During a robust Wake County school board meeting on July 20, 2010, Keith Sutton, an African American board member, waded into an unruly crowd attending the meeting in an attempt to calm emotions. One of the officers from the Raleigh Police Department, which presented a strong show of force, grabbed the arms of the business-suited Sutton and brought them behind his back in the process of handcuffing him. The officer involved was halted when school staff members came to Sutton's defense, explaining to the officer that he was a member of the school board.
Although unharmed, this humiliating and unwarranted near-arrest experience was deserving of an apology from the Raleigh police chief Harry Dolan and/or the officer responsible for the laying on of hands, according to Mr. Sutton. Needless to say, that apology was not forthcoming. Instead, Chief Dolan blamed Sutton for getting between police and demonstrators… never mind Sutton's intent or actions as they were evidently irrelevant. It all has to do with positioning. Now I am not aware of there being a crime on the books for being placed between alleged demonstrators and police, but in the North Carolina justice system, anything goes. To save face, Sutton said that Captain Stacy Deans apologized to him on July 20th, which goes to show that Sutton should have left well enough alone and not sought an official apology from the chief. Also, it shows that there are some decent and responsible people among Raleigh’s Finest.
Some people, such as myself, may believe that race played a role in the actions of the near-arrest officer and the resulting situation. Just ask yourself this, if school board Chairman Ron Margiotta or member John Tedesco had positioned themselves between demonstrators and police would they have had their arms yanked behind their backs? I don’t think so.
This unfortunate incident brings to mind my near-arrest experience on the campus of Duke University on April 14, 2010. I was at the Duke University Law School to hear Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, at an event which was open to the public and advertised to be on a "first come, first served" basis. So I arrived a couple of hours early wearing my Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong tee shirt, and being a gregarious person by nature, I struck up conversations with a few individuals, and gave some of them my Committee on Justice for Mike Nifong business card. After the hour presentation, I was leaving the room en masse with other attendees, with the intent of catching the bus and heading back to Raleigh. I was intercepted by a uniformed guard (whether security or campus police I do not know). He informed me that I had to leave the campus, which I was in the process of doing before his interference. He accused me of trespassing, and when I asked him why, he told me that he did not know… that Duke was a private institution and had the right to trespass anyone it wanted. As he explained it, he was only doing his job. He told me that the building manager had asked me to leave, but would not take me to see her, so I expressed my displeasure to him. Fortuitously for me, law professor James Coleman happened by and after I flagged him down, he interceded on my behalf. Had it not been for his input, I believe that I would have been arrested that day. I explained to the guard that I was leaving the campus and that he did not need to follow me, but he responded that he was going to see to it that I left the campus because I was causing a “disturbance.” (When questioned he couldn’t tell me what disturbance I had allegedly caused. I explained to him that he was the one causing the disturbance by interrupting me as I was leaving the campus.) Even though I was walking from the building to the bus stop, the guard took it upon himself to call in reinforcements. Within seconds, a patrol car pulled up and an officer joined him. There were now two men in uniform shadowing me. Before boarding the bus, the guard told me that I was nearly arrested on three occasions during our brief period of contact which could not have been more than fifteen to twenty minutes.
What this goes to show is that, like in the Sutton situation, one does not need to do anything illegal or wrong in order to wind up in jail… especially if you are disenfranchised or a person of color. Surely, my behavior did not warrant the harassing and humiliating treatment of Duke University’s security. The guard did not even know why he was asking me to leave the campus… he was only following orders, as he explained. At least Mr. Sutton and I did not get arrested, unlike Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. As you may remember, Gates was arrested for becoming upset about the humiliating and harassing treatment he received when police investigated him for a possible “forced entry” onto his own property.
Unlike Sutton, however, I did not seek an apology from Duke University, I sought an explanation about my abusive treatment from Pamela Bernard, the general counsel for the school. Instead of an admission to me of wrong-doing by Duke, she did the next best thing for herself… delegate the problem to someone else. Michael J. Schoenfeld, the Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations, replied with a letter dated May 10, 2010, in which he conjured up a cockamamie excuse and laid blame for the triggering of actions against me on the Duke police. He stated that I was asked to leave the campus for repeatedly violating the Duke policy against solicitation, which, according to Mr. Schoenfeld, constituted passing out my business cards and asking people to visit the website. It was unclear from Schoenfeld's letter whether it was okay to pass out business cards as long as I did not ask people to visit my website, or whether it was okay to ask people to visit my website as long as I did not give them my business card. Mr. Schoenfeld then expects me to believe that a person who accepted a business card would then take the time to report it to the Durham police. Surely, the Durham Police have more important issues with which to contend than the handing out of business cards.
I don’t know who ordered me kicked off campus that day in April (although I seriously doubt that Durham Police had anything to do with it) and that is not something upon which I dwell. What I find disheartening and alarming is that when guilty of wrongdoing, Duke elected to lie and scapegoat. Instead Duke chose the low road of blaming me and laying the decision to have me ousted from campus on its police. The appropriate steps to take would have been to admit its missteps and take steps to see that it doesn’t occur in the future (… also, an apology would have been appreciated).
In Keith Sutton’s case, as in that of Professor Gates, I believe skin color played a major role. Although I believe that skin color may have been a contributing factor in my situation, my allegiance to the principles of seeking justice for selectively and unjustly disbarred prosecutor Mike Nifong was the overriding issue. As the media has made perfectly clear, and is in large measure responsible for forging it, there has been for some time a new class against which to discriminate… Nifong supporters. Duke University has no problem with doing just that.
It is important for people (especially the poor, disenfranchised, and those of color) to realize that they can be arrested without reason or provocation. Know too, that when it happens, you are less likely to get an apology and more likely to be given a serving of lies and a scapegoat.
NOTICE: Update on “The MisAdventures of Super-Duper Cooper – Episode V: Clash of the Super-Hero Titans – Initial Encounter.” This ambitious project is more than halfway completed. It contains 17 parts and is larger than the previous four episodes put together. There are a plethora of local celebs and dignitaries in this episode, including a cameo appearance by Durham Mayor Bill Bell… and even a blog commenter has a major role. I am hopeful to have it completed and posted by year’s end. (Unlike the previous three episodes, Roy Cooper dons his cape, cowl, and buccaneer boots and returns to super-hero action.)
Also, the website is being revamped to give better exposure of our members, as the original opening page is getting cramped as membership grows. Also, the navigation will be much easier with the new format. Expect to see the change in the next week or two.
Finally, you may be aware of the subscription option for the blog that was recently installed for your convenience. You can, of course, continue to access the blog through the website, or blogsite directly.