White grandfather detained, cuffed in Austin while walking home with his black granddaughter

Scott Henson, "a former journalist turned opposition researcher/political consultant, public policy researcher and blogger," recounts how he was repeatedly stopped and eventually cuffed and detained while walking his granddaughter home through a park in Austin, TX. Henson is white and his granddaughter is black, and the police said that they were responding to a "kidnapping" call. But their response terrified the little girl and humiliated her grandfather. And it's not the first time it's happened to them.

As soon as we crossed the street, just two blocks from my house as the crow flies, the police car that just passed us hit its lights and wheeled around, with five others appearing almost immediately, all with lights flashing. The officers got out with tasers drawn demanding I raise my hands and step away from the child. I complied, and they roughly cuffed me, jerking my arms up behind me needlessly. Meanwhile, Ty edged up the hill away from the officers, crying. One of them called out in a comforting tone that they weren't there to hurt her, but another officer blew up any good will that might have garnered by brusquely snatching her up and scuttling her off to the back seat of one of the police cars. (By this time more cars had joined them; they maxxed out at 9 or 10 police vehicles.)

I gave them the phone numbers they needed to confirm who Ty was and that she was supposed to be with me (and not in the back of their police car), but for quite a while nobody seemed too interested in verifying my "story." One officer wanted to lecture me endlessly about how they were just doing their job, as if the innocent person handcuffed on the side of the road cares about such excuses. I asked why he hadn't made any calls yet, and he interrupted his lecture to say "we've only been here two minutes, give us time" (actually it'd been longer than that). "Maybe so," I replied, sitting on the concrete in handcuffs, "but there are nine of y'all milling about doing nothing by my count so between you you've had 18 minutes for somebody to get on the damn phone by now so y'all can figure out you screwed up." Admittedly, this did not go over well. I could tell I was too pissed off to say anything constructive and silently vowed to keep mum from then on.

To me, the point of this story is how "see something, say something," fails. The police and some person or persons in the park believed that Henson and his granddaughter didn't "look right" and "just to be safe" called in the report and responded in force. But "doesn't look right" is culturally determined and informed by our conscious and subconscious biases. For people unaccustomed to mixed-race families, "doesn't look right" means calling the police down on the innocent children and grandparents in your neighborhood. At its core, "see something, say something" isn't about a war on crime, it's a war on surprises, whose core premise is to mistrust and fear things you can't understand.

Me, APD, and 'Babysitting While White,' Part Deux (via Reddit)


      1. Clicking his name and trying to make heads or tails outta the web page there suddenly made this “hipster” comment much less bizarre.

      2. For some people, ‘hipster’ is a synonym for ‘all bad things’ or ‘anyone who leaves the house’.

        1. I live in Brooklyn, the epicenter of all things hipster. I love hipsters. We have so many good record stores and places to get coffee and funny, pretty girls. I mostly thought the idea that hipsterism was so pervasive in Austin that even the cops were hipsters was funny.

          1. Brooklyn, the epicenter of people who think that the epicenter of all things hipster is in Brooklyn.


  1. Just to keep the city budget safe from lawsuit settlements, every officer involved and the chief should be fired.

  2. Thirty-five years ago, in the very white and very Jewish neighborhood of Diplomat in North Miami Beach, my eight-year-old sister was at a birthday party.  There were a lot of people there, it was a sunny Florida day, and they were doing what little girls do at birthday parties, even as the day grew late.  

    There was one little black girl at the party.  Her father drove up in a Mercedes, got out… and was immediately arrested as a police car roared out of a nearby alley.  

    He was booked and charged with grand theft auto (that Mercedes couldn’t possibly be his!) and “menacing,” whatever that was.  When he was told to produce ID, he handed over a business card.  The cop said, “Not your lawyer’s name.  Yours.”  He handed over his ID.  

    Same names.  Later, he said that the cops’ response was “Oh, fuck me.”  He settled a healthy amount.   They claimed they were following up on a stolen car report, but his car looked nothing like the one they were supposedly looking for.

