Oh, how alluring, how comforting, how most pleasing is the mantle of victimhood. So pleasing, in fact, that even when the claim to victim status is tenuous at best, some people cannot restrain themselves from rushing before the news cameras to inform the world of how they have been mistreated. Pátio ergo sum. I suffer, therefore I am.
Witness the case of Keith Jones, a firefighter in Oakland, Calif., who recently had a brief but mildly tense encounter with an officer from that city’s police department. Jones, 43, was leaving an Oakland Raiders football game on Aug. 15 with his two sons, 9 and 12. He had parked his SUV at Fire Station 29, which is a few blocks from the Oakland Coliseum, and when he and his sons returned to the station they saw that the doors to the apparatus bay had been left open, apparently by the on-duty crew that had gone on an emergency run. Jones, being a conscientious firefighter and good citizen, went inside to investigate.
But someone on the fire crew had realized the doors had been left open and contacted the police, asking them to secure the station until the firefighters could return. A police service technician, i.e., an unarmed employee, arrived and saw Jones’s two sons inside the darkened station. Believing them to be burglars, he called for officers to respond. An officer riding alone was first to answer the call, and he handled things in the very reasonable belief that the people in the station were indeed burglars helping themselves to fire department property.
I pause here to add that Mr. Jones and his sons are black and the police officer is white, so the reader now has an idea of where the story is headed. In Jones’s version of events, told to an overly credulous Da Lin, a reporter from local CBS affiliate KPIX, his sons were “traumatized” by the police officer, who told them to put their hands up and not to move. “And his hand is on his gun,” Jones said in the interview, “he was crouched, he was low, and he was basically in a shooting stance.”
How one can be in a “shooting stance” with his gun still in its holster was not a question the reporter thought to ask. But then, informing the public on the truth of what actually occurred seems to have been a subordinate goal in presenting the story, far below that of presenting yet another tale of woe from a respectable black man put upon by a racist white police officer. “[Jones] truly believes,” says Mr. Lin introducing the story, “this happened because he was black.”
Yes, in the aftermath of Ferguson, Mo., where the “gentle giant” turned out to have been not all that gentle, Jones’s story must have been all the more compelling to those at KPIX who choose which news stories are deserving of a few minutes of their precious air time. Imagine, television viewers, not even this firefighter and his two sons could be spared from the evils of racial profiling, not even in the fire station!
But it got worse. “I was thinking is he going to shoot my dad the whole time,” said 12-year-old Keith Jones II. And 9-year-old Trevon was even more frightened. “I was getting ready about to cry,” he said. “My hands started to get tired, but I kept them up.” That heartless beast of a police officer, the viewer is saying, putting these poor children through this. Where is Al Sharpton? Where is Eric Holder? Where is the FBI? We demand action!
Alas for Mr. Jones, there will be no Al Sharpton, no Eric Holder, no FBI, and no action, for the Oakland Police Department released a video of the incident, captured on the officer’s body camera, and it confirms that though the officer was cautious and even a bit brusque at the outset, he did nothing improper during the entire incident. Given the time of night and the lack of lighting, the video is dark and offers little in the way of clarifying images, but the sound that was recorded provides all the information one needs to know that Mr. Jones erred in playing his victim card.
As the video begins, you hear the officer calmly tell someone, apparently one of Jones’s sons, to “put the bag down.” Then, at the three-second mark of the video, the officer’s voice is raised as he orders someone, apparently Jones himself, to put his hands up and turn around. Jones identifies himself as an Oakland firefighter and starts to explain why he and his sons are there. The younger boy can be heard crying as the officer radios in to request a check on Jones’s license plate number.
