On May 29, 2020, during the George Floyd protests and riots in Minneapolis, Dawn Frederick of the Red Sofa Literary Agency noticed looters destroying a gas station outside her office and called the police. That started a bizarre chain of events that nearly destroyed her agency. This Publisher’s Weekly article has the initial story. This follow-up article has what happened over the next two weeks.
Frederick tweeted that she was calling the police. Several people responded, asking her not to call the police, because – they said – calling the police about looting is racist. And then three of her agents quit in protest.
Politically Correct Damage Control
Here is where it went off the rails. The next day, Frederick posted an apology. For calling the police to report people looting a gas station. Here is Frederick’s apology and her version of events, as she documented on her agency website (now archived).
NOTE FROM DAWN: MAY 30, 2020
Two days ago I tweeted about calling the police to report looting at a nearby gas station. The consequences of calling the police, for any reason, during this time frankly didn’t occur to me, and I’m sorry that it took this situation for me to see it.
Property isn’t worth more than a human life. And in that moment I didn’t equate calling the police to report property damage with the reality that doing so could cause harm to the people currently fighting racism in my community. I’m deeply sorry for anyone I hurt with this careless action.
The authors and agents who may now question whether or not we share the same ideals have every right to feel this way. My actions were tone-deaf and the product of my own privilege—even if they were unintentionally so. All I can do is own my mistake, learn from it, and continue to find ways to be an ally to those fighting against the injustices that got us here. Thank you for holding me accountable and teaching me, even though it’s not your responsibility to do so. I will work to be better.
NOTE FROM DAWN on May 29, 2020:
I hope you’re staying safe. And that you’re doing okay despite the state of affairs right now. It feels like the world is falling apart at the seams right now.
I would like to address the claim made by our former agent about me. And I would like to note the facts of what actually happened, so that we’re all the same page.
It was claimed that I called the police on protesters during our riots in St. Paul on May 28th. That is not case, and I believe this needs to be clarified immediately. In actuality here is what happened.
*Shortly before 10 pm: I heard an alarm go off, tires screeching and even more sirens. It was a lot closer to the general situation happening 8 to 9 blocks north of me (where the main St. Paul riots were happening).
*At 10:01 pm: I walked to the end of my block – and more than one car had gone through the barrier in front of the gas station at the end of my block. Damage had been sustained to the property. Please note this was after a few buildings 9 blocks north of my street were set on fire.
*The people who did this had busted the doors and many people were running out with items in their arms, jumping back into their cars, and hightailing it off the block. It was straight up looters.
Please note: there were NO protestors present. Zero protestors.
I called the police to ask if they could notify the owner, so that the owner can get this station boarded up immediately. NO other info was provided. That’s the extent of info that was provided. No more, no less.
For anyone who doesn’t know me, I am someone who attends a lot of protests in support of the BIPOC communities, and have for many years. And in an ideal pre-pandemic world, I’d be at any protest where I can continue to be an ally when circumstances (like now) require them. This has been my nature my entire life, in both personal and professional settings.
Having seen people get arrested when protesting, I’d never under any circumstances call the police on someone for protesting. That goes against everything I do when it comes to honoring (and participating) in protests.
I’m incredibly saddened to see our city lose George Floyd at the hands of an officer who has a long history of profiling, harassing POC, and abuse of power. All of this is utterly upsetting and heartbreaking. I’m beyond sad for our entire community, for his family and friends, and for the many other POC who have suffered at the hands of officers.
I will never condone that type of behavior. I didn’t has a teenager, and definitely not as an adult.
Seeing this entire situation get misconstrued and to be accused of something I’ve worked my entire life to not do is incredibly painful. And with all of the trauma in our community, as we try to find a better way to ensure that systemic racism stops, that the abuse of power by police officers stops, it’s clear that something needs to be done asap.
I’m so sorry if my words weren’t clear enough.
Please be safe and take care of yourself.
I had to wait a few months before posting this because I had a hard time believing it. Why would anyone in their right mind not want to report looters plundering a gas station to the police? And why would somebody who did report it later apologize? Is this political correctness taken to the nutcase extreme? There had to be more to this story.
It turns out, Frederick and some of her agents and authors her agency represents don’t get along well. Here is a blog post from Foz Meadows about her experience with Red Sofa and Frederick. After Meadows published her blog post, former agents and Red Sofa authors lit up the twitterverse. Both sides hired attorneys and lots of dirty laundry tumbled around the internet.
Time to pause. I’m a middle-aged, bald White guy. Which must mean I grew up with White privilege and don’t know anything about hardship. Which is hogwash. However, I have never been a victim of institutional racism, never been hassled by the police, and never been turned away from anyplace because of the color of my skin. A restaurant turned me away one time in New Jersey for not having a suit-jacket, but that’s different.
George Floyd was no model citizen, but he and others did not deserve to die. Black people have good reasons to protest. And I need to continue examining my attitude around race.
So How Should We Respond When We See Looting?
Which goes back to calling the police to report looting. This comment in the Publisher’s Weekly article above seems to capture the reasoning for not reporting the crime.