    I know this story not just because my sister witnessed it, but he was a friend of my family’s, and enjoyed telling the tale of how a Miami tax lawyer was arrested for “being black on a sunny day.”

    I was kinda glad to escape my childhood.  The jokes that the satellite dishes on the roof of the local synagogue were “ethnic detectors” were appalling after a while.

    This crap has been going on for decades.  The flavor of the paranoia is the only thing that changes.  

  3. I recall a similar story about stereotypes and rushes to judgment on This American Life (said the east-coast, college-educated, white liberal who drives a Subaru and thinks arugula is manly, but only if you call it “rocket”).

    I think the context of the tale was a ride-along with two NYC cops who pulled over a black man riding a bike with a young white kid. As the cops are cuffing the black man for suspicion of kidnapping or something, the kid starts yelling about how “this always happens when dad brings me home from piano practice” or something similar.

    1.  That story just kept going on and on as the cops called the kids mom to determine that yes, that was his father, and they called the school which also verified the story, and about half a dozen other places.  Eventually the cops let the guy go with a warning (about being Black I guess), but as he was riding away the one cop turns to the other and goes “Something just doesn’t add up.”

      1. Many (but not all) cops  are complete racist assholes, as are their children. 

        In my home town, growing up, the only kids I heard utter the ‘n-word’ were the off-spring of cops (and prosecutors and POs.) A cop’s kid got suspended for attacking an interracial couple in high school and  another got expelled for organizing a harassment campaign against students of colour. 

        One cop father even had the balls to have a bumper sticker on his car reading ‘If You’re not Cop, You’re Little People.’ 

        Just a couple of examples among many.

        I grew up in Eugene Oregon in the ’80s which is home to the University of Oregon and many hippies.


          One cop father even had the balls to have a bumper sticker on his car reading ‘If You’re not Cop, You’re Little People.’

          I am curious: Was the cop in question quoting Blade Runner, or were they both quoting the same meme?

          1. I wondered about this. This was in ’87 and BR was out in ’84 so it’s possible the sticker was inspired by the movie, although I’m certain the cop applied it to his car in earnest and without irony.

      1. Great story.

        This American Life rebroadcasted it, that’s what people are remembering: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/362/got-you-pegged

      2.  Oh thank god, I was worried I sounded like a liberal stereotype.  At least I heard it on the Moth (probably played off my brother’s iPhone, as I don’t subscribe to the Moth), so I guess I’m … even more of a caricature. (sigh)

        Might as well own it, I guess. Who wants Kombucha? Maybe some homebrew cider?  I’ve also got some lovely grass-fed, humanely raised beef from northern VT that I’ve been saving for my equinox party…

  4. I do hope that a multi-million dollar lawsuit is filed, and that — when the city of Austin tries to negotiate its way out of the mess — that plaintiff will agree to reduce the award if and only if every single police officer present at this incident is forced to publicly apologize.

    On their knees.

      1. The problem is that if you make cops fear too much for their jobs, they’ll be too afraid to do their jobs at all. Immunity empowers officers, and if you take that away, you need to make up the deficit.

        Thing is, they’re obviously not well-trained enough for good behavior to be common sense. So we need to empower cops with proper training, not immunity from punishment. That way, they’ll be able to go out there and not be too afraid to do their job, simply because they’ll know how.

        1. “they’ll be too afraid to do their jobs at all”

          Good, they should live in fear of the consequences of their actions.

          1. While I wholeheartedly support punishment to these specific officers, if you put TOO MUCH fear into their hearts, then they won’t do their job at all and it’s going to cause the “I didn’t want to get involved…” phenomenon that you see in regular people who witness a crime in progress to spread to officers. What if you were being held at gunpoint and your money stolen, but officers were too afraid of getting sued or getting in trouble that they just stood there and let it happen?

            Zacqary has a good point, while Police who do this sort of thing need to be punished/fired, Officers need to have a better training system to teach them to be less of a soldier and use more common sense and human decency. I’m currently studying Criminal Justice and I’ve seen the militaristic training that these people go through, and the method that a number of the academies use is one that turns out militaristic officers who believe “Okay, now I’m tough, so I can do anything I want” Where the training needs to be more one that turns out officers similar to the police in Japan, where the officers get to know the people on their beat, are kind and polite, but are ready to kick ass when/if the time comes.

