A screen capture from John Felton's video.
A news item appeared today describing how a black motorist in Ohio was pulled over for, among other things, making eye contact with a police officer. That man was John Felton of Detroit
. And the story underscores the problem of “breathing while black” when it comes to heavy-handed treatment from police.
The video, widely available, and featured on Gawker today
, shows Felton, who was driving to his mother’s home, speaking with the police officer. The cop first claimed he pulled over Felton on a technicality: not activating his turn signal 100 feet before a turn. But as the video goes on, he claims to have pulled Felton over “Because you made direct eye contact with me and held onto it when I was passing you.”
One hopes that the Dayton police officer was unaware of the chilling history of such complaints. In the really bad old days of the Jim Crow South, a black man could be lynched for such petty “offenses” as looking a white woman twice or stepping on a white man’s shadow. Worse, given the way police are told to treat “furtive movements” or running from police as elements of “probable cause,” how can slow, steady eye contact, the exact opposite, be cause to pull somebody over? It presents a dilemma that means almost any behavior allows a person to be pulled over.
We recommend watching the video. Felton seems to be a class act, somebody who is aware of his rights, but isn’t combative or aggressive about his objections. (There is a little strong language — the S-word — in the video.) We’ll be watching for this story as it progresses, and hoping that the officer in question is given a primer on just why pulling over black motorists for making eye contact is wrong on more than a strictly legal basis.