Starbucks arrest controversy: Former Dallas police chief breaks down why it can 'divide us'
David Brown, the former police chief in Dallas, analyzes police and race.
I'm walking my 11-year-old daughter -- who's almost 12, but going on 20 -- around the corner from our apartment to the Sugar Factory on Broadway on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.
We stop at the intersection as the light changes, and the hand sign goes up, signaling "Do Not Walk." We stop, but New Yorkers either think the hand sign to stop beckons you to cross, or my 33 years as a Dallas cop and an African American born in 1960 in the South has me hypersensitive about the minor crime of jaywalking.
You're probably thinking, "Jaywalking?" but it's a low-level misdemeanor that establishes probable cause to be stopped, detained, arrested or issued a citation, according to the rule of the law.
Regardless, that's not my real problem while waiting at the intersection for the signal to change. My problem is, how do I answer another, "Hey, Daddy" question from my beautiful, precocious, inquiring, debate-ready daughter as all the serial jaywalking Yankees ignore the "Do Not Walk" hand, leaving us standing alone.
I'm there, clenching my daughter's hand, while pointing at the signal that clearly signals for us to stand there and not cross. I brace myself for the beatdown, barrage interrogation worthy of a Perry Mason episode from my Google-the-answer daughter, saying, "But everyone else is crossing, so why are we standing here like fools?!"
As I stand there, readying for the "But Daddy" Q-and-A to my answer of, "We should follow the rules even if no one else does" answer, I can't help but juxtapose the two African American men in the Philadelphia Starbucks being asked to leave the premises or face arrest for the low-level misdemeanor crime of criminal trespass and the same "But Daddy" moment that shrieks -- "Why do we have to leave while no one else has to buy anything and can just be here all day for the free WiFi or cram for a test or to just enjoy the ambience of a coffee shop. Why, Daddy? Is the answer really because we have to follow the rules even if no one else does?"
I could just say, "'Cause I said so," but that's old school, 20th-century parenting and this may be a teachable moment about race, class and police and how screwed up my generation has made just crossing the street or meeting at a Starbucks.
This should be easy for me: As I mentioned, I retired in 2016 as a much-heralded police chief of Dallas Police Department for not only calming an incendiary moment in the nation after five white cops were ambushed and killed by a mentally ill African American man who wanted revenge for the shooting of unarmed African American men by police officers.
I was able to find the right words to say, threading the needle in a deeply divided country, so talking to an 11-year-old about crossing the street should be easy, right? Oh, I forgot: Michael Brown was stopped by an officer in Ferguson, Missouri for ... wait for it ... jaywalking.
It escalated into a struggle and subsequent shooting that left Brown dead, lying on the street for hours. That shooting ignited a riot, and helped give the Black Lives Matter movement a national stage.
That's right: the low-level misdemeanor crime strikes again to divide us and pick at the scab of racial inequality and fairness and justice. Like Eric Garner's "I Can't Breathe" for the low-level crime of selling loose cigarettes or whatever the hell else he was doing that wasn't worthy of a death sentence.
What about Philando Castile ... Walter Scott ... or Alton Sterling, all receiving death sentences for minor misdemeanor violations? Or the countless traffic stops that escalate to police shootings? Even the encounter at the Walmart parking lot in California last week that left another unarmed young man dead?
How do I explain all this to my daughter?
Is it me, or does the Starbucks thing sound like the lunch counter protest of the 1960s minus the dogs and water hoses? Thank the good Lord these two young men at the Starbucks didn't struggle or run from the officers. Who knows what would have likely happened?
I'll tell you who knows -- people of color know that the letter of the law, no matter how minor, can lead to an arrest record. And that can lead to that job application heaped to the bottom of the stack, if not in the trash bin, because you now have to check the box when asked if you have ever been arrested.
You don't know my daughter. I need to be prepared for the onslaught of questions because of Doctor Google. I don't want to the internet informing her, or misinforming her, shaping her worldview of race, police, fairness and justice.
Finally, after some 90 seconds, the light changes. Just a few more steps to the Sugar Factory.
You're probably wondering how the conversation went. Well, I told my daughter that we have to follow the rules even if no one else does. She bought it, apparently distracted by the world famous Sugar Factory King Kong Sundae with 24 scoops of ice cream, covered with hot fudge and various other confections.
I make no apologies. I just wanted to enjoy taking my beautiful, precocious daughter around the way for some ice cream. This screwed up society can wait -- I don't think it's going anywhere anytime soon.
"What do I do with her after the sugar kicks in?" I'm texting my wife now.
Gotta go. Need to get the waiter's attention so I can order a Peace, Love & Harmonie margarita cocktail. That's right -- make it a double, if you don't mind. I'm from Texas!
David O. Brown, the former chief of the Dallas Police Department, is an ABC News contributor.
ABC News Live
24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events