      2.  I’d like to see a cop lose his job for anything at all.  Just once.  I can’t think of a single case of a cop losing his job on one of these.  Even cops who kill unarmed, non-threatening people are not fired.

        I sort of wonder what a cop would have to do to be fired.  I suppose being found to be actually running a massive drug cartel or human trafficking ring, or being convicted of being a serial killer, might do it.  Less than that, I really doubt it.  They don’t get fired even for crap like planting evidence.

        1. Felony convictions will generally do it; I think convicted felons are generally prohibited by law from working as police officers.  The trick is getting felony convictions against cops; that requires cooperation from prosecutors.

          Johannes Mehserle is the only former police officer I can think of who’s been convicted of criminal charges for shooting someone while on duty.  FWIW, he resigned rather than cooperate with an internal investigation. I suspect he’d have walked had he cooperated with the investigation, since an ex-cop doesn’t enjoy the same protection that a cop does.  Instead, he did two years.  So even the counter-example doesn’t include a cop being fired.

          I know of some cases of local cops, typically involved in the drug trade, getting busted by feds.  My favorite argument for a strong federal government in the US is that federal law enforcement can help reduce corruption among local police and politicians who are effectively beyond the reach of local authorities.

        2. I’ve interned at two police departments for school and I’ve seen a number of officers fired for getting too power happy. One stopped a kid in the park and searched him for drugs, gone. One stopped a guy and illegally searched his car for stolen property, gone. Two officers were drag racing down a main road nearby and hit a kid who was driving home from a party, they were gone before they even got back to the station.

          The reason you don’t hear about that sort of thing too often is because it’s not hot news. When cops are assholes and get away with it, now that is what makes the news.

    1. On their knees.

      If I were mayor, I’d certainly think this would be the fiscally and socially prudent course of action, assuming the fleet of cruisers still dares to read “To Protect and Serve” on their flanks.  (I dunno if they do or ever did, never having been to Austin.)

      At first I was mildly surprised to read that Henson is white and his granddaughter black, rather than they other way around, since we’ve come to expect bad calls like this to fall heavily on black men in “suspicious” circumstances.  I guess my assumption might be that no black grandfather who has lived in Texas long enough to actually become a grandfather would ever be seen in public alone with his white granddaughter without expecting to get clobbered by the police or an angry mob around every corner.

      This particular case, of course, is less the result of southern racism institutionalized in its police forces (I understand Austin ain’t exactly Houston, for one thing), and more the result of what Cory rightly describes as a cultural bias against mixed-race families and a knee-jerk dislike of the unexpected.  One could attempt to justify, in our 21st century paranoia, a single cop approaching Henson and relatively respectfully requesting to see his, er, grandparenting credentials.  If approached with friendliness and a modicum of art, Henson as a loving and protective grandfather might even conceivably appreciate the institutional concern for the safety and well-being of his granddaughter.

      But even without the tragicomically redundant arrival of cruisers two through five, the overreaction and inflexibility of thought and action do a severe disservice to the public image of the department.  Not only do they make all ten responding cops look like high-handed racist buffoons, but people will rightly wonder who was left to respond to actual breakages of municipal statutes.

      1. Play devil’s advocate here: What if the guy really was kidnapping the kid and they didn’t stop him.  A bigger lawsuit and even worse press?

        I think the whole thing could be solved by insisting on some reasonable probable cause before the cops stop someone.  Like if there was a kidnapper on the loose or if the informant knew the kid and his parents.  It seems in some places that cops either have nothing better to do or just like harassing people.

        1. What if the guy really was kidnapping the kid and they didn’t stop him.  A bigger lawsuit and even worse press?

          How does that follow?  The point of the whole affair is that sometimes people who apparently don’t look related actually are.  Or, more to the point, you can’t tell at a glance who has every legal and moral right to be in the company of a small child and who does not.  Kidnappers don’t wear official kidnapping uniforms, nor do they have a particular “look.”

