A New Spin on Racial Profiling

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

Incredible story from Scott Henson at Grits for Breakfast. (Note: Henson is white, his granddaughter is black.)

Our story began at the Millennium Youth Center in central east Austin, which is a city-owned rec center just a few blocks from my home of 22 years. Ty, age 5, often spends the night with us on Fridays to give Mom and Dad a night off, and we’d taken her there to go roller skating after dinner out as a reward for a week’s worth of excellent behavior scores in kindergarten.

Perhaps at 7:40 p.m. or so, after she’d had her fill of skating (if the event were put to music, the appropriate theme song would have been “Slip Slidin’ Away”), I asked Ty if she’d like to walk home and let Grandma take the car. It was cool but pleasant out, and we were just a short distance from the house, with a city-bike path where we often walk dogs together taking us most of the way there. She was elated: This sounded like a big adventure, and within moments she was bouncing off the walls with excitement, making me think a walk home was just the thing to burn off some energy before bed time.

This was a terrible mistake on Grandpa’s part. Not because we live in a relatively rough neighborhood. I know many of my neighbors, saints and scoundrels alike, and I did not and do not fear becoming a crime victim walking that route, even with a five year old in tow. No, apparently the only folks Ty and I had to fear were in uniform . . .

Then behind us I heard someone call out, though I couldn’t make out what was said. We stopped to look back, and there was a dark silhouette crossing the street who Ty thought was calling out to us. We waited, but then the silhouetted figure stopped, crouched down for a moment, then took a few steps back toward the rec center, appearing to speak to someone there. I shrugged it off and we walked on, but in a moment the figure began walking down the path toward us again, calling out when she was about 150 feet away. We stopped and waited. It was a brown-suited deputy constable, apparently out of breath from the short walk.

She told me to take my hand out of my pocket and to step away from Ty, declaring that someone had seen a white man chasing a black girl and reported a possible kidnapping. Then she began asking the five-year old about me. The last time this happened, Ty was barely two, and I wasn’t about to let police question her. This time, though, at least initially, I decided to let her answer. “Do you know this man?” the deputy asked. “Yes,” Ty mumbled shyly, “he’s my Grandpa.” The deputy couldn’t understand her (though I did) and moved closer, hovering over the child slightly, repeating the question. Ty mumbled the same response, this time louder, but muffled through a burgeoning sob that threatened to break out in lieu of an answer.

The deputy still didn’t understand her: “What did you say?” she repeated. “He’s my Grandpa!,” Ty finally blurted, sharply and clearly, then rushed back over to me and grabbed hold of my leg. “Okay,” said the deputy, relaxing, acknowledging the child probably wasn’t being held against her will. (As we were talking, a car pulled up behind her on the bike path with its brights on – I couldn’t tell what agency it was with) Then she pulled out her pad and paper and asked “Can I get your name, sir, just for my report?” I told her I’d prefer not to answer any questions and would like to leave, if we were free to go, so I could get the child to bed. She looked skeptical but nodded and Ty and I turned tail and walked toward home . . .

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.” . . .

Ty was understandably shaken by the incident, and as we walked home she told me all about her interactions with the officers and peppered me with questions about why this, that, everything happened. She said she tried to be brave because she knew I’d get into trouble if the police didn’t believe her (she was right about that!) and she was especially scared when she thought they weren’t going to accept her word for it. Poor kid.

Smart kid, though. And it isn’t the first time something like this has happened to Henson and his granddaughter.

In related news, after mistaking an old episode of Nick at Nite for security camera footage, Austin police have issued an Amber Alert on Arnold and Willis Drummond.

There’s much, much more over at Grits.

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51 Responses to “A New Spin on Racial Profiling”

  1. #1 |  CyniCAl | 

    Nothing like a little Sunday morning Ag to reaffirm my visceral hatred for pigs.

    Meanwhile, in San Clemente, CA, the silence is deafening:


  2. #2 |  EH | 

    If you’re having trouble with the grits URL, cut off all the “?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzEmail&utm_content=79553&utm_campaign=0” garbage at the end of the link, it seems to trigger some crap on their server that prevents the page from loading.

  3. #3 |  Hugh Akston | 

    Is it SOP to summon eight or nine cars worth of backup in response to a potential kidnapper in an open area, or was that just the Deputy wanting to show Henson who’s in charge?

