A Warm, Yet Disturbing, Vignette

When Jake DiMare sent me the link to Rawstory, he included the subject line “this gave me a feeling.”  I responded, “me too,” but wasn’t entirely clear what the feeling was.  You see, so many of these videos end with blood on the sidewalk, or if we’re lucky, only a man being led away in cuffs for having the audacity of being all black and stuff.  Not this one.

On its surface, one could see a man, Dennis Stucky, sitting on the curb, wrongly denied his right to be left alone even though it was a neighborhood where he appeared “out of place,” with a woman who came to his aid, a lawyer, who not only dealt with the police, but took charge of the man, walked him to freedom and made clear that the police were not welcome to engage in such impropriety in that neighborhood.

Jody Westby was a star.  A good person. A strong person. A person who stood up for another person in need.  While it’s possible she could have been at some risk, she gave it no thought. But then, a woman like Westby would never think she’s at risk from the police.  And for the most part, that’s true.

At the same time, the video reflects the flagrant racism, on all ends, with the cops assuming a black man in a white neighborhood must mean criminal, a white woman treated with care while a black man sat on the curb.  As Raw Story explains it:

A recent videotaped incident in Washington, D.C., highlights the way race and class matter in police interactions with residents.

The video, which was posted online by the Washington Post, shows white attorney Jody Westby coming to the aid of black handyman Dennis Stucky, who has been stopped by two officers and is sitting on a curb in the upscale Foxhall Crescent neighborhood.

The scenario was classic, and horrible as well as wonderful, at the same time.

“We have a burglar alarm,” says the officer standing in the street. “He’s coming with bags.”

The officer, who is black, tells Westby that Stucky had become “loud and boisterous,” which made police suspicious.

“Because you’re accusing him,” Westby says, sternly.

So often, people react to a person being less than thrilled with being accused by police of wrongdoing for no reason, with the retort that it would have gone easier if they were just compliant.  That’s the undercurrent of the officer who tells Westby that  Stucky was being “loud and boisterous.”

Should Stucky thank the cops for seizing him for no reason?  Should he be passive, if not happy, because that’s how people are supposed to behave when they’re black in a white neighborhood?  Notably, the police offer nothing to suggest that Stucky has done anything wrong, other than to exist while they have the knowledge of a burglar alarm going off somewhere.  Close enough to seize the nearest black man?

This is a good video and a bad video.  But in the end, Westby and Stucky walk away, unharmed.  In the end, its a good video.  But as Jake said, this gave me a feeling.  A very mixed feeling.


11 thoughts on “A Warm, Yet Disturbing, Vignette

  1. Richard G. Kopf


    Thanks for this.

    There are very good people in this world and cynics like me need to be reminded of that truth. I also need to be reminded that mindless policing is an everyday event.

    All the best.


    1. Unimpressed

      Judge Kopf: With the greatest respect, I am unimpressed by your comment. You are concerned about “mindless policing.” But this is child’s play compared to the police lawlessness and violence that SHG has posted r about. You referred to a vignette from 1973,over 40 years ago. What about such recent vignettes as David Hooks and John Crawford being unjustifiably shot to death by police, Eric Garner dying as a result of an illegal police chokehold,, Michael Davidson and Levar Jones being unjustifiably shot by police, Bryce Masters being unjustifiably tasered by police, Marcus Jeter and Santiago Hernandez being kicked, beaten, and punched by police? The list can go on.

      We’re not in Kansas, and it is not 1973. Until judges become less willing to sign on warrants like the one that led to the killing of David Hooks (to be fair the police with their no-knock raid exceeded the bounds of the warrant), unless judges stop cutting prosecutors slack for routinely breaking laws and violating defendants’ rights, the judges are as complicit as the police and prosecutors and legislators in our dysfunctional and abusive “justice” system.

  2. David M.

    I think the video gets its surreal touch from Westby’s body language as much as anything. That defensive stance, arms wrapped around herself… the 70’s-style dress is part of it, too, perhaps just because I associate them with old photos of my mother, who’s a really gentle lady.

    Based on what I at first see, I assume she must be a passive onlooker, perhaps even a victim, and yet she’s able to take charge of the situation, face down those cop-ass cops in their mean Dodge Charger and secure the freedom of the real victim. It’s great stuff, but what happens is so at odds with what my assumptions and knowledge of the world tell me should be happening that it’s also grotesque, a bit like watching The Blues Brothers or seeing too many Picassos in a row.

  3. John Barleycorn

    All lawyers who ever over billed a client by even ten minutes will go to purgatory and live out deeply twisted suburban scenarios like this over and over for ever and ever, in a room that has a brass sign on the door that says,
    American Academy of Suburban Works mid 20th Century – mid 21st Century in the 500 Block.

    They will never get a hall pass until they can speak in the exact same tone as the lawyer in the clip while wearing a striped skirt and recognize to the very atomic level of their being the condescending madness of it all from every angle.

  4. Matt James

    It’s not just race, it’s also social class and position. I remember my anthropology teacher telling me years ago, “America has a caste system, too.” Well, here it is.

  5. Peter Harte

    I don’t know what “he works for us.” means but would she have responded the same way if she didn’t already have some sort of relationship with him? This is not a lawyer standing up for a stranger’s civil liberties. The other question is – would the police have let this white woman intervene like this if they had not been on camera.

  6. RKTlaw

    At the risk of stating the obvious, why do I get the suspicion that had this been in a less-tony neighborhood and had Ms. Westby been a black lawyer, that she would have found herself on the ground, cuffed, and charged with resist and obstruct, among other charges? That said, kudos to her.

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