Watering flowers while Black

Source: Hot Air

Even though this story took place back in March, it’s only now starting to gain some national traction. Early one Sunday evening in Childersburg, Alabama, a woman named Amber Robinson (who is white, like most of the people in her neighborhood) dialed 911 when she saw a Black male on the property of a neighbor that she knew was out of town. She also reported a gold SUV parked in front of the property. Local police arrived in short order and found 50-year-old Michael Jennings, a pastor from a local church who lives across the street, watering a flower bed in the front yard of the property with a garden hose. A bodycam video of the incident showed Jennings being placed in handcuffs a short time later. The woman who called the police later apologized and Jennings was released without being arrested, but now the confrontation has resulted in a lawsuit. While this probably sounds like a straightforward case of racist reactions by white police officers, there is a bit more to the story, however. Here’s the condensed version as reported by the Associated Press.

Michael Jennings wasn’t breaking any laws or doing anything that was obviously suspicious; the Black minister was simply watering the flowers of a neighbor who was out of town.

Yet there was a problem: Around the corner, Amber Roberson, who is white, thought she was helping that same neighbor when she saw a vehicle she didn’t recognize at the house and called police.

Within minutes, Jennings was in handcuffs, Roberson was apologizing for calling 911 and three officers were talking among themselves about how everything might have been different.

It seems obvious that the police could have handled this situation better. Since the Pastor lives across the street and had been asked by the homeowner to keep an eye on the place and water their garden while they were away, it should have been a childishly easy “mystery” to resolve. And we can’t entirely rule out the possibility of some racial motivation in the cops’ decision to handcuff him.

But going through a partial transcript of the bodycam video, this clearly wasn’t a case of the police rushing an unknown Black man and throwing him to the ground and cuffing him. Officer Chris Smith and his partner walked up rather casually and said, “Whatcha doing here, man?” Jennings only responds by saying, “watering flowers.”

Smith explains that a neighbor called about a stranger on the property and a vehicle she didn’t recognize. Only then does Jennings explain that the car belongs to the absent owner of the house. He goes on to say, “I’m supposed to be here. I’m Pastor Jennings. I live across the street.” He further explains that he was asked to keep an eye on the place and water the flowers.

That might have been the end of it but Officer Smith next asked to see Jennings’ ID. He responds by saying, “Oh, no. Man, I’m not going to give you ID.” When asked why he wouldn’t provide his ID, the pastor says, “I ain’t did nothing wrong.”

The conversation escalates from there, with a warning being issued to Jennings that he could be charged for obstruction. The second officer then puts the Pastor in handcuffs, at which point he says, “I like this. It’s already a lawsuit.”

Alabama law allows the police to request ID from people, but it specifies that is only to be done “when there’s reasonable suspicion the person has committed or is about to commit a crime.” We would be hard-pressed to explain what sort of crime might have been taking place when a man was watering a garden unless they were under some sort of drought restrictions. (They were not, by the way.) So this obviously could have been handled better.

But the situation also would never have spiraled in that fashion if the Pastor had either produced his ID or said he didn’t have it on him and offered to walk the cops across the street to his house to get it. Was he legally obligated to produce his ID? Possibly not. But his statements about “liking” being handcuffed and it already being “a lawsuit” make it fairly clear that Jennings was in the mood to spur a confrontation where he could claim he was being treated in a racist fashion.

This entire affair was completely avoidable. But as I suggested at the top, it really wasn’t such an open and shut case of racist white cops abusing a Black man, either.