No, you STILL don’t call the cops. The entire point of understanding that these crimes are often not being committed by protestors–that they’re being committed by opportunists at best and white supremacist agitators at worst–is to understand the logic behind the crime. By the time the cops report to the scene of such a crime, the person who broke the window or started the fire or rode by with the gun will be long gone. But the cops will feel obliged to take action, and they will find someone who “fits the description”–a description that may be vague or inaccurate or completely falsified, depending on who placed the call–and they will take action on the body of the person they have found, to whatever degree their personal discretion and personal biases indicate. “Fitting the description” is literally exactly the reason George Floyd is dead. White people call the cops like they’re the customer service department, for even the most minor community issue (“Hello? I’d like to make a noise complaint”), and people of color are placed in mortal danger every time.https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/industry-news/people/article/83469-three-agents-resign-after-red-sofa-literary-owner-s-tweet.html
I thought about that comment the past several weeks. It’s troubling.
- First, how does anyone reconcile, “White people call the cops like they’re the customer service department,” with getting rid of racial stereotypes?
- Second, the comment assumes police are on an institutional mission to harm Black people. I have a hard time with this. But my Black friends have a different point of view.
- Third, the comment assumes Black people did the looting, and even if they didn’t, everyone would assume they did. Which represents another rotten racial stereotype. I don’t know who looted that gas station, but the public record shows at least two Whites helped burn down the Minneapolis Third Police Precinct during those same riots. Police caught one idiot showing off the equipment he stole in public.
- And finally, something is just plain dead-wrong when we give thugs looting a gas station a free pass. How does anyone in their right mind justify allowing looters to plunder a gas station owner’s business? If somebody looted Dawn Fredrick’s business, I wonder how quick she would be to apologize for calling the police.
Police departments are supposed to uphold the law. Which means, until we give the job to somebody else, we’re supposed to call the police when we see somebody breaking the law.
But There’s More to it.
My buddy, Bob, who worked for Microsoft before he passed away, told me way back in 1990 that police stopped him all the time for just walking down the street. I didn’t believe him. But my buddy, Jim, reports the same thing. And so do lots of other Black people I know.
When Jim was thirteen years old, he walked home from his after-school job. A police car followed him home. Every night. Until the White business owner called the police and put a stop to it. In the 1990s, before smartphones, Jim’s son was about to become a father, and so he carried a pager. Somebody smashed into the car he was driving and his pager went off while police investigated the accident. The police assumed he was a drug dealer and wrestled him to the ground and handcuffed him. Until a White woman who witnessed the accident intervened. Jim reports stories like this are part of normal, day-to-day life for Black people. Jim is 78 years old, and every time Jim sees a police car, he suffers a PTSD reaction. He told me, Black people die sooner than White people on average because Black people face chronic stress about what the police might do to them just for walking on the street or driving a car.
I asked Jim, if he saw a group looting a gas station, would he call the police?
“Yes, I would. I have no problem calling the police for stuff like that. But I do have a problem with how they respond when they get there. Because they’ll try to pin it on Black people. Every time. So, maybe I wouldn’t call.”
I also found out, discrimination historically was so common that Victor Hugo Green published a directory of safe places for Black people to travel in the United States, “The Negro Motorist Green Book,” annually from 1936 through 1966. I want to thank my LinkedIn contact and cybersecurity professional, Ray, for showing me that book.
More recently, Jan Miles revived the tradition with “The Post-Racial Negro Green Book.” But instead of listing safe places for gas, food, and sleep, her edition chronicles recent racial incidents in all fifty states. Here is a Bloomberg article about it.
When people prefer to let gangs of looters destroy cities instead of reporting crimes to law enforcement, we really do have a systemic race problem in the United States. We need to fix this cancer before it kills us.
How Do We Solve It?
When police departments lose their moral authority, everyone suffers because people no longer trust the police. When police trust erodes, crime goes up, and before long a community finds itself stuck in a vicious cycle of increasing crime and decreasing community trust. The result looks like a third-world country locked in anarchy.
Fix the trust problem by restoring and enhancing police moral authority. Here are a few suggestions. And a caveat. I’m not a politician or a journalist, and I don’t work for a government think tank. But I want to live in a country where we are all Americans before we’re liberals or conservatives or Republicans or Democrats, and we can have friends on the other side of the aisle. So, here are a few ideas.
Find positive ways for police to reach out to the community. Where I live, police have offered lots of community outreach events. My grandsons enjoyed tours of police cars, watching canine demonstrations, and just talking to police officers. One time, my local police station gave my oldest grandson and me a tour of the back rooms as part of my research for “Virus Bomb.” In a shameless plug, I’ll offer my services to police departments everywhere to deliver free cybersecurity workshops.
Embrace open. That doesn’t mean to share details about investigations with crooks. It means adopting an attitude of transparency whenever possible. Police are supposed to serve and protect the public. So involve the public in that mission. The book, The Open Organization, by Jim Whitehurst might offer useful nuggets.
Demand integrity at all levels. Live it and mean it.
Educate every officer about cultural sensitivity. Encourage officers who don’t take that education seriously to find another career.
Police protect me from anarchy. Because of the police force in my community, I don’t need to buy assault weapons and build walls around my house. Let’s compensate our police officers as we would any other professional. Instead of defunding the police, increase funding. It’s cheaper than rebuilding a whole city after looters burn it down.