Daniele Watts and the Allure of Racial Victimhood

Among the frustrations of this punditry business is one we might call Writer’s Groundhog Day Syndrome.  Those who suffer with this affliction experience the sensation of writing the same column over and over and over again, until every last nuance of a given topic has been addressed to exhaustion.  And then, owing to events of the day, you write it yet again.

I once discussed this syndrome with my friend Heather Mac Donald, who way back in 2001 wrote “The Myth of Racial Profiling” for the Spring edition of City Journal, the Manhattan Institute’s quarterly.  In the intervening years she has revisited the topic time and time again in pieces that appeared in City Journal, the New York Times, the New York Post, and elsewhere, in each instance presenting some new evidence and fresh arguments, but all the while making the identical assertion: racial profiling is, yes, a myth.

I, too, have taken up this battle, confronting the myth several times over the years here at PJ Media and at National Review Online (see here and here for just two of many examples), yet, in the face of the tireless determination of those who in one way or another profit from it, and the childlike credulity and political bias of those in the media who propagate it, the myth lives on.

So, for as long as the myth persists, those of us who would see it buried churn out column after column in the hope of finding the silver bullet that will at long last send it to its waiting grave.

But perhaps it is not we who will have the myth undone, but its purveyors.

Consider: It was just two weeks ago that I presented the story of Keith Jones, the Oakland firefighter who cried racism after an encounter with officers from that city’s police department.  Jones, 43, and his sons, ages 12 and 9, had parked their car at an Oakland fire station while attending a Raiders game nearby, and when they returned to retrieve the car they found the station unattended with its front door open.  Jones left his sons in front while he went inside to assess the situation.  An Oakland police officer, responding to the report of a possible burglary, confronted them, behaving exactly as he should have under the circumstances.  The entire encounter lasted less than five minutes, with the worst of it over in less than two.  In the end, the parties went on their separate ways amicably and with mutual good wishes.

But then Mr. Jones fell under the allure of victimhood, appealing to an overly credulous television reporter who unquestioningly presented a story fraught with the fear of being gunned down by a police officer who was not only nervous but motivated by bias.  In his desire the play the victim, Mr. Jones mischaracterized the officer’s prudent behavior and ascribed it to racial animus.  Both Mr. Jones and the reporter must have been saddened to see the police release the video that revealed both of them to be fools.  The officer is still waiting for the apology he is owed.

Failing to heed this cautionary tale was one Daniele Watts, an actress whose name was familiar to almost no one until she, too, surrendered to the allure of victimhood.  On the afternoon of Sept. 11, as Watts would tell it, she and her boyfriend, Brian Lucas, were set upon and harassed without cause by officers from the Los Angeles Police Department.  We must insert at this point the information that Watts is black and Lucas is white, facts that in an ideal world would be meaningless but in the present case are relevant.