah on Twitter: @sarahmquinlan.