Braidwood, Illinois calls itself a red carpet community, which suggests that visitors to the tiny town should expect to be treated like celebrities. Does not apply to brown-skinned visitors, though! In that case you might expect to be treated like a criminal, at least by some of the local cops.
An expert on this matter is Christina Jones—a brown-skinned woman who visited Braidwood for work-related reasons in August 2005 and was arrested for no other reason than that she was black, pretty much. I mean, the official charge was "obstructing a police officer," but Jones hadn't actually committed that crime and the charges against her ended with a direct verdict in her favor. Jones subsequently filed a civil suit and won a $59,000 settlement; just this week, Courthouse News Service reports, a federal judge affirmed that she could keep that settlement money, get herself something nice.
On the day of her arrest, Jones was a meter reader for Commonwealth Edison and decked out in her ComEd uniform and reflective vest. She had 500 meters to read that day, so to speed up her work and to avoid angry attack dogs, she used binoculars to read some of the meters. A Concerned Citizen noticed Jones and called the police. Here's how the court describes what happened next:
From his car, Officer Clark asked Jones whether she was reading meters, and she said that she was. Within three minutes of responding to the 911 call, Officer [Craig] Clark radioed Officer [Donn] Kaminski and his dispatcher to explain that Jones was a ComEd worker. Thirty seconds later, Officer Kaminski radioed in. He had stopped to talk with the person who had called the police, and Officer Kaminski too confirmed that Jones was reading meters.
Surprisingly, that did not end the investigation. Officer Clark asked Jones whether she would speak with him for a moment. Jones agreed to do so. Officer Clark parked his car, approached Jones, and explained that there had been a complaint.
Jones showed two pieces of ComEd ID to Clark and explained why she was using binoculars. Then:
Jones turned to walk away. Officer Clark stopped her, asking, "What's the rush?" Jones explained that she was in a hurry because she had a tremendous amount of work to finish before the end of the day. Officer Clark, still unsatisfied, asked Jones for her date of birth. As the defendants ultimately conceded at oral argument, during the course of this exchange Jones was not free to leave. Jones asked why Officer Clark needed the additional information and accused him of harassing her. Then she took a few steps away from Officer Clark, took out her cell phone, and dialed her supervisor. Officer Clark radioed to Officer Kaminski that Jones was refusing to cooperate.
Officer Donn Kaminski arrived on the scene and saw Jones on the phone, which upset him for some reason:
Officer Kaminski was irate. He screamed at Jones as he approached and demanded to know whether she had given Officer Clark the information he needed. Jones said that she had, and Officer Kaminski responded, "No, you didn't. Do you want to go to jail?" Jones naturally said no, but it was too late. Officer Kaminski knocked Jones's cell phone from her hand, pulled her arms behind her back, put her in handcuffs, and then threw her against Officer Clark's police car. As Officer Kaminski patted Jones down, Jones said, "[T]his is harassment . . . . [T]his is happening because I am black in Braidwood."
Officers Clark and Kaminski took Jones to the police station for booking. Officer Kaminski continued to act abusively toward Jones once they arrived there. At one point, he mocked Jones's actions and things she had said, mimicking her voice and adding, "[Y]ou wanted to make it racial out there . . . . [N]ow it's racial." Jones was charged with obstructing a peace officer. She was released on bond that day. The charge had been pending for more than two years when it was terminated with a directed verdict for Jones.
During the oral arguments in Jones' civil trial, appellate judge Diane Wood remarked: "The police were determined to arrest [Jones] it seems—someone of the wrong race walking through a neighborhood in Braidwood." At the time of Jones's fateful visit, current census data had Braidwood's population pegged as 97 percent white. The Concerned Citizen who had placed the call told the 911 dispatcher that "a person of color" was photographing houses. The officers had no reason to believe that Jones was up to anything besides trying to do her damn job, the court found.
Nothing about this story disproves what future president Herman Cain says about race, but it does disprove that all racism exists in America's South. We stand corrected.