  4. #4 |  primus | 

    Why is there not a TV show which highlights these sorts of interactions? They have plenty of shows which spew the party line that the cops are noble and wonderful, why not show the truth?

  5. #5 |  CK | 

    “Why is there not a TV show …” There was once. It was Perry Mason. The Law and Order franchise and the “Hunt for the great white defendant” have changed the calculus of television cop dramas and infotainments. Any TV show that does not worship the ” heroes ” will get slammed.

  6. #6 |  terrence | 

    Another in the endless, and GROWING, stories about PIGS. Are there ANY good cops, ANYWHERE – I really do NOT think there are. IF there were, they would talking about it everywhere, complaining, saying how bad cops make ALL cops look bad. But, you NEVER here about “good” cops criticizing blatantly BAD behaviour by the PIGS.


  7. #7 |  EH | 

    I think I saw terrence over at Reddit earlier.

  8. #8 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 

    I have had several good interactions with cops. But I’m white, and old. And I have also run into one cop who was such a swine that his own department detested him, and were going to fire him the moment that they could, over the loud and endless objections of the Union. He was a walking suit magnet, and cost the township he worked for more money than I care to think about.

    Which makes me wonder just what a policeman would have to do (other than inform on dirty Cops) to get the Union to abandon him.

  9. #9 |  Steamed McQueen | 

    @#3: It’s SOP for anything. These fucks are so over staffed and over funded that there simply isn’t enough for them to do. Look around – it matters not what city- a simple traffic stop often has 3 or 4 cars hanging out. The cops will say it’s a show of force designed to make anyone think twice about resisting. I call bullshit on that. These overpaid assholes need to justify their existence and will jump at any opportunity to break out the toys and play.

    Ever notice how when people gripe about the cost of government and overpaid government workers no one seems to mention the boys and girls in blue? In case a reminder is necessary, they are government employees also and will draw the same fat pensions when they retire. But no one ever complains about that.

    Curious, no?

  10. #10 |  Acksiom | 

    Wait. How is this racial profiling? Gender profiling, maybe; I can recognize that as a possibility in this case, but racial? What’s supposed to be the basis for that?

  11. #11 |  Z | 

    #9- I often see 8 to 10 cops hanging out in the subway stations in NYC shooting the breeze. True, its a waste, but donut time keeps them from trying to be useful.

  12. #12 |  Christine | 

    Assuming that a white man with a non ‘race-matched’ is a predator? Sounds like it has to do with ‘race’ to me.

  13. #13 |  Christine | 

    ‘*race-matched child’

  14. #14 |  C. S. P. Schofield | 


    Old white man with young black girl. Can’t POSSIBLY be related to her…

    THAT’s how it’s racist.

  15. #15 |  Acksiom | 

    No, CSPS, I got that.

    I’m questioning your/the *necessary* presumptions that this wouldn’t have happened if they were both white, or that this would still have happened if Gramps was Granny, and so on.

    THAT’S how the racial characterization is non-falsifiable, and thus dubious by default, and thus requires at least some kind of specific basis.

    Older white male just NEAR, ANY child. Can’t POSSIBLY be legitimate.

    THAT’S how it’s genderist.

  16. #16 |  Mattocracy | 

    “I’m questioning your/the *necessary* presumptions that this wouldn’t have happened if they were both white, or that this would still have happened if Gramps was Granny, and so on.”

    My older adopted brother is black. Trust me, this was about race. When cops would stop us and ask me what I’m doing hanging out with a older black kid, race had everything to do with it. Maybe if this guy and his granddaughter were the same race this scenario still would’ve happened, but the the difference in race definitely increased the odds it would.

  17. #17 |  Dante | 

    Dear God, what have we become? What has become of Law Enforcement when they scare the living crap out of a child, and call that “doing our job”?

    At the end of the day, when the police do this day in and day out to innocent, harmless, unarmed, non-guilty citizens with impunity there is something wrong with the police. Not the other way around.

    But they will keep doing it, because nobody can stop them.

    Just like criminals.

    To “save the children”, you understand. And the best part?

    We get to pay for it all.

    Protect & Serve (Themselves!)

  18. #18 |  Dante | 

    One more:

    There is a very good reason why the police are nicknamed “Pigs”.

  19. #19 |  Xenocles | 

    The first encounter seems mostly okay – assuming the deputy’s kidnapping backstory was real. Everything after that is crazy overkill lunacy.

