Tonganoxie Police Chief Greg Lawson said the color of Robinson’s skin had nothing to do with the situation. But that’s dubious.
Lawson claimed that an increase in car break-ins had officers on high alert. He did not reply to an email message asking for documentation of such incidents. But moving into a home doesn’t bear much resemblance to breaking into a car.
The officer’s actions were consistent with stop and frisk procedures, said Lauren Bonds, the legal director for ACLU of Kansas.
“When someone is taking items into a house, that usually is not probable cause of a burglary in progress — even in the wee hours of the morning,” Bonds said.
The city doesn’t have an ordinance that prohibits such activity. So the question remains: Does a rash of car burglaries really constitute probable cause to handcuff and detain someone moving items into a house? When a person is calm, compliant and found to be unarmed, does he need to be cuffed?
The officer’s poor judgment put Robinson in a tense and potentially volatile situation. Multiple officers unnecessarily arrived on the scene.
This interaction would have played out differently if Robinson weren’t a black man, he said. That’s a reasonable conclusion in a town where the population is 95 percent white and 1.1 percent black.
“We don’t think police would have cuffed a white woman moving items into a house and then called for backup,” Bonds said.
The episode highlights the importance of implicit bias training for all police officers.
As we have seen across the county, multiple law enforcement officers responding to a nonviolent incident can have catastrophic consequences.
Even more alarming was the recent shooting death of a black man at the hands of an off-duty white Dallas police officer. The victim was in his apartment, and the officer said she mistakenly thought she had entered her own home. She was charged with involuntary manslaughter and fired.
Robinson is lucky this situation did not escalate. To his credit, he remained calm. And at a minimum, he deserves a public apology.
A review of Tonganoxie Police Department procedures and a focus on ensuring that officers complete implicit bias training could prevent similar incidents in the future.