Try to see it my way

The SE Texas Record Aug. 15, 2009, 9:28am

It's easy to identify with the indignation of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, an innocent man mistaken for a burglar in his own home, ordered to come outside and identify himself.

Imagine how humiliated he must have felt, being questioned by policemen on his front porch with neighbors watching and wondering what he'd done wrong.

But consider the perspective of Sgt. James Crowley. Dispatched to investigate a possible burglary, he arrived at a dark house with the front door jimmied and someone moving around inside.

Was the person inside a burglar? Was he armed? Was an accomplice lurking in the shadows? Would this be the last night of Crowley's life? Would he never see his wife and children again?

We thought of that incident this week, reading David Yates' report chronicling a fracas at the Market Basket in Port Neches.

Store employee Marc Gaudet suspected customer Carlton Ford of shoplifting a pair of gloves.

A confrontation ensued in the store parking lot. Ford claims he was "thrown to the ground and falsely imprisoned." Gaudet says he merely raised his hands in self-defense when Ford lunged at him, whereupon the older man lost his balance and fell.

When he got to his feet, Ford showed the security guard where he'd left the gloves inside the store and Gaudet apologized. That would have been the end of it, had Ford not filed suit demanding the store cut him a check.

A trial started last Monday in Judge Milton Shuffield's 136th District Court. A few days later the parties reached an undisclosed settlement agreement.

If Henry Gates had thought about the situation from Sgt. Crowley's perspective, he might have reacted differently. He might have understood the policeman's trepidation -- and the urgent need to dispel his sense of danger.

Like Gates, Ford might have reacted differently if he had looked at the situation through Gaudet's eyes –- if he'd considered how many shoplifters the security guard must confront every week, how they protest their innocence, and how many thousands of dollars of stolen merchandise the store writes off each year.

All Ford needed was a little humility and a sense of fairness. Instead, he got a lawyer. So it goes in America too often these days, where petty offenses aren't to be ignored, but leveraged as an asset.

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