This past Saturday I was honored to be presented with an Image Award by the El Dorado/Union County Chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, of which I am proud to be a member. The NAACP is the country's largest and oldest civil rights organization.
I was especially pleased to be presented with the award by Mrs. Kensel Green, who is a great advocate for a lot of folk in this town. She does so much for so many. Kensel and I go way back, to childhood karate class, in fact. We are also classmates in El Dorado High School's class of 2002.
Keep up the good work, Kensel!
That award has got me thinking about some things, and one of those things is a story I'm going to share with you in today's column.
When I was an undergraduate at Louisiana Tech University in the summer of 2005, I was at a house party with a bunch of friends one evening. I was the only white person present. Everyone else there was black. You'll see why that's relevant in a minute.
Everybody was having a good time and the party was pretty chill. We were bumpin' pretty loud though, and one of the neighbors called Ruston, Louisiana's finest with a noise complaint.
Of course, this is a thing that happens with parties sometimes. In undergrad I was friends with a bunch of dudes in the Sigma Pi fraternity and I was always invited to their parties. Most of the people at these parties were white. Again, you'll see why that's relevant in a minute.
We threw down pretty hard at those Sigma Pi parties, and we got noise complaints almost every time. When this happened, one of Ruston's finest would show up, talk to one of the guys, and go on. We'd turn the music down a little and that would be that.
But that ain't what happened at this party.
Suddenly there was a very loud banging on the front door. Someone answered, and there were two police officers standing at the door. They began ordering people to leave the house and started breaking up the party. I could see the flash of blue lights behind them. There appeared to be more than one police car.
Sure enough, when I got outside in the mass exodus from the party, I counted five patrol cars, four of which were parked in front of the house.
There were the two officers who had been at the door, who by this point had entered the house and were telling people to leave. There were two more walking around the front yard giving orders as people came out, four more sitting in two more patrol cars also parked in front of the house, and a fifth patrol car parked down the street on the left, with two officers observing from inside.
So, that was ten Ruston police officers in five cars to respond to a noise complaint at a house party, in the particular manner in which they chose to do so.
The thing that I remember most from the whole experience was when one of the officers passed me in the front yard and made eye contact with me, but it was like he was looking right through me. More than one of them did that as I was walking to my car. They looked right at me, but they looked through me. It was like I wasn't even there to them.
But everyone else at that party was certainly there, and the officers let them know they knew it. They were aggressive with everyone else there.
As I neared my car, I remember thinking that that, along with the whole situation, was pretty messed up.
I have heard people say that we no longer need organizations like the NAACP, that racism has somehow ended, that we're past all that. I think the term I hear bandied about is that we are "post-racial."
That experience of mine tells me otherwise, and I could tell you other stories too.
We have come a ways since they crossed the bridge in Selma, but we're still working our way across another much larger bridge.
That's why the work of organizations like the NAACP is still incredibly important.
Caleb Baumgardner is a local attorney. He can be reached at [email protected]