          Deputy Constable Whatshername had her doubts about Henson, and those doubts should have been assuaged by his granddaughter’s response to her questions.  That would have been cautious and maybe a touch offensive without becoming completely outrageous.  At that point, there’d be no risk of lawsuit.  Understandably, things would be different if an actual AMBER Alert had been issued for a missing child loosely matching Ty’s description.  Then there might be call for a bit more than a corroborating identification of granddad by the kid.  But if Deputy Whatshername had no AMBER Alert or anything other than a call that someone saw an older white man in the company of a young black girl, then there’s no excuse for her overreaction and the overreaction on the part of the rest of the charging cavalry.

          In their minds, they were Doing The Right Thing.  They all knew there would have to be at least a chance that Henson was a perfectly blameless grandfather out with his grandkid.  They decided to err on the side of caution, figuring that that was the right side on which to err.  After all, the guy claiming to be kindly Grandfather Henson might possibly be the ringleader of a child-sex-slavery ring, and he might be armed to the teeth under whatever innocent-looking coat he was wearing on a February evening in Austin.  ‘Cause it’s Texas, see.  He totally could be armed.  Probably to the teeth.  You’d need at least a half-dozen units to deal with a guy like that.

          It would seem I am far from alone in finding their error to be both utterly ridiculous and destructive to whatever goodwill the department hopes to maintain with the law-abiding elements of Austin’s citizenry.  The criminal element, meanwhile, is laughing its fool ass off.

          Anyway, Marc, the rest of your point is completely sensible and I agree wholeheartedly.  I’m just not inclined to play devil’s advocate with the kind of deviltry whose default reaction to any perceived threat, however incredible, is Total And Complete Crackdown.

          “If it saves even one life…”?  No.  Not even then.  The ol’ balancing act of liberty & safety and all that.

        1. Yeah, I believe it.  And I bet it’s been a long time (if ever) since those hassles have surprised him.

          It’s a damned shame that it exists at all, and doubly damned that it’s so prevalent that it’s completely unsurprising.

  5. Failmerica 2012.

    [insert belligerent redneck ridicule here]

    Based on the taxpayer-wasting response I’m actually somewhat surprised that the grandfather is white and the granddaughter is black. Though, if the races for the roles were reversed I can’t imagine he would be alive to tell us his story.

  6. In a way, he’s lucky. Were their races reversed, he might be dead right now.

    Unless people’s assumptions catch up to changing demographic realities, and quickly, we’re going to see a lot more of this shit.

    1.  You are probably right that things could have gone very much worse with a race reversal.

      I do have to add as a white person who once lived in a majority black hood (3rd Ward Rules!) I did attract some undue police attention the first couple of months I lived there. Cops think you are either dropping something off or picking something up.

  7. I guess America’s becoming equal-opportunity when both blacks and whites can get harrassed by the police for “suspiciously” accompanying a child of a different race.

  8. I never report anything to the cops, in case I’m wrong and end up offending someone.

    I get to watch some pretty exciting stuff eventuate, though.

    (Having said that… If cops overreact to something, you can’t really blame whoever called them. It’s the job of the cop to get the story straight.)

    1. What if, like in this case, it’s a deputy constable that calls in other cops after initially accosting them to get the story straight?

      Does getting the story straight typically include cuffed the back of a police car or just stopped and questioned?  If all they had done was the latter I’m sure there wouldn’t be as much discussion.

      1. I wasn’t especially clear, sorry. Actually I was horribly unclear. I’ll start over.

        I don’t think the “see something, say something” approach is inherently bad. The problem is a lack of common-sense in applying it.

        And if cops overreact, it’s the fault of the cops, rather than the person who calls their attention to something that they — the person — think might be peculiar. (In my post above, I *definitely* wasn’t meaning “you can’t blame cops for overreacting”. But that’s how it sounded.)

        I need more sleep, is what it is.

  9. Well, it sounds like lessons have been learned!

    You know, this is the exact behavior that will cause Ty to want to grow up and be a defense attorney, specializing in making sure police departments lose as many cases as possible.

    Go get ’em kid, I’ll chip in to your college fund.

