Daniele Watts wrote an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in which she addressed the controversy surrounding her recent police stop that made headlines. The “Django Unchained” actress acknowledged that she could have been calmer and more patient, but stood by her use of what the Los Angeles Police Department officer on the scene called the “race card.”
As Watts described the scene in her article, she and her partner Brian Lewis were standing on the grass when police approached them. “He said he had received a call about a couple engaged in lewd conduct and asked for our IDs,” she wrote of the responding officer, Sgt. Jim Parker. “A few minutes before, Brian and I had been making out in his car; I was sitting on his lap. We were not having sex, and both of us had our clothes on.”
The piece goes into lengthy detail as to why Watts refused to give up her ID when asked by the Parker, starting with a story about a police stop she and her father were subjected to when she was a teenager.
“I could tell my father was disturbed. We had been stopped for no reason, and he was powerless to stop the questioning or protect me from the officer’s judgments,” she wrote. “He gently explained to me what so many African Americans of his generation know too well: ‘You don’t want to mess with the police. They can judge you unfairly and make life very hard.'”
Watts said that her fathers words have stayed with her, and they were a big part of her stance that day, as were three more recent stops she experienced herself.
She stood by her right of refusal to show her ID, even in the wake of the “avalanche of accusations, insults, slurs and even threats” she alleges she has received.
“In saving myself time and pain, I would have lost something far more valuable: my right as an American to limit intrusions by police,” she wrote. “When I was forced into handcuffs, the detaining officer said it was because Sgt. Parker ordered me to stay and I left. But the sergeant said no such thing. And California law does not require you to produce identification simply because a police officer demands it.”
She spoke of those who fought and died for the rights she exercised. “If I had handed over my ID, I would have denied their efforts. And I would have turned my back on the 16-year-old who watched her father endure an unfair and humiliating stop by police.”
But the actress did admit to some mistakes on her part in handling the situation. “Could I have been calmer, or more patient? Certainly,” she wrote. “Still, the sergeant seemed to be trying to teach me a lesson.”
Her next question, she did not answer directly. “Do I regret threatening to call my publicist? I was grasping at anything to make it clear I wasn’t a lawbreaker,” she wrote, but that doesn’t say whether or not she regrets the threat.
In the audio of the stop, Watts asked Sgt. Parker, “Do you know how many times the cops have been called just because I’m black and he’s white?” to which he responded, “Who brought up a race card? I never said nothing about you being black.”
Of that moment, Watts asked in her op-ed, “Do I think the officer was ‘racially profiling’ me by answering a call?” Again, she did not answer the question directly, instead writing, “I know police have to answer calls for service. But does that render invalid my initial question to the sergeant?
“Would someone have called the police if it had been a white couple? Would the sergeant have been so zealous in ‘investigating’ what was clearly not a crime?” she continued. “Does bias have something to do with how and why Brian and I have been stopped this year? I think it probably does. And I think that the conversations our country has been having about the role of race in minor incidents, such as mine, and life-and-death ones, must continue.”