12/05/14 2:27pm

Clay Bennett editorial cartoon

You wouldn’t want to see your teenage nephew’s life derailed. You’ve watched him grow up. You know he’s a smart kid with a ton of potential; he’s just run into some trouble at home lately.

At this point, an arrest for, say, buying a case of beer with a fake ID — technically a felony — could ruin his chances of getting into college.

Now imagine you’re a cop and that kid behind the wheel of the car you just stopped reminds you of your nephew — or son, or younger cousin. Maybe you try to do right by him.

I’ve benefited several times from what I’ve long called the “nephew” effect. Many of my friends have, too. We were often together when police would stop us back in the 1990s, whether it was for using a fake ID or some other stupid thing teenagers do.

There was one time we got pulled over, still under age, in a remote area upstate (don’t ask) and were questioned by two officers who found bottles of booze in our trunk. They scared us a bit, sure, but we weren’t arrested. We weren’t even ticketed. In fact — though maybe this might not have been the best call — they let us keep the booze.

I’ve often thought about these times in my youth and how fortunate I was. But at some point, I realized, I probably would have been arrested — I might even have a criminal record today — if I were black.

It appears I’m not alone in my thoughts.

After a grand jury declined to indict NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo in the killing of Eric Garner, a profound conversation started in the social media world, specifically on Twitter. The site erupted with people using the hashtag #crimingwhilewhite to highlight posts about their own personal experiences as white people committing crimes and how their experiences with the cops differed from those of so many black people in the United States.

Here are some examples:

 

 

I also chimed in on Twitter, calling the leniency shown toward white people the “you remind me of my nephew” effect.

It’s just easier to understand and sympathize with someone who looks like you and your family members — maybe even resembles you as a young person. I think it’s fair to say that, growing up,most white cops didn’t have many black teenagers at their family parties or barbecues, so their experiences with them might be mostly negative.

Racism, conscious or unconscious, doesn’t end with policing. I know this firsthand from watching hours upon hours of arraignment proceedings in courtrooms throughout the region, mostly when I was a writer with the Daily News. In Suffolk County Criminal Court especially, the racism on display became a sort of sad running joke among the reporters as we observed black suspects being treated differently from white ones.

And the differences were stark.

“Speak up!” the judges barked at the scared black teenagers.

The white kids were often spoken to like wayward, well, nephews.

For example: “I really hope I don’t have to see you again here, Charles.”

In my experience, everyday white privilege has much more to do with human nature — and the occasional Police Benevolent Association card — than with money or powerful connections, though I don’t doubt the latter play a huge role in higher profile cases.

But here’s the thing: The type of common sense approach to policing that I experienced as a youth was not just better for me; it’s better for all of society. So long as no one’s getting hurt, keeping as many people as possible out of the criminal justice system is an overall benefit. Whether you share my opinions or not, I’d like to think I’m a productive member of society today. Same for my friends. My one buddy is a police sergeant. Another is a dedicated youth hockey coach. Two others each found success in the financial world.

Many young black kids don’t get the same breaks early in life that white kids do (or worse) and there’s no doubt that a few arrests as a young person can interfere with living productive, fulfilling lives as adults. Black or white, once you’re arrested or convicted of a crime, it’s hard to get any leniency during subsequent traffic stops.

From slavery to terrorism to Jim Crow to discrimination in banking and real estate, inequitable policing remains today a very effective form of repression, even if it’s not deliberate.

If the rest of us can begin to acknowledge this problem now, it will only make for a better, safer society moving forward.

As Neal Taflinger wrote on Twitter as @NealTaflinger last Thursday:

“#CrimingWhileWhite is like introducing yourself at AA. Self-awareness is a huge hurdle, but it’s just the first step.”

Michael White, editorMichael White is the editor of The Suffolk Times and Riverhead News-Review. He can be reached at 631-298-3200, or email him at mwhite@timesereview.com.

12/01/14 4:51pm
Riverhead firefighters breaking windows in an upper floor window at the Doctors Path Apartments Monday afternoon. (Credit: Michael White)

Riverhead firefighters break an upper floor window at the Doctors Path Apartments Monday afternoon. (Credit: Michael White)

Update 9:20 p.m. Monday: Riverhead Town police said in a press release that preliminary results of the ongoing investigation has determined the fire was “accidental.” The Red Cross also responded to the scene and assisted people displaced by the fire, police said.

