Upon reading the Daily Princetonian’s story of the nightmarish racist treatment of a Professor of African Studies, the first thought that popped into my mind was of the absurd complaints surrounding the Aaron Swartz prosecution. His family, friends and supporters thought the system singled him out for abuse, and constructed a narrative as to why.
Except there was nothing whatsoever special about Swartz’s treatment. He was treated as poorly as anyone else, as tens of thousands of people have been treated. The “problem” wasn’t that Swartz was treated differently, but that he was treated the same. They just didn’t realize it. They had no clue how anyone was treated because they didn’t give a damn until it touched someone they cared about.
It seemed pretty much the same when it happened to a professor at Princeton:
Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at the University, was arrested in the borough of Princeton for an outstanding parking ticket from three years ago on Saturday, according to Perry’s Twitter account.
Perry wrote that the police allegedly refused to allow her to make a call before her arrest, conducted a body search on her and handcuffed her to a table at the station. She noted that although she was shaken by the incident, but that it has renewed her commitment to the struggle against racism and carcerality.
Outrageous? How spectacularly safe Perry’s life must have been up to now to have no clue how arrests happen. The ordinary incidents of arrest, that happen tens of thousands of times to others, were suddenly an outrage when it happened to her. The cops “refused” to allow her to make a call before her arrest? Did she think she got to call a “time-out” at will?
And one detail that will strike any lawyer immediately, but appeared to be orphaned in the story, is why she hadn’t paid her three-year-old ticket? She was driving on a suspended license for failure to pay a ticket. This isn’t rocket science. Was she somehow so special as to not be required to pay her ticket? Was she so special that her license wouldn’t be suspended?
Had she run down a child by accident, and then been revealed to be driving on a suspended license but have been given a pass by cops, the world would go nuts about this failure. Killer prof given free ride by cops? If the dead child was black, would Perry lead the march to excoriate the police for their neglect that lead to the death of a child?
The reaction at Princeton was swift condemnation of the police officer who committed this outrage against a respected scholar.
Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., chair of the Department of African American Studies, deferred comment to a press statement.
“I understand the law, but the failure to use discretion in this instance is mind numbing,” he wrote.
Glaude added that he was thankful that Perry was okay, but found the entire incident to be ridiculous.
“Asking her if she had any weapons on her person, patting her down, handcuffing her, and then handcuffing her to a table…all for a parking ticket? This is the kind of unnecessary escalation that is bound up with the unseemly work of generating revenue through parking tickets,” he wrote.
There is no shortage of arrests that demand outrage and ridicule. This was not one. Was it ridiculous to arrest her, “all for a parking ticket”? Well, first question is why didn’t she just pay the parking ticket. People get parking tickets all the time. They can contest them or pay them. What they cannot do is ignore them. When they do, their license gets suspended. Not just African Studies professors, but everyone.
And when someone gets arrested, they go through the process of arrest. It’s not pleasant. Not for Perry. Not for anyone else. There is no “arrest lite” for special snowflakes who decide that their arrest is a lesser breed of arrest, worthy of delicate handling and undeserving of the accoutrements of arrest endured by the rest of the world.
But they don’t know this at Princeton, apparently. And so, like Aaron Swartz, they turn this into an outrage of racism, because Imani Perry, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of African American Studies at Princeton University, was subjected to harsh treatment because of her skin color.
This is what I would have written yesterday about the arrest. Today, however, I’m constrained to write something different.
It’s all bullshit. She lied about being subject to a frisk, which the police could have lawfully and properly performed. Beyond that, the officers who arrested Perry were as polite, gentle, friendly and professional as they could possibly be. This was the arrest that we dream about, the arrest that we hope, in our wildest imaginations, would happen. The officers involved treated Perry with the utmost respect.
I guess she is special, because that’s how she was treated.
On her Facebook page, Perry wrote:
My quarrel is with how I was treated. If it is the standard protocol in an affluent suburb to disallow a member of the community to make a call before an arrest (simply to inform someone of her arrest) and if it is the protocol to have male officers to pat down the bodies of women, and if it is the norm to handcuff someone to a table for failing to pay a parking ticket, we have a serious problem with policing in the society.
My quarrel is with “respected scholars” who lie about their treatment to play the race and gender card. Then we have a serious problem with telling the truth in the Ivies. But did you catch that “affluent suburb” bit? So it’s fine to throw a black woman to the ground, beat her, kick her in the head a few times, provided it’s in the ghetto, but the privilege of being a professor in the “affluent suburb” of Princeton puts you above the treatment of “those” black women?
There are people, of all races and genders, who suffer abuse at the hands of the police. Imani Perry was treated with astounding respect and courtesy. And even that wasn’t good enough for this special Ivy League snowflake. Pay your ticket. Don’t speed. Don’t lie. And get a grip on reality.