  20. #20 |  Frank Hummel | 

    The second encounter was to teach Mr.Henson what happens if you do not want to present your papers when asked to do so by a cop. The ol’ “Halt! Papiere!” routine.

  21. #21 |  Ken | 

    All of you people howling in outrage act as if you aren’t the cause of this type of police response. Imagine if this really had been a kidnap, but the cops shrugged it off or felt they didn’t have sufficient cause to investigate. It’s a no win situation for the police you created.

    So pick your poison: 1. The police rigorously investigate potential kidnappings or 2. Allow more people to get kidnapped.

    Yes 10 police seems like overkill, but that’s the point: there’s safety in number and it’s just stupid to show up with just a couple police. If only two or three showed up and this was an actual kidnapping, how outraged would all of you be if they had been overpowered or held at bay by guns. You’d all be howling that more cops should have responded. Just like everyone else, police respond to incentives. They have policies in place because people like all the outraged commenters here have incentivized them to put in place those policies.

  22. #22 |  Psion | 

    Ken … it’s stupid to show “safety in numbers” when it’s already been established that there was no crime taking place. And learn what a false dichotomy is and how to avoid it.

  23. #23 |  Judas Peckerwood | 

    All right Ken, donut break is over –– back on patrol, you.

  24. #24 |  Stormy Dragon | 

    Another example of cops destroying lives for dubious “victories” in the war on drugs:


  25. #25 |  PermaLurker | 

    Sorry Ken, the police DIDN’T have a report of a kidnapping. They had a report of a white man walking with a black child, which is not probable cause of anything. Stopping, questioning and detaining people without probable cause is harassment, pure and simple.

  26. #26 |  Whim | 

    I think #18 Frank Hummel is correct. This was about a constable trying to teach a civilian a lesson that when the police ask you for your name or I.D., they will teach you a lesson you won’t soon forget if you fail total and instantaneous submission.

    The lesson to teach the police, although they are immune from really learning anything at anytime because of their Blue Wall of Silence, thuggery, and police union, is to SUE them for their civil blatant rights violations.


    Sue over false arrest.

    When you are handcuffed and cannot leave, your detainment is the same as an arrest. Sue, sue, sue…..and, get the little girl’s mother to SUE, too. Over the police questioning a 5 year old child without her parent present.

    Sue them all.

  27. #27 |  Acksiom | 

    “My older adopted brother is black. Trust me, this was about race.”

    Well, my many, many more non-adopted ‘brothers’ are male. So, no; *you* trust *me*; this was about gender.

    “When cops would stop us and ask me what I’m doing hanging out with a older black kid, race had everything to do with it.”

    Except, of course, for how it had to do with being male instead of female. Do they roust white girls for hanging out with older black ones anywhere near as much, let alone at all?

    “Maybe if this guy and his granddaughter were the same race this scenario still would’ve happened, but the the difference in race definitely increased the odds it would.”

    Except, of course, for how you’re ignoring how it would have increased the odds far *less* compared to the gender discrimination aspect.

    The men’s libbers have the gender disparity data for arrests, charges, convictions, sentences and so on to back that up. What have you got, besides your personal anecdotes?

    I’m guessing ‘jack-all’.

  28. #28 |  BSK | 

    With all due respect to Mr. Henson and his granddaughter, who were most assuredly treated horribly and at least in part as a result of their respective races interacting, lets not go too far in claiming a war against white babysitters. Black caregivers of white children, regardless of gender, face scrutiny at every turn. As a teacher, I see it on a daiy basis when mostly black and brown nannies of white children are hassled by school personnel, “good samaritans” on the street, and, most brutishly, the police.

    There are a lot of issues intersecting here, including gender, age, race, abuse of power, all of which are worthy of examination.

  29. #29 |  Greginoz | 

    I watched a rerun the other night of Rambo 1, with The Stallion & Brian Dennehey. Guys, Sylvestor is my role model…

  30. #30 |  john222 | 

    Perhaps a door to door introduction campaign is in order, seems like everyone in the area would have at least a passing familiarity with the man and his granddaughter, yet someone keeps calling the police.

    That doesn’t excuse the behavior of officers after they arrive, but perhaps the root of this particular problem is closer to home.

  31. #31 |  jb | 

    Too (not) Funny

    I am an Irish Caucasian. My grand-daughter is not only Halle Berry black and just as beautiful (almost 14), but her name is Tyler.

