This whole Henry Louis Gates/Officer James Crowley controversy has got me thinking about two incidents that happened to me several years back.
Some 18 years ago, I was collecting tickets on an early morning train when I came upon a bench/row where all three seats were occupied by passengers. Being observant, I noticed that I had previously placed two seat checks in front of two of the passengers here. This meant that there was a recent arrival and someone owed me a ticket. I used logic and assumed that the gentleman sitting on the aisle was the last to enter the row...therefore, he was the one who owed me the fare.
"Tickets please!" I addressed the well dressed African-American businessman in the aisle seat. He ignored me.
"Excuse me sir...can I get your ticket please."
The man slowly folded his newspaper and looked up at me with daggers in his eyes and smoke coming out of his ears.
"Let me ask you something conductor...There's three of us sitting here." He pointed to his two seatmates, a white woman sandwiched next to him, and a white man whose face was crammed against the window. "And yet... you only ask ME for a ticket."
I'm a little slow, especially at 6AM, and I wasn't catching his drift. The woman seated in the middle seat nervously rummaged through her pocketbook and handed me her ticket.
"That's right," he repeated, now knowing he had an audience. "There's three of us sitting here...and yet you only ask ME for a ticket. Hmmmm....Why is that???"
I finally realized that he was accusing me of racial profiling.
"Sir." I felt insulted. "I asked you, because you're on the aisle and I assumed that you must have been the last to enter the row."
"Yeah," he said. "You and I BOTH know what you assumed." With a snap of his wrist, he unfolded his newspaper and continued reading.
I stood there hurt, stunned and amazed and I didn't know what to say next. I finally blurted out... "You're paranoid" and I walked away.
Now don't get me wrong, I'm not saying that racial profiling doesn't exist or that it isn't a major problem in the minority community. I'm just saying that sometimes...sometimes...sometimes a guy is just trying to do his job.
The second incident happened over 20 years ago. It's a tale about my short lived life of crime. I've covered the story before on these pages, so instead of repeating myself, I'll give you the link from my archives: