White grandfather with black granddaughter provokes 911 calls
Some of the uglier features of the Jim Crow South are alive in Austin, Texas.
Just ask Scott Henson, an Austin resident who describes himself as "an almost stereotypical looking Texas redneck." In his popular "Grits for Breakfast" blog dealing with the criminal-justice system, the political consultant and former journalist tells how he was a victim last Friday of "baby sitting while white." He was guilty -- he relates in a post that's attracting national and international coverage -- of walking hand-in-hand with his black granddaughter -- 5-year-old Ty who is the daughter of his goddaughter.. The pair lives with him and his wife. Henson not only baby sits the girl but takes her on walks -- and that included their ill-fated walk to from a local entertainment complex last Friday. It aroused the suspicions of a local resident.
Calling 911, the person told police that a white man appeared to be kidnapping a little black girl. Minutes later, at least nine patrol cars pulled up -- a show of force that, Henson related, was far more massive then when he was the victim of the same sort of "profiling" four years earlier in Austin. Police intercepted him and his granddaughter, again responding to a 911 call. They were released when it was determined the pair had a legitimate relationship.
Friday's incident occurred near Henson's home in what he called a "relatively rough" section of Austin. He wrote:
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 maxed out at 9 or 10 police vehicles.)
Police spokesman Cpl. Anthony Hipolito defended the police response, telling the Austin American-Statesman: "You have to investigate to determine if the grandfather is supposed to have the child. To me, he's making it into more of a racial thing."
Interestingly, though, that's not how Ty saw things. "Why is it that the police won't ever believe you're my Grandpa?" Henson recalled her saying.
"Why do you think it is?" she asked.
"Because you're white?"
Henson said he then grinned and told her, "That's part of it, for sure. But we don't care about that, do we?"
"No," she said sternly.
Ideally, Henson said he'd like his granddaughter "to view police as people she can trust instead of threats to her and her family, but it's possible I live in the wrong neighborhood for that."
Austin, ironically, is a bastion of liberal politics where the political ideology of diversity is given much lip service. Yet it's also a place where in some areas, a white grandfather can't hold hands with his black granddaughter without arousing the sort of suspicions that once occurred in in the Jim Crow South.
In his "I Have a Dream" speech, Martin Luther King Jr. famously declared: "I have a dream that one day little black boys and girls will be holding hands with little white boys and girls."
It's a dream that Scott Henson is living every day - and, sadly, some in Austin hate him for that.