Richard Pryor once noted that when a black man deals with the criminal justice system and is looking for justice, that’s what he finds: just us.Ryan Moats found that out on Thursday.
Moats, a back up running back for the Houston Texans, blew through a red light on the way to Baylor Medical Center. Athletes speeding and disobeying traffic signals is par for the course, but Moats was trying to get his wife to the hospital to say goodbye to her mother, who was dying. Officer Robert Powell followed Moats into the parking lot and detained him on a traffic violation. Moats’ wife, Tamishia, managed to make it into the hospital while Powell continued to process Moats’ ticket.
Despite pleas from a nurse, who confirmed that Moats’ mother-in-law was in fact dying, and a Plano police officer, who came upon the scene, Powell plodded along with the ticket. At one point, he told Moats “I can screw you over.” Charming.
The Dallas Police Department has placed Mr. Congeniality on administrative leave, ripped up the ticket and formally apologized to Moats, none of which will give him back that moment in time. What is likely to follow is what always follows: never-ending analysis of the moment, a series of stories in which people come out of the woodwork saying this guy was an asshole to them too and several columns by prominent columnists loading up against this guy. He’s an easy target, but he’s beside the point.
What happened when he saw Moats step out of the car was less about the rule of law and more about establishing dominance. In order to function in a jobin which people die by completing simple traffic stops, police must maintain a sense of discipline, order and strength. Failure to retain control of a situation can lead to an officer being a cautionary tale of another kind.
Still, there’s a fine line between control and a power trip and Powell clearly crossed it. Even more, his actions cast police once again in the morality play of black vs. blue. Whilecolumnistsandeditorial writers have noted that the smoking gun of racism hasn’t been located, it’s on everyone’s minds. As stupid as Powell was in the 17-minute exchange, the one saving grace he has is that he managed not to use the “n” word while threatening Moats.
If there is a modicum of importance to athletics, it’s that it often provides people with an escape from every day life. If there’s a modicum of value to athletics, it’s that it focuses a microscope on specific social ills that might not otherwise garner the proper level of attention. Moats rushed for 94 yards last season, a paltry sum by NFL standards. And yet thanks to those 94 yards, millions of citizens were able to see an injustice that might otherwise have been ignored. This exchange is likely to get at least one bad cop off the street, reinforce the notion that we don’t tolerate crap like this as a society and perhaps get us to take one more look at the issue of race, even if it’s just for an instant.
For Moats, however, that must be small consolation as he woke up this morning, screwed over.