Color-blind controversy

Color-blind controversy

Nobody likes being called to account by the cops.

Aggrieved Champaign-Urbana residents complained publicly this past week about police use of excessive force during a January raid on a group attending a pay-to-play poker game.

But instead of falling all over herself to explain, Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz gave members of the group the back of her hand.

You don't want to get arrested, don't violate the law, she said. You don't like the law, take your complaints to the Legislature. Grrrrr.

It wasn't exactly tea and sympathy. Indeed, the contrast between the response to the poker players from the powers-that-be compared to the solicitousness displayed to the community backers of two local youths who ran afoul of the law over the past year could not be more stark.

But white middle-class citizens arrested for playing poker don't have either the historical grievance or political sympathy of poor black youths who run afoul of the law.

That's not to say they should. It's just political reality. Besides, different circumstances require different responses.

But there's a lesson here that ought not be overlooked, and it is this — no one enjoys encounters with police, and many people (no matter what their color) go away from them convinced they're being picked on.

If you're a police officer, resentment from arrestees goes with the territory.

In the case of the poker players, their obvious objection was that police officers entered a building at 2714 Clark Road, C, with guns drawn and then threw their weight around as they secured the facility and the people in it. Local physician Thomas Schrepfer complained that in addition to displaying firearms, police applied handcuffs to a "very nice lady who comes in and cooks us meals ... in such a way as to leave bruises and marks on her wrists."

Police raids are chaotic and loud — exactly the kind of thing that scares people who think of themselves as law-abiding taxpayers.

But the explanation for that tactic, succinctly explained by Champaign Police Lt. Michael Paulus, is that "we don't know what's on the other side of the door."

Police have to be prepared for a worst-case scenario. If that means scaring people as a means of securing the situation, police have decided, so be it. Citizens like Schrepfer and the others who were with him that day don't see it that way and never will. That may be because it's a one-time event for them while it's just another day at the office for authorities.

The poker players will not face prosecution. State's Attorney Rietz sensibly decided last week to dismiss the charges against them while still pursuing misdemeanor charges against the organizers of the game.

That's a tacit concession that the poker game was penny-ante stuff, a violation of the law declared by the same state legislators who routinely vote to expand opportunities for gambling in Illinois.

The game left no victims. It did, however, create some new police critics who have demonstrated that discontent with the authorities is an equal-opportunity enterprise.

Sections (2):Editorials, Opinion
Categories (2):Editorials, Opinions

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gamera wrote on February 20, 2012 at 10:02 am

Or, you know, the cops could have sent in an undercover right before the raid to see what was going on in the building. Common sense is what people of all colors are asking for...and yet repeatedly, we see that there is no common sense to be had....

Sid Saltfork wrote on February 20, 2012 at 12:02 pm

Any stranger, or new comer would have given the players a "heads up".  Money, receipts ?, guns, and drugs would have been flushed, or hidden.  What is wrong with the police doing what they are hired to do.  They had a complaint; and they responded.  Some physician gets busted, and some nice lady who cooks for him gets handcuffed.  Sure handcuffs hurt.  That should teach something in itself.  They broke the law.  Who has the authority to say that it is okay to violate one law; but enforce another?  All citizens of all backgrounds follow the same laws.  If anything, this should tell all groups from all backgrounds that they will be arrested for breaking a law, any law, and all laws.  The police did nothing wrong.  The only possible wrong was allowing some people off, and prosecuting others.

Jsmith68 wrote on February 20, 2012 at 7:02 pm

A very well written editorial.  What every person should be saying all along.  Everyone should be treated equally regardless of race.  There are to many situations to count over the history of police work in which a citizen contact thought to be non-dangerous, turned into desperate situation.  The good doctor overlooked the fact a convicted felon, already out on bond for another offense, was present apparently running the game.  Just as the officers said, crime breeds crime.