Original story:

Town fire marshals are investigating the cause of a fire that broke out in the second floor of an apartment building in Riverhead Monday afternoon, fire officials said.

No one was hurt in the 3:40 p.m. fire at the Doctors Path Apartments, said Riverhead firefighter Bill Sanok.

There was heavy smoke upon arrival, he said, which prompted volunteers to call for more support from firefighters, but the fire was brought under control rather quickly. (more…)

11/26/14 4:30pm
Thanksgiving night 2012 at Target in Riverhead. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)

Thanksgiving night 2012 at Target in Riverhead. (Credit: Grant Parpan, file)

“We are offering our shoppers options so that family and friends can choose to come together Thanksgiving evening after they have enjoyed their celebrations,” announced Steve Tanger, president and CEO of Tanger Factory Outlet Centers Inc.

Tanger Outlets stores in Riverhead and elsewhere in the U.S. will open at 6 p.m. this Thursday, Thanksgiving, for what the Tanger company is calling “Moonlight Madness.” In his statement about the earlier-than-ever hours for the outlet centers, Mr. Tanger went on to call shopping on Thanksgiving “a new family tradition.”

I place shopping — and with that, working — on Thanksgiving right up there with some other new American family traditions, including:

• needing two incomes to pursue home ownership,

• contributing to a 401(k) instead of receiving a pension and

• blowing entire paychecks on gasoline and home heating oil.

Catch the theme here?

(more…)

11/21/14 10:00am
(File photo by Jennifer Gustavson)

Suffolk County District Attorney Thomas Spota (Credit: Jennifer Gustavson, file)

Police chiefs and other top brass from agencies across the East End met this week to share information with one another on local gang activities during a meeting called by the Suffolk County District Attorney.

The three-hour meeting in Riverside Wednesday follows last month’s gang shooting in a residential area of Southold, after which now five alleged members of MS-13 attacked two men from a rival gang with guns and a machete.

That incident, followed by much local and regional media coverage, has brought attention to the growing problem of gangs on the East End. (more…)

11/15/14 4:29pm
The taxi driver was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center with a head injury. (Credit: Michael White)

The taxi driver was taken to Peconic Bay Medical Center with a head injury. (Credit: Michael White)

A taxi driver was injured after his cab was side-swiped and careened off West Main Street, striking the side of the Greenview Inn motel, Riverhead police said.

The cabbie’s condition was unknown but police at the scene said he suffered a head injury in the 2:50 p.m. crash.

The driver of a second car actually caused the accident by trying to pass the taxi by using the shoulder. (more…)

11/15/14 12:25pm
A shooting 'victim' is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning's active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)

A shooting ‘victim’ is escorted from Riley Avenue Elementary School during Saturday morning’s active shooter drill. (Credit: Michael White)

David Wicks said he couldn’t help but get a bit emotional during Saturday’s active shooter drill in Calverton, where police and ambulance workers simulated a mass shooting inside Riley Avenue Elementary School.

About 70 high school students and other volunteers also participated in the drill, during which two people were “killed,” and several others were dragged from the school or carried out, fake-bloodied and bandaged.

A Suffolk police helicopter also landed in a nearby field.

“It was very real for me; I had chills,” said Mr. Wicks, a Riverhead School District assistant superintendent. “I felt myself getting emotional. The real sobering thing is how much time can pass before help gets here.

“But it made me feel good because our lockdown procedures do help.”

(More photos below) (more…)

11/13/14 1:17pm
Serendipity Farm's horse barn was built in 2012 in Riverhead on Mill Road. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

Well over $100,000 was stolen from the FW Sims company by Joseph Simonelli and directed to Serendipity Farm on Mill Road, federal prosecutors allege. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch, file)

A Calverton man is being held without bail in a Nassau County jail after he was arrested by FBI agents Wednesday on charges he stole upwards of $10 million from his family-run heating and air-conditioning company in West Babylon.

Joseph Simonelli, who lives in Calverton and owns a thoroughbred horse farm on Mill Road that’s run by his stepdaughter, is facing up to 14 years in prison for conspiracy to commit mail fraud, according to court records and a criminal complaint filed in Eastern District court. (more…)