    We sometimes get stares, but I think (and hope) only I see them. She is, as the Lord says of His saints, precious in my sight, and while I know enough to keep presence of mind when Da Fuzz is doing their usual BCF’s with me, I suspect I would get a might stupid were they to do that to my “Ty-Ty.”

    She is my wife’s daughter’s daughter, and not “my blood,” but you wouldn’t know it by me. She is my girl, and she calls me Grandpa. And her being 14, I would suspect by the time she got done with the fools in uniform, they would skulk off like the fools they are.

    But then, she would expect me to buy her a banana split as a reward.

    I can’t win with that girl no matter what, and I don’t care.

  32. #32 |  CyniCAl | 

    #10 | Acksiom | February 12th, 2012 at 6:32 pm
    Wait. How is this racial profiling?

    #12 | C. S. P. Schofield | February 12th, 2012 at 7:09 pm
    Acksiom, Old white man with young black girl. Can’t POSSIBLY be related to her…

    It could be worse than that. Old white man with young black girl … assuming they are related, we need to punish interracial sex relations by making life difficult for anyone with the temerity to mix races.

  33. #33 |  CyniCAl | 

    Ken, I am not the cause of this police behavior. Stop being stupid now.

  34. #34 |  Bergman | 

    I (and my younger sister) are white. My brother-in-law is black. Their daughter is very cute, but has skin tones that make her look rather unlike either one of them. Simply being in the company of a young child who has different skin color than you is not probable cause nor reasonable suspicion for kidnapping or child molestation even in these days, and any officer who claims it is, is nothing but a racist and a bigot.

    Re: C.S.P. Schofield, #8:

    I’ve never seen a police union abandon ANY officer. Even post-conviction for a capital crime, if the officer wants his job back after getting out of jail, the union has his back, no matter what.

    Re: Dante, #15:

    This is the main problem I have with public officials (including police) and the military these days. They see breaking the law and breaking their oaths as just part of the job, rather than those laws and oaths defining the limits of their authority. Anyone who has to break their oath to do business-as-usual is doing the job wrong. Any system set up to reward oath breaking and punish oath keeping is a blight on the Earth, and a natural enemy to The People. Military officers swear the defend the Constitution from enemies, both foreign and domestic. A foreign enemy is usually pretty easy to spot, but domestic enemies are less defined; But a good guideline to what such an enemy would look like is that anyone who violates the Constitution in order to do their job is probably not a friendly.

  35. #35 |  Mattocracy | 

    @ Acksiom,

    Are we really going to argue about gender vs. racial bias here? Fine, in your perspective, you can believe all day long that this was because an older male with with a female child. Fine. Maybe if white grandma was with her black granddaughter, this wouldn’t have happened.

    But you are are ignoring the race aspect of this. This was not just about gender.

  36. #36 |  perlhaqr | 

    Man, what the fuck. Pigs, I swear to god.

  37. #37 |  albatross | 


    The union not abandoning its members amounts to doing its job. The problem is city governments and administrators going along with it, to the point of keeping violent or incompetent policemen (and teachers, in another context) in their jobs. It seems like it’s no more sensible to get mad at the union for representing its members than at a defense attorney for representing his usually-guilty-as-hell clients.

  38. #38 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    Any TV show that does not worship the ” heroes ” will get slammed.

    The equation has changed as there is easily enough people who’d LOVE to see a show representing the real face of police abuse. However; badge-lickers would quickly organize boycotts against advertisers and that tends to kill shows.

    Also, not news to anyone but TV tends to be un-creative and formulaic.

  39. #39 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    #21 | Ken

    blah blah cops have it hard. you people want it both ways blah blah.

    Arrest Jeffrey Dahmer when the bleeding, drugged young boy he is about to kill and eat actually escapes and flags down a cop. Don’t promote the cop who returned that boy to Dahmer (only to later be “mostly” found in Dahmer’s freezer). Don’t try to justify the cop’s actions because “gays do crazy shit.”

    Don’t handcuff the guy who answered all your questions after you lied and said you had a call about a white dude chasing a black kid. Immediately use phone numbers to call to validate instead of circle-jerking by the side of the road.

    Why is that every damn time the answer is so easy when every badge-bunny claims it isn’t?

  40. #40 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    The union not abandoning its members amounts to doing its job.