Judging from the sounds of their voices, it’s apparent that Jones’s sons are near the officer while Jones has appeared from somewhere inside the station. At 45 seconds, as the officer awaits the return on the license plate, he tells the crying boy, “It’s all right, it’s all right.” Now reasonably assured that these are not burglars he is dealing with, the officer tells his dispatcher that other responding units can slow down. He then asks Jones to raise his hands and turn around so that he, the officer, can visually inspect him for weapons. Jones then presents his identification and repeats his explanation for being in the empty station. At 1:41 in the video, the officer tells the boys, “You can put your hands down, kids. Sorry about that.” And he tells Jones, “You can relax too.”
And after that, the officer asked a colleague who had arrived to “hang out” with Jones and his sons while he walked to his car and used a computer to verify Jones’s information. This officer’s interaction with Jones was also captured on video, which can be viewed on the Daily Caller website here. As in the case of the first officer, this video’s picture is all but worthless, but the conversation recorded is remarkable for its being so unremarkable. The second officer explains at greater length why the police responded, and near the end Jones can be heard saying, “I respect what you do. I appreciate it.”
Returning to the first video now, at the 4:20 mark the first officer returns from his car and says to Jones, “I’m sorry for the scare.”
“No problem,” says Jones, “No problem. I’ll secure [the station].” The officer then says to Jones’s sons, “Sorry about that guys.”
And that was all there was to it. Four and a half minutes in all, only the first 1:41 of which could even remotely be described as tense. At no time during the encounter did the officer draw his gun, use offensive language, or do anything at all you wouldn’t find written in his department’s policy manual. And if Jones had a beef with anything that had happened, he had the opportunity to make it known at the time and ask to speak with the officer’s supervisor, who was present at the scene. Instead he said, “No problem.”
It was only later that Jones heard the siren song that led him down the victimhood path. We may presume it was he who called KPIX, whose reporter found the tale too compelling to resist. Note that the story as it was aired required the investment of two distinct camera setups, one in the daylight for the interview with Jones and his sons, and another in the darkness at the fire station where the family trauma was re-enacted, complete with a shot of Jones’s sons with their hands raised. Surely this was a time commitment for Jones far in excess of the five minutes he and his sons were detained. (And it wasn’t mentioned if Trevon grew tired while raising his hands for the benefit of the re-enactment.)
It’s interesting to note that when KPIX aired a follow-up story after the release of the officer’s video footage, it was not Da Lin but a different reporter who presented it. Perhaps it was Mr. Lin’s day off, perhaps he was busy on another story, or perhaps the station’s management realized his earlier report had been so thoroughly discredited that they thought it best to send someone else. To the station’s credit, they aired the follow-up that made a mockery of their earlier story and of its protagonist. It’s no wonder that Jones, who had agreed to another interview following the release of the police video, did not answer the reporter’s calls and text messages seeking to set one up.
What makes this all the more troubling is that Jones, as an Oakland firefighter, interacts daily with the city’s police officers and may be almost as familiar with local crime as they are. Try this little experiment: Go to the Crime Mapping website for Oakland and enter the address for Fire Station 29, 1016 66th Avenue. Click on the search button and behold the crime picture in that neighborhood for the previous week. Then widen the date range to encompass just this year, and you’ll see the little crime symbols multiply like so many malevolent spores in a petri dish. When I did this, there were more than 800 reported crimes indicated on the map within one mile of the fire station, including 99 burglaries, 72 robberies, 384 assaults, 242 thefts, and three homicides. This is a picture of a troubled neighborhood. The police officers who encountered Jones and his sons that night knew, just as Jones surely did, that if word had gotten out in the neighborhood that the fire station was open and unattended, the firefighters would have returned to find the place picked clean to the bare walls.
More than making himself look silly, Jones has done his sons a disservice. By investigating the open door at the fire station, Jones gave his sons a lesson in responsibility, in taking action after finding things amiss. And he had the chance to teach them the truth about the police, which is that they have to be cautious when confronting anyone reported to be a burglar out of concern for their safety. (Yes, there are burglars in Oakland as young as 9, as there are in Los Angeles and most other places. The youngest one I ever arrested was 8.) Instead, Jones taught his sons to play the victim card, and even worse, to lie while doing it. What a shame for all of them.