Why Don’t Cops Give Our Kids the Same Break They Gave the Ray Allen Intruders?

As the father of a young black man, I would find it reassuring if more police were willing to give our kids a second chance.

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Ray Allen speaks during a political fundraiser at the Boston Center for the Arts on May 18, 2011.

MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images

Former Miami Heat star forward Ray Allen is again standing on center court. This time, however, Allen stands in the unusual plight of victim. He was inadvertently thrust into the spotlight by events that reinforce the problems of places like Ferguson, Mo., and the issues of fairness and equality and justice across this country.

Unlike a number of other recent high-profile cases, the facts aren’t really in dispute. At 2:30 a.m. last Thursday night, Allen’s wife, Shannon, was awakened by loud voices in their bedroom where she had been sleeping with the couple’s four young children, Ray Allen said in a statement. After she heard male voices loudly discussing their flat-screen televisions and other property, she sat up wide-awake to find at least five people flashing large lights in the bedroom.

This is usually the point in a story where the castle doctrine gets invoked, guns are drawn and thoughtless young people die. Thankfully, that didn’t happen. Fearful for her and her children’s safety, Shannon Allen screamed and the intruders fled. She called security and police and they responded and tracked down the culprits.

Because no shots were fired and no one died, this incident can be a teachable moment, a moment of calm and clarity amid the heated rhetoric and flaring tempers.

But here’s where the Allens’ story really deserves our attention: Detectives said the seven young people (we don’t yet know their ages) confessed to the break-in. They’d been at a party next door, and were curious to see how a future NBA Hall of Famer lives. They say they thought that since Allen was no longer playing for the Heat, he and his family had moved out of the house. They didn’t take anything from the Allens’ home and they weren’t arrested or charged because officials said they didn’t take anything and didn’t intend to.

But that’s wrong.

Although the intruders might not have removed anything physical, they stole something invaluable: the Allen family’s sense of security—their right to feel safe in their own home. And if the Allens, with all their money and privilege, can’t feel safe, none of us can.

And whether or not you can relate to a wealthy celebrity’s right to privacy and security, the fact is that the Allens deserve it, just like anyone else. The issue, then, is about the Coral Gables, Fla., police department’s initial decision not to arrest or even cite the culprits.

Presumably, there are those who would applaud the cops for not overreacting—for treating this as a mindless prank gone awry. But given the headlines of the past few weeks, what kind of message does that send?

Under the circumstances, it’s hard not to think that race and class might have played a role in the way the police “resolved” the situation.

The kids were partying in an exclusive neighborhood. We don’t know what race they were, but most fair-minded folks would say that if black or brown inner-city kids had pulled this stunt against a wealthy white family, we know how they would have fared.

We know things turn out very differently based on how police officers view those perceived as guilty of an offense—and how they view those against whom the offense was committed. Imagine if, two weeks ago in Ferguson, Police Officer Darren Wilson—who’s been identified as 18-year-old Michael Brown’s killer, had given the teenager some slack, instead of seeing him as a threat? Then ask yourself what are the factors that prompt a police officer to not even give these other kids a citation after they so brazenly invaded someone else’s private property?

It’s another case that reminds us that young people do stupid stuff and, in many instances, deserve a second chance without being always handcuffed and driven away—or killed.

As a father, myself, of a young black man, it would be reassuring to me if they exercised it in favor of our young folks more often.

Andrew J. Skerritt is the author of Ashamed to Die: Silence, Denial and the AIDS Epidemic in the South. Follow him on Twitter.

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