WHITE SKIN PRIVILEGE REDUX

Never before have I written a column that pissed off as many people as the one I wrote about Lane Pittman. A lot of good people think I’m a pretty bad person right now. I can accept that. I’m not all that thrilled with myself, either.

Some of that anger people feel is justified. A lot of it, actually. Describing his look as I did was breezy, and got in the way of larger points. The writing was too cute throughout. I regret that.

I was much less surprised that he got arrested than were the dozens of people who reached out to me with very direct comments. Even if the cop gave him the all-clear to go ahead and play, it looked like this to me: When you attract the interest of the police, as Pittman did, they rarely just chill until you finish whatever it is you’re doing at the moment.

These cops actually let him finish his set. Then they did what cops in crowd-control mode often do.

Whether I agree that it should have happened or not is irrelevant; I can see both sides of it. The reality of policing in the 21st century, however, is one in which pro-active measures from police departments are taken as a given. We aren’t shocked by it anymore. We don’t expect a real reversal of it, either. We’re not in Andy Griffith’s Mayberry, if we ever were.

So I look at the situation a bit differently. The cops actually let him put away his guitar. They let him do a second song, which was fairly good (though the video I heard didn’t have his vocals miked up very well). They escorted him, without undue application of physical force, and respected his civil liberties about as much as you could expect during an arrest.

Knowing people in the Northwest Quadrant, having been to Eureka Gardens and Cleveland Arms and Grand Park, I know that it doesn’t always go that smoothly. Outside of Jacksonville, even, you may have heard stories about the impacts of arbitrary decisions of law enforcement officers.

Mercifully, but for the grace of God, that’s not my reality. Nor is it Lane Pittman’s reality.

Our lives are different. The rules of engagement are different. It’s nice that we benefit from that.

It’s also an illustration of what I called white skin privilege a week ago.

I was surprised that it was so controversial to name that concept and apply it to the civility of Pittman’s situation versus how police interactions go down in other parts of Duval County, among people of other demographic groups.

I was also surprised at the outpouring of coverage of the injustice of that particular arrest. There was much more outrage about Pittman’s story, by far, than there was about the story of black kids getting questioned by police at Jax Beach and having their tattoos inventoried.

Pittman walks down the street and, unless he is doing a set through his amplifier on a holiday weekend, is subject to the presumption of innocence. Some black dude of the same age gets out of his car on another holiday weekend, and he doesn’t even get out of the parking lot before being subjected to the presumption of guilt.

America has more people in prison than anyplace else in the world. Since 1970, 700 percent more are in lockdown. A lot of them are black dudes from the South. This has decimated neighborhoods, family structures, and millions and millions of individual lives. There but for the grace of God go I, and Lane, and virtually everyone who voiced their disquiet to my column. Not experiencing that =
white skin privilege.

I heard about a kid who saw his best friend shot in the chest not too long ago. That didn’t happen in Ponte Vedra. I’ve been across from Cleveland Arms when the cops blocked off streets and controlled access during a march protesting the multiple shots fired at Devanta Jones one Sunday morning. That’s not happening in Ortega. Eric Garner, Kalief Browder, Walter Scott? A world away.

And that’s my point.

Lane Pittman, though he got hauled off in a cruiser, didn’t lose much. He might have gained, really. He got a ton of publicity from the whole ordeal — podcasts, commemorative T-shirts, global publicity, and proof positive that he has a community that loves him. He is far better off than those folks who got caught up in that mess at Lenox Court the other day. Of course, local news isn’t covering every questionable arrest out there, either.

And that’s what white skin privilege is about. Being exempt from that drama. Both the actual drama itself, and the reaction of overextended law enforcement officers. God bless Lane Pittman; I’m sure he’s a great guy. I’d buy him a beer if he drank. He is, clearly, a pillar of the community, a man of God, a church member, and a guy who, up until now, seems to have had no adverse interactions with law enforcement worth mentioning. I say that because this one seems to have shocked him.

He, like me, never has to live in that other world.

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