  10. “a war on surprises”.   Yes.  Exactly that, right there. 

    I’m honestly predicting that in the future, in order to protect themselves from the state that is supposed to be protecting them, intelligent citizens will have to disguise themselves as whatever the state thinks “normal” looks like.

    (In exactly the same way, and with equal and similar controversy, that women were/are sometimes advised to dress down in order to avoid sexual assault in certain areas.)

    1. I’m honestly predicting that in the future, in order to protect themselves from the state that is supposed to be protecting them, intelligent citizens will have to disguise themselves as whatever the state thinks “normal” looks like.

      “In the future”?  To one degree or another, “Blessed is the Norm” and “Watch Thou for the Mutant!” have been needlepoint samplers hung on the parlor walls of the American cultural psyche since before the Salem witch trials, let alone the publication of John Wyndham’s novel The Chrysalids.  Even in the enlightened age of the internet, atheist politicians have to pretend to be believers to successfully run for national office, gays have to masquerade as straights, and Your Obedient But Loudmouthed Servant himself often had to pinch his opinionated lips tightly shut when suppering with the extended family of his previous girlfriend, a well-meaning but not-very-tolerant nest of Mormons and Lutheran Republicans (if you can imagine such a thing), lest war break out over the soup course.

      If you really think that most intelligent citizens today have never had to mask their true feelings, opinions, or even identity from the unwashed masses, then you may have led a more sheltered life than you think.  It may be true of most elites, but it’s both dangerous and incorrect to assume that most intelligence rests with the elites.

    2. That being said, it really reminds me that we should all just simply start stocking up on our Guy Fawkes masks as it seems to be becoming the new ‘normal’ look.
      Also, as an Austinite for 40 years, it really makes me sad to see 2 such awful stories happening in such a short time. Then again, I fear the APD is rather horribly familiar with: shoot first, ask ques….oh, never mind. He’s dead.

    3. in the future, in order to protect themselves from the state that is supposed to be protecting them, intelligent citizens will have to disguise themselves as whatever the state thinks “normal” looks like.

      I’m assuming this “future” you speak of started around 1978.

      The state has no mandate or ability to protect individuals, but it’s best not to let on that you know that.

      1. Valid point.  I didn’t make myself as clear as I should have.   I agree that certain people have always been viewed as targets by the state, and those people have learned this lesson already.  And that we all have to hide our personalities to some extent.   

        But what I meant was that this will soon apply to everyone.   And not just at the level of pretending that we like X and not Y.

        If you would rather read than go to a club, pretty soon you had better start memorising names of the local clubs and developing a cover story to hide it.   If you’re a guy who thinks wearing an earring is cool, better make it a clip-on — and live with wearing it in private. 

        You really don’t want people thinking that you are weird, do you?  Because weird people come to the attention of uniforms.

  11. I highly doubt someone saw a white guy and a black girl casually walking down the street and honestly thought it was a kidnapping.  More than likely, it was some sort of racist prank. 

    I say that because I want to believe no one could be that stupid.  Then again Texas did rank dead last in the US in high school diplomas in 2010 and 1 of the 3 things that Rick Perry wanted to cut funding for (that he could remember) ironically was education.

    Go figure.

    1. I’m sure you know that Austin has very little in common with the rest of Texas or your average Texan? Just checking…

      (This is not intended as a riff on Texans. Just sayin’ they’re different.)

        1. Well, considering that UT Austin constitutes almost one tenth of Austin’s population… different enough to exempt Austin from stupid Texas stereotypes ;-).

          1. Actually, I live in Dallas now. Urban is different from rural, but really the cities in Texas are not very different. Especially if you consider Austin north of Research as Austin. The suburbs are almost identical too. Plano & Round Rock, Frisco & Georgetown etc. I used to work downtown and walk along the drag. College campuses are college campuses. Denton is similar too. But that doesn’t make North Texas less Texas-y. Austin exceptionalism is one of the things I hated most there both because it’s factually inaccurate and leads to people “writing off” the communities in other cities and also because it brings an influx of more exploitative business such as that which wrecked the greenbelt in an effort to keep all the yuppies happy and tourists coming in. 

