In a post on Facebook, Charles Belk recounts this crazy thing that happened on the way from a restaurant to his car on Wilshire Blvd, Beverly Hills. To appreciate it, it’s necessary to know a few things about Belk.
I was a well educated American citizen that had received a BS in Electrical Engineering from the University of Southern California, an MBA from Indiana University (including a full Consortium Fellowship to business school) and an Executive Leadership Certificate from Harvard Business School.
I was a Consultant for the NAACP, a film and tv producer, a previous VP of Marketing for a wireless application company, VP of Integrated Promotions for a marketing agency, ran Community Affairs for the Atlanta Hawks, was the Deputy Director of Olympic Village Operations for the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games, was a Test/Quality/
Mfg Engineering Manager for IBM and was a Bond Trader on Wall street.
[T]hroughout my entire life I have been very active in serving the communities that I have lived in, including Chapter President and National PR Chair for NSBE, a USC Student Senator, a USC Trojan Knight, a USC Engineering Student Council Member, a USC Black Students Council Member, and a Resident Assistant; as well as a founding board member of the RTP NBMBAA, a member of Durham County Transportation Advisory Board, Durham City / County Planning Commission, Atlanta House of Love for the Homeless Board, Cobb County Transportation Advisory Board, Georgia CASA Board, United Way of Greater Atlanta VIP Selection Committee, Jomandi Theater Board, Silver Lake Film Festival Board, Downtown LA Film Festival Board, Chaka Khan Foundation Fundraising Dinner Committee, and the USC Black Alumni Association Board.
Dedicated, for sure.
I was at one of the finest hotels in their city, handling celebrity talent at a Emmy Awards Gifting Suite, as part of business as usual, and, invited to attend a VIP Emmy pre-party that very night in their city.
Respected by those who knew him. But Charles Belk was one more thing: tall, bald head, black male. And that cursory description, which would likely describe, oh, say a few million people, was sufficient for the police to seize him and turn his walk to his car into his worst nightmare. Hell, anybody’s worst nightmare.
Within seconds, I was detained and told to sit on the curb of the very busy street, during rush hour traffic.
Within minutes, I was surrounded by 6 police cars, handcuffed very tightly, fully searched for weapons, and placed back on the curb.
Within an hour, I was transported to the Beverly Hills Police Headquarters, photographed, finger printed and put under a $100,000 bail and accused of armed bank robbery and accessory to robbery of a Citibank.
Within an evening, I was wrongly arrested, locked up, denied a phone call, denied explanation of charges against me, denied ever being read my rights, denied being able to speak to my lawyer for a lengthy time, and denied being told that my car had been impounded…..All
because I was mis-indentified as the wrong “tall, bald head, black male,” … “fitting the description.”
Nearly six hours later, with the help of “Robin Lola Harrison of the NAACP Hollywood Bureau, Robert Dowdy and Attorney Jaaye Person-Lynn,” Belk was cut loose. As it turned out, the local cops and the FBI (it was, after all, a bank robbery) finally decided to take a peek at the video of the perp, which was clearly not Belk, after Belk’s advocates demanded it.
What I don’t get………WHAT I DON”T GET, is, why, during the 45 minutes that they had me on the curb, handcuffed in the sun, before they locked me up and took away my civil rights, that they could not simply review the ATM and bank’s HD video footage to clearly see that the “tall, bald headed, black male”… did not fit MY description.
All things considered, Belk is pretty darned understanding about all this, reflective of the fact that he’s a good guy, a law-abiding guy, who strives to give police the benefit of the doubt. His challenge is to why, having arrested him, they didn’t then make the minimal effort of ascertaining whether there was any possibility whatsoever that he was the bad guy. He gave them a free 45 minutes, as he sat cuffed and surrounded by cops on a street where people he knew, with whom he did business and socialized, could stare.
He could just as well have spent a few days, maybe even months, detained while his attorney argued the point with prosecutors who were assured by their hard-bitten cops they had the right man, and a judge who shrugged with agnosticism as he assumed they wouldn’t be prosecuting Belk if he didn’t do it.
Eventually, someone would have watched the tape, provided he wasn’t coerced into confessing with some lie about how they would let him go home if only he told the truth. Or told by a lawyer that he had to plead guilty, even though his only crime was letting the meter run out on his parked car, or face decades in prison. Assuming he wasn’t subsumed in a Kafka novel, someone would have realized that this “tall, bald head, back male” wasn’t that “tall, bald head, black male.” And he would be released, to find his life, world and reputation in chaos.
A description so worthless, so cursory as “tall, bald head, black male,” might be sufficient for a Terry stop, just an inquiry as to who he was so that they could clear him of suspicion, but it should never have sufficed to strip him of his constitutional right to walk down Wilshire to put a quarter in the meter on LaCienega.
Edit to add: It’s not like cops would be crazy enough to stop a car full of children at gunpoint because it was, say, burgundy, or maybe tan, or beige, or just like a gazillion other cars, right?
Of course, as any cop can explain, he could have been armed and dangerous, a bank robber, you know, and it would have put the police officer at terrible risk to ask Belk who he was, where he was going, with the explanation of why they were interfering with a person’s right to be left alone. So they were left with no choice. At least none that would have satisfied both the purpose of catching someone who fit this mind-boggling overbroad description while making sure that no cop was harmed in the process.
As for the harm done Charles Belk in the process? Hey, that’s the price of living in a free society.