The Austin Police Department (APD) was unapologetic Wednesday after a swarm of officers detained a white man over the weekend, simply for walking home with his black granddaughter.
As it happens, that man was journalist-turned-political consultant Scott Henson, who writes the blog Grits for Breakfast, covering criminal justice reform issues. In a lengthy post filed Saturday, Henson explains that he and his granddaughter were confronted by a swarm of officers who arrived in nine or 10 patrol cars, simply because he was seen walking home with his granddaughter from a local recreational center.
Speaking to Raw Story, the APD denied any allegations of racism, insisting that the call came in from a civilian female who frantically followed the pair in her vehicle while calling 911. "I'm not sure if it was a staff member there at the rec center, but it was somebody who saw it happen," a police spokeswoman said.
In the bizarre tale, Henson explains that this was not his first time being detained by Austin police for appearing in public with his granddaughter, but it certainly was the most frightening of his two experiences. Babysitting his granddaughter Ty, 5, last Friday night, Henson explains that as they walked home from the Millennium Youth Center in east Austin, a female deputy confronted the pair and asked the girl to identify the man she was with.
He claims that she did three separate times, and that they were let go. As they continued their walk home, "Ty was angrier about this, even, than I was," he explains, and she began asking questions.
On his blog, Henson continues:
"Why is it," she demanded a few steps down the path, stomping her feet and swinging her little arms as she said it, "that the police won't ever believe you're my Grandpa?" (Our earlier run in had clearly made an impression, though she hadn't mentioned it in ages.) "Why do you think it is?," I asked, hoping to fend her off with the Socratic method. She paused, then said sheepishly, "Because you're white?" I grinned at her and said, "That's part of it, for sure. But we don't care about that, do we?" "No," she said sternly as we walked across the bridge spanning Boggy Creek just south of 12th Street, "but the police should leave you alone. It's not right that they want to arrest you for being my Grandpa." More prescient words were never spoken.
Moments after that exchange, the cavalry arrived with Tasers drawn.
Henson says he was put in cuffs and Ty was whisked away from him, then questioned repeatedly about whether she'd been kidnapped. After repeatedly informing the officers that they'd "screwed up" and demanding someone get on the phone to verify his relationship to Ty, Henson was finally released without an apology, and instead had to sit through multiple lectures about how the police were just doing their jobs.
"After the cuffs were off, I said nothing to the APD cops as I carried the child away toward home," he writes. "But I did pause when I passed the deputy constable - who still could barely look me in the eye - to say aloud to her, 'You knew better. This is on you.'"
Reached for comment, Austin Police Department spokeswoman Lisa Cortinas confirmed the incident, telling Raw Story that a civilian had made the call to 911, reporting a white male running into the woods with a black girl.
"Four to five staff members chased him into the woods, along with a county constable, and the complainant that called in was actually following the man in her vehicle," she said. "The constable stopped the man and was advised that he was the child's grandfather, and just a minute or two APD officers also stopped him, because we were looking for him too. Then we verified with the mother that the child was supposed to be with the grandfather."
While the details in Henson's account and the APD's official line clearly conflict, it does seem clear that the police acted on a third-party's prejudice, not their own. Henson did not respond to a request for comment at press time.
"We have to treat that as a legitimate kidnapping until we're able to determine that it's not," Cortinas insisted. "When we get a 911 call saying someone just ran into a facility and took a child, we have to take that very seriously."
Photo: Flickr user alamosbasement.