    2. “I highly doubt someone saw a white guy and a black girl casually walking down the street and honestly thought it was a kidnapping.  More than likely, it was some sort of racist prank.”

      Why not “leapt to assumptions”? Racism isn’t all sheets and burning crosses. It’d be a lot less prevalent if so.

  12. My pop was a dark skinned Yaqui/hispanic, and Im kinda white looking as Pop was my adoptive father, we use to get those strange looks and stares, and had a few cops kinda stop us and question us, it was annoying, cause even as a little boy I knew what was up.  I even remember my grandma being accused of stealing her grandson because of the difference in color.  people are stupid even if they mean well.

  13. Hey Cory, I know I’ve asked before – if you’re going to add a “via Reddit” link, please link to the Reddit submission, not the reddit.com homepage. I really want to read it, and I have to now go hunt for the submission itself. Not very convenient.

    1. Agreed. reddit tip: put the blog link (to grits for breakfast) into reddit search; that’s also a good way to check pre-submission to see if your link is a repost.

  14. I see this kind of stuff all the time. Not as severe, mind you, but in plenty of subtle and sometimes, blatant ways. I am white and my wife is black. Usually you see a black male with a white female, but our case is less common. Because of that we are often confused much in the same way this man and his granddaughter were “confused”. Many times people don’t even think we’re married let alone together as a couple. It has become increasingly obvious to me how differently people treat my wife based on her color. It’s terrible that in this day and age it is still as prevalent as it is–and this is here in Jersey, the “North”! I’m originally from San Antonio so I can see how this could happen Austin too. A real shame.

    1. I am as prejudiced as anyone. I like to believe that if I do not act on my prejudices, then I treat all people fairly. One prejudice I harbor is a simple opinion about back and white couples I see. When I see a white woman with a black man, I suspect that if they have high school diplomas, they most likely do not have college degrees. On the other hand, when I see a black woman with a white man, that they have grad school experience, and possibly advanced degrees. When I express this idea to black/white mixed race couples, I get smiles of recognition and agreement. I imagine I would like to be proved wrong.

      I bear a strong prejudice against people who reject education… my desire is to teach them that knowledge and understanding is not just good but to be desired highly. But I discover how seriously people embrace anti-intellectualism.

      1. I bear a strong prejudice against people who luxuriate in their own ignorance and throw up non-sequitors about anti-intellectual sentiment to distract from their racism. 

        I am a college-educated black man who has been in relationships with white women before. There. You have been proved wrong. Never say these things ever again, please. Thanks.

        Also also, I’ve known plenty of people who didn’t go to or finish college who value knowledge, and there were plenty of people at the fancy Ivy League school I went to who didn’t give a shit about their education besides the fact that it would help them be rich later and allowed them the leisure to drink constantly in the meantime. Education requires money and time that many people cannot afford. Judging people based on dumb prejudices is kind of the opposite embracing knowledge and understanding, if you think about it. One might say it is…anti-intellectual?

        (If you were a robot on Star Trek, your head would explode now. That would be really cool)

  15. Ugh – read this story and was just as angry about the morons in uniform who race to the scene, lights flashing, and can’t get the goddamned story straight even when it’s explained to them, SLOWLY, a dozen times. 

    That being said – I’d nitpick that maybe the real underlying issue here isn’t the moronic “see something, say something” approach (to be fair, there might have been an original concern about a child being abducted).  The real issue is the idiotic response of the inept officers who stop the man, question him, leave, sneak up, question him again, handcuff him, detain his granddaughter, etc. 

    Their overwhelming TOUGH ON CRIME attitude and the kiddie sex-pervert paranoia that’s being fanned up by the To Catch a Predator shows are overloading the rational, calm response that would be appropriate from a peace officer in these instances. That original officer should be disciplined for not fully communicating with the man and calling off the unnecessary abduction alert. Instead the 6 idiots probably just blundered their way into a civil suit.

      1. “Yes yet another civil suit , that will be paid for by the Good ‘ole American taxpayer !”

