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.

The couple had enjoyed a public display of affection in a parked car near the CBS studios in North Hollywood when, again in Watts’s telling, a sergeant from the LAPD had the effrontery to accost them and demand their identification.  So violated, so insulted, so outraged were Watts and Lucas that they took to Twitter and Facebook to exult in their status as the LAPD’s Victims of the Day.  Soon the couple were on CNN and several other media outlets recounting their horrific experience under the crushing boot of the police.


And then, as in the case of Mr. Jones the firefighter, a funny thing happened: the truth came out.  The sergeant involved, Jim Parker, was carrying a digital tape recorder which captured the incident from start to finish.  The Los Angeles Times has the entire tape here.  (Warning: there’s some crude language on the tape, all of it spoken by Watts.) And Sgt. Parker took the unusual but welcome step of publicly defending himself, going to far as to appear on KFI Radio’s John and Ken Show on Sept. 15.  You can hear the highlights of the audiotape here (embedded below), along with an interview with Sgt. Parker in which he recounts the radio call that brought him into contact with Watts and Lucas.

It seems that the pair’s amorous activities were noticed by people in a nearby office building, people who were so Victorian as to call the police to report the spectacle.  The couple’s coupling had concluded by the time Sgt. Parker arrived to find Watts on the sidewalk talking on her cellphone.  As Sgt. Parker’s tape reveals, Watts soon went, if not completely berserk, very nearly so, invoking the racial issue and informing Sgt. Parker of a fact few cops outside certain parts of Los Angeles ever contend with. “I have a publicist,” she announced.

“Uh oh,” she must have expected the sergeant to say, “a publicist you say!  Off you go, then!”

But that’s not what he said.  He asked to see her identification, a request that sent her even farther over the edge.  While on the phone with her “daddy,” she laments the fact that she “can’t make out with my boyfriend in front of my f***ing studio without having the cops called on me!”


Given what Sgt. Parker learned from the person who called the police, Miss Watts’s definition of “make out” is a far more expansive one than is generally used.  According to the sergeant, he was told that Watts and Lucas where engaged in sexual congress in Lucas’s silver Mercedes, with her straddling him while his feet extended from the open door onto the curb.  Ridiculous, you say?  The celebrity gossip website TMZ has the photos.

When Watts first went public with her accusations, local members of the racial grievance industry were quick to accept her account.  Now, with her story discredited, some of her early supporters are demanding an apology.  On Friday, Watts issued a statement (through her publicist, of course) saying she will not apologize.  “It is a constitutional right that we do not have to present ID to any member of law enforcement unless we are being charged with a crime,” she said.

The point is a debatable one, but anyone wishing to educate himself on the applicable law can do no better than read an explanation of the matter by retired Los Angeles deputy district attorney Richard J. Chrystie, long regarded here in L.A. as the expert of experts on questions of reasonable suspicion and probable cause. The piece appears on radio host Larry Elder’s website; it’s a quick read, but it provides all you need to know before drawing a conclusion about whether Sgt. Parker was within the law when asking for Watts’s identification.


For her part, Watts is unchastened by the experience.  Indeed she has placed herself on a pedestal as some sort of civil rights heroine.  Here is part of what she told CNN:

I feel that part of my role as a public figure is to raise awareness and be strong enough to say and do the things that maybe people who don’t have the advantages that I have, aren’t strong enough or don’t have the know-how or don’t have the awareness to do, so because I’m aware of the history of our country, I went to college, I’ve studied the law, I’ve studied, you know, these sort of situations, for  me standing up for that constitutional right was a gift and a blessing that I have the opportunity to do that because now there’s some kid going through the same thing that doesn’t have the same opportunity to talk to the news the way that I do, and that kid can watch this and go, “You know what?  I don’t have to be afraid of police officers anymore because I live in a country that says that we’re free.”

How moving. Yes, someday schoolchildren may learn of Miss Watts in history class.  And perhaps a statue of her can be erected at the scene of her encounter with Sgt. Parker. “There she is, Daniele Watts,” passersby will say, “the Rosa Parks of public sex.”


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