Criminal(ly) (un)Just(ice)

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.

7 thoughts on “Criminal(ly) (un)Just(ice)

  1. The hell??!?! Even the less-than-great (would rather focus on speedtraps than closing crackdens) HPD has a little hand held device that allowed the officer in my case to get me pulled over, entered my info by sweeping my TDL thru (IIRC), printing out having me acknowledge…and move on… It was less than a 5 minute deal…for the Dallas ‘peace officer’ to have done this, I just want to bust his ass my damned self. And I’m a pasty white chick.

  2. The Chicago Tribune website allows readers to post comments on its articles. It’s become a game with me, when these stories come out, to try and guess how many comments are posted before someone blames the victim and defends the knucklehead. For this story: second commenter. Really. Here it is: “The man was doing his job. Why is this news? Because it happened to an NFL player? OOOOHH!! Big deal, and too bad.” The obvious conclusion is that the Police Chief who has publicly apologized for this fiasco is soft on crime.

  3. Right on, Elspeth. Matter of fact I did so at my blog (
    I’m still aggravated with Dallas PD on a personal level from a 2007 incident.
    I live in Texas. I’m not convinced the DPD wouldn’t’ve backed Powell up if the driver’d been an anonymous citizen.
    Hell, I’m still pissed at DPD over 11-22-63.

  4. A few weeks ago in my town, a driver “blew through a red light” and killed an entire family.

  5. Who exactly is the knucklehead? The knucklehead who blew through a red light, or the knucklehead in the uniform who decided he had to fuck with a guy whose mother-in-law was dying? Woulda been cosmically ironic, don’t you think, if, when Knucklehead the First blew through the red light, someone had t-boned him. The daughter could have died in the same hospital as her mother, at practically the same time.
    To get out of the realm of hypotheticals, the 60 seconds he thought he saved by running that light cost him several minutes’ worth of being harassed by the police officer.
    Having been nearly run down by people who considered that where they were going was too important for them to be bothered stopping for red lights, I have about zero sympathy for that kind of thing. If that’s blaming the victim, fucking tough. Hedid break the law, and who the hell knows who he endangered by doing so. We didn’t hearthat part of the story.

  6. Um, Moats may well have been scanning the intersection as he approached it and seeing it was unoccupied – “blew through” it – when there’s someone dying that you may well be able to reach for “goodbye” that even the two seconds to hold a proper ‘stop’ might have prevented…?
    People (well, some) are capable of summing up a situation and making decisions – it just doesn’t seem to be the norm anymore. Plus, he IS a football player that has to make snap decisions and sum up the best way to get the play completed when there’s pressure all around. And it’s not often I am supportive of such sports figures.
    Yes, just WHO was endangered…? Whither the witnesses that narrowly escaped becoming a hood ornament??? I’m surprised at you Interrobang. When I’m in the pedestrian’s shoes or at an intersection (NOT blowing through it as yes, in most cases those people piss me off), I STILL look to see what the situation is to make sure I am not endangering myself or others. Might I add, I worked in the Texas Medical Center for a year and a half and I saw plenty of ambulances STUCK LIKE CHUCK because other drivers WOULDN’T get out of the way…scared to make an unplanned right turn so that the AMBULANCE arriving with a critical person inside can’t get to the ER in time!!! Which way is it? Huh? Any ignorant flouting of laws/traffic rules is bad – but knowing the situation and making decisions to expedite said situation when noone is in immediate danger…still just as bad? Which way is it?
    Something still tells me if it had been a white person of any stripe, the cop would have been MUCH more understanding. So where would your indignation be, then? Oh, wait noone would have been wronged/endangered and we would never have heard of it…and how many times has such a thing happened, I wonder?

Comments are closed.