Waffle House, White House, Criminal Justice and Double Standards

Ok.  We all know that the world is still replete with double standards.  Life’s not fair, right?  Well no.  It is bigger than that.  Unfortunately, the double standards of which I speak are not inconsequential.  Rather, they are the sort of double standards that have grave impact.  Let’s just look at the two Waffle House incidents.

Step-by-step, as I examine the two Waffle House incidents of the last couple of weeks, I am amazed but not surprised by the obvious double standards that continue to dominate our criminal justice system, a result of hundreds of years of history of racism and oppression.

In Tennessee, Travis Reinking, a white male with a history of mental illness who was arrested by the Secret Service for trespassing near the White House, was released after doing thirty-two hours community service.   Really?  This man had announced that he was a sovereign citizen, which, in case you didn’t know, translates to “anti-government extremist,” or militia.”  As in, “Hello Secret Service.  I do not recognize your authority nor the authority of this government.  And I am about to enter the White House grounds.” I’m sorry.  Since when is it possible to attempt to enter the White House grounds while declaring to the Secret Service that you are an anti-government extremist, and then get community service?  Oh yeah.  In a white man’s America, it has always been possible.  White men have always had the privilege to act with complete impunity.

Following this incident, at the FBI’s request, Illinois revoked Reinking’s firearms authorization and seized his four firearms.  Illinois subsequently turned said arms over to his father, who returned them over to his son.  That’s right; he gave the guns back to the kid he knew was mentally ill. 

Again, since when is a criminal entitled to have his weapons returned to him (or a family member)?  I have literally never heard of an instance where black people suspected of any criminality, not to mention criminality that could have threatened the President of the United States of America, has had his firearms given to his family.  Imagine that!  It’s laughable! 

To be clear, in no way am I advocating for seized guns to be returned to the streets.  In fact, that is a position that the National Rifle Association took several years ago, which led to at least eleven states passing legislation that encourages or requires police to sell guns back to the public or otherwise put them back on the streets.  And of course, some of these weapons have been used in a number of crimes, including an ambush at the Pentagon, the death of a court security officer and injury of a Deputy US Marshall in Las Vegas, and the injury of two police officers in New Hope, MN, which was the result of a mentally ill man acquiring a 12-guage shotgun from the nearby Duluth Police Department.   I would never support the returning of weapons to the family members of criminals.  I am just recognizing the fact that this is a privilege that a black man in the ‘hood would never even thing possible.

Even Reinking’s capture is something of a double standard.  In my community, people suspected of violent and non-violent crimes alike are treated as enemies of the state: brutalized and murdered without cause.  Reinking was assumed to be armed, had already killed four people (while wearing only a jacket), and yet, was able to emerge from his capture alive.  The fact that he survived capture, in and of itself, is noteworthy.

When I consider the circumstances surrounding Chikesia Clemons’s arrest in an Alabama Waffle House, I am struck by the bold hypocrisy that these two situations present.  No, these are not apples to apples scenarios.  In fact, this black woman who was tackled to the ground, threatened, and humiliated when her private parts were exposed by the three white officers, was not a violent threat at all.  On the word of the Waffle House employee, the police arrived at the Waffle House and soon thereafter, brutalized this woman who, in one frame, was sitting in a chair being held by an officer, and in the next, was being choked on the nasty restaurant floor, arms twisted, and breasts exposed to the patrons, police and cameras.  What had she done to deserve this treatment?  Had she attempted to enter the White House unlawfully?  Had she announced that she believed herself to be outside the authority of our government?  Had she had her firearms revoked because she was determined to be a threat?  Had she demonstrated that she was mentally ill?  Chikeshia Clemons did none of this.  Because there is some dispute with regard to what precipitated this brutal treatment, let us just agree that she did not pose an imminent threat, as did Reinking.  So why did this happen?  The answer lies in this country’s legacy of inhumane treatment of black people.

If Chikeshia Clemons’s treatment were an anomaly, I would not be writing this, we would not have a #blacklivesmatter movement, and our nation’s civil rights organizations would have a lot less work to do.  But it is not an anomaly; rather, this is the norm.  If you don’t believe it, just watch the ease with which the two brothers sauntered out of the Starbucks, where they were arrested for essentially waiting for a friend.  While their white friend and the other white patrons expressed outrage at what was happening, these two young men strolled out as if someone was escorting them to the front of the movie theater line.  I watched, eyes glued on them thinking, “How many times have they been arrested for doing nothing?  Are they enraged by this but containing it out of fear that they will be killed today?  How are they remaining so calm?  Did their parents just do that good a job of telling them to keep their cool in these scenarios, knowing that they will come?  Or are they so used to this emasculation and humiliation that are numb to it?”  Whatever the reason for their calm, it shows just how commonplace this truly is. 

The fact remains that, in the eyes of the law, there is no equality between black and white people.  There is only a double standard.  Reinking’s standard allowed him to trespass at the White House with a slap on the wrist, and ultimately enabled him to commit a mass murder and terrorize an entire town. Clemons’s standard meant that she would be brutalized and likely traumatized for life.  In her standard, it is the black community that is terrorized by the knowledge that one cannot just be black without being at risk.

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