        I would rather pay the civil suit than their salaries.

  16. The whole middle part of the ordeal can be explained by the safety in crowds deal.  No matter how many cops are there, not one is going to make the decision to let the guy go. Thus the standing around without applying brain power.  They wait for a supervisor to show up and make the call.

    So they explain over and over why they took the wrong action…

    I think I’d do something like this guy and say, “Officer, how about if you stop explaining to me why you this mistake and END this mistake?”

  17. This is one of my worst fears. I’m a white dad, my son is African American. We go to the park together all the time, walk all over the city together… in other words, we do what every other father and son does. But I’m always aware of what others may think or do, and I’ve experienced some odd reactions so far. But nothing as horrible as this. Fire all of them. They’re not doing their job.  

  18. When I lived in Funtucky (against my will) for a couple years my wife who is a a light-skinned Mexican (practically white) and me (white) would get judgmental, disapproving stares at the local Walmart Supercenter too. 

    They’re so backwards in FunTennessee that my buddy, another white guy walked into a local bar in Clarksville, TN called the Speak Easy which he didn’t know at the time was a neo-nazi/kkk friendly hangout and they told him “You’re in the wrong place boyyy.”  He was a white guy from Chicago.  They’re literally so racist they hate white people too.

  19. Actually, I was at the ER last night with my African daughter, I am white and the triage nurse asked where her parents were.   I asked what did she mean, it was a first to me.  It was in New Hampshire afterall.

    1. My first (admittedly somewhat smartassed) thought was that the nurse might not have met many black people in New Hampshire, let alone ones with a white parent.  And then I thought maybe she was old enough to have grown up in a society where interracial families are vanishingly rare, or maybe she wasn’t particularly old but was from the South or something.

      But really, here in 21st century New England, in a job where professionalism and a certain degree of brusque courtesy is expected, she really should have known better than to assume your daughter wasn’t actually your daughter.  I hope she was appropriately embarrassed by her gaffe.

    2. When my daughter was nine days old I had to rush her to the hospital in the wee hours.  She had a flu and she kept stopping breathing… it was really freaking us out, but we’ve got a world famous children’s hospital down the road.

      It occurred to me after I got there that I had absolutely no way of proving I was her parent…  I’m white, she’s not, and I don’t carry her birth certificate around.  Luckily they took it in stride.

      1. I’ve heard more than once how adoptive partents in the US have had to prove that they are the parents of their (trans-racially adopted) child before a hospital will treat the child (well, non emergency in these cases, though). That the child was listed on their insurance card was not enough, they wanted to see a birth certificate or similar document. Funnily enough (or not, really) the same isn’t asked for their same-skin-color-as-their-parents biological children. This doesn’t seem to be tied to any specific location in the US, and it apparently isn’t what every hospital is doing… but be prepared for it happening at some point.

  20. Good gawd – what happened to talking to people, ask them what is going on. If the little girl is being abducted, she is going to act weird, as would the person abducting her. Lies and stories start to get inconsistent, pointing to something nefarious. You know – basic police work.

    Austin is a pretty cool city, but from what I’ve heard their cops have a high number of assholes.

    1. Earth is a pretty cool planet, but from what I’ve heard their cops have a high number of assholes.


  21. In addition to the obvious racial bigotry aspect, I wonder if the fact that they were — OMG — *walking* was a strike against them.  Talk about being outside normal parameters.

    1. My wife is an American from the Midwest. One of the last times we visited her family I literally couldn’t stand being inside a house, car or shopping mall any more, so I went on a walk around the neighborhood. Within about half an hour her parents were quite worried about what was wrong, and her grandmother had called them to say that she had seen me walking around the neighborhood  – what was wrong? Was I lost? I came back an hour later to see everyone worried for my safety in a quiet suburb. The weird thing is, footpaths in that area are wider and better kept than in most countries I’ve been. 

  22. I’m a 43 year old white guy. I spend a lot of time taking my 10-year-old nephew, who at least looks black (and that’s what matters for these purposes) to various activities – karate, scouts, summer “get out of the house camp” at the park district, etc.