    I disagree. The union puts at risk every cop (and the long term viability of the profession) by vehemently supporting every cop no matter what the case and often just making shit up. Plenty of unions understand their job is greater (and has a longer time horizon) than just “support every member no matter how bad or criminal”.

  41. #41 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    A bit more information on East Austin. I-35 divides the city North/South and also along race and $$. There are some blocks that have been hipster’d, but going way back East Austin was low rent.

    It is also where the majority of police abuse took place. Yes, drugs and prostitution were common. Also, cops pulled over any car with white guys and told you to GTFO. Cops in East Austin know they can do whatever they want and get away with it. They’ve been shooting and beating any minority walking the streets after sundown for at least 4 decades. Cops in East Austin don’t deserve any sympathy…this is how they choose to deal with things.

  42. #42 |  30 year lawyer | 

    The major cause of continued police thuggery is the U. S. Supreme Court which, one day, out of nothing, invented a rule of “qualified” immunity that makes it impossible for an injured civilian to successfully sue a policeman. Unless, someone (at great danger to themselves) videotapes the thugs beating the snot out of a subdued, handcuffed suspect in front of a crowd of witnesses, no lawyer will take the case.

    Another cause is state trial judges who regularly allow, often encourage, officers to perjure themselves in court and then accept the obviously false tale they’ve been told. They also sign warrants without reading the application, and perform other little “services” for the men in blue.

    So many judges are police “groupies” (as in hysterical teenage girls chasing a rock band) that the accountability function of the courts is dropping toward zero.

    But the public doesn’t know about these defects of the Criminal Justice System because they occur behind closed doors.

  43. #43 |  Homeboy | 

    Hmmm…I find it highly unlikely that the police received a report that a grandfatherly white man had been seen chasing and kidnapping a very young black girl in the same area at the very same time this fellow happened to be walking with his granddaughter. Apparently it is just me, but it seems rather obvious that the reason given for the initial harassment of these two civilians had nothing to do with any legitimate law enforcement imperative.

  44. #44 |  Homeboy | 

    @ #21, Ken

    Why not imagine that it had been an actual nuclear detonation instead? Or perhaps an actual bank robbery? Clearly, the cops had no indication or report that this man may have kidnapped his granddaughter, just as they had no indication that they were observing an act of larceny or foreign espionage. Why kidnapping, especially since they had already clearly established that no kidnapping was taking place?

  45. #45 |  Boyd Durkin | 

    clearly established that no kidnapping was taking place

    Plus, the only thing slower than an old guy walking with a 4 year old is an old lady driving a Subaru Outback. If you’re behind one, you ain’t going anywhere fast.

  46. #46 |  Let us enrage you. « Whipped Cream Difficulties | 

    […] from Balko, for a change-up: the story of Scott Henson, who was stopped and detained by nine Austin Police […]

  47. #47 |  Anon | 

    Here’s an inverted(?) version of the scenario, from Richard Price, as told at The Moth:


  48. #48 |  Accident Vic | 

    I had a motorcycle accident this weekend. I was sober, but slid on some ice. While getting my face stitched up, and while being treated for a broken arm, and a concussion, I was grilled by the police – who then issued me a ticket. How about ticketing the town for not deicing the road? No compassion, just looking to make a buck off of my misery.

  49. #49 |  gmf | 

    Supposedly the deputy constable told him, ” to take my hand out of my pocket and to step away from Ty, declaring that someone had seen a white man chasing a black girl and reported a possible kidnapping. ”

    So…was this made up or was this really reported? If this was made up – yeah, it’s all about race.

    If it’s not – the police are checking on a reported kidnapping with a white man with a black girl, matching the report. This doesn’t seem like such a big deal if this is the case.

  50. #50 |  More on Scott Henson and Austin Police | The Agitator | 

    […] A couple weeks ago I posted Scott Henson’s account of an incident in which he was confronted by police in Austin, Texas, after someone phoned in a possible kidnapping after apparently seeing Henson (who is white) playing with his granddaughter (who is black). The story went viral, and eventually made national news. […]

  51. #51 |  A guy can’t even walk down the street with his granddaughter anymore. | Daily Pundit | 

    […] or grandchildren. Radley Balko’s posts on this. Which is where I found out about this bull. A New Spin on Racial Profiling. More on Scott Henson and Austin Police. Austin PD spin from pro fascist thugs paper. Police video […]