    At least once a week, some kid at camp would say incredulously to him, “That’s your dad??”

     I get some surprised reactions at karate and did initially at scouts, but never actually been hassled by anyone.

    Honestly, I think it’s been good for me to see this side of people. I’m still trying to figure out how to talk to him about race and racism, though. I doubt anyone else is going to.

  23. At the moment I’m living in China with my wife and (Chinese) foster child (who we’re hoping to adopt this year). This reaction is actually something I’m worried about, especially as he’s got Mongolian spots on his lower back (which is very common here, but not at all common for white people). It doesn’t affect him at all and may well disappear after his teenage years, but if you haven’t seen them before it looks like someone has fairly savagely beaten him. I’m kind of worried an overzealous person in Europe is going to take him away ‘for his own safety’ before finding out it was all a hilarious misunderstanding. The thing is, no amount of protests by any of us would do any good until the situation is cleared up. I’m thinking of carrying a printout of the Wikipedia article on Mongolian Spots with me when we’re together in the future, just in anticipation of something like that happening.

    1. We  had our daughter’s (very big one covering most of her back when she was small) mongolian spot documented in her doctor’s notes (and in the well-baby check booklet that I carried with me). And mentioned it at her daycare, just in case. It has never been a problem… but… better safe than sorry. Especially if there are ones that are on the ankles or wrists.

    2.  The printout won’t do you any good. Medical personnel will have had this introduced to them in school, they just won’t have ever seen it for real. They will go into child-abuse mode without ever thinking about it and then won’t listen to anything you say as you are obviously the abuser. Make sure it’s pre-documented in the records for any place you intent to have the child. Hospital, day-care, pediatrician etc. Even with that, they won’t look at the records first, but it gives you leverage once they call in human services. Most places will handle it ok, and the lead nurse/doctor will call everyone in to look at it and explain it before it goes too far. We only had them go nuts once.

      1.  Better to be safe than sorry – in this case, ‘safe’ for the medical professional is abducting your child, and putting them into a foster home with troubled, violent teens, and counsellors who are peadophiles half the time.

        They’d rather risk your child, than the 1/1000 chance that you’re the monster.  Liability is all that matters; not what’s right.

  24. (Apart from the racist overtones)

    This story illustrates what’s deeply screwed in the American-style approach to law enforcement.
    No subtlety. No cunning. No social skills. No walking up to the guy, “good afternoon sir…” and talking to him (while your partners keep out of his sight, ready to act if need arises). No talking to the girl. No hearing what he has to say before asking for confirmation of his story. No refraining from violence if the “suspect” (which he is not yet) does not do anything threatening. No “will you please come with us to the station for a while…”.

    Fortunately, I have lived in parts of Europe not contaminated by this paramilitary nonsense, where most policemen talk and act like normal people unless otherwise required. Police powers (which include, most importantly mediation and conflict resolution) are used to keep the peace here, you know?

    If that guy were actually a kidnapper the kid would have been greatly endangered by such a show. Never mind that the grandfather was endangered by the show.

    1. I would assume that this sort of heavy handed approach steps from the fact that anyone you do go and talk to could quite easily shoot you. This doesn’t excuse it of course but worth thinking about.

      1. “This doesn’t excuse it of course but worth thinking about.”

        I’m not worried about thinking about it, I’m worried about it being an excuse for Law Enforcement to act without thinking.

  25. I remember Scott Henson from my days at UT.

    Not that this incident should have happened to anyone, but of all the suspicious persons out there, APD picked on Scott Henson?  It’s like finding out that you sold a piece-o-shit Chrysler to Ralph Nader.

  26. oh, look, a cop recruitment ad  at the end of the comment thread.  doubleyou-teeeeeee-effffffffffffffffffffffffffffffff?????????

  27. I have one minor problem with this story. I heard about it on Monday and spent a lot of time googling to see a more fleshed-out report. There isn’t one. All the information we have on this story comes from Scott Henson himself, a man who already is involved in investigating the local cops. I would certainly like to see at least one journalist talk to the cops for their side. I’d also like to see some dashboard camera stuff. So, any newshounds out there?

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