Totally engaged with the scene in front of me, I jumped when a man came up beside me and said to my daughters: “I would be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were okay.”
At first none of us understood what he was talking about. His polite tone and tourist attire of shorts, polo shirt and baseball cap threw us off. It took me a moment to figure out what he meant, but then it hit me: He thought I might be exploiting the girls, taking questionable photos for one of those “Exotic Beauties Want to Meet You!” Web sites or something just as unseemly. When I explained to my daughters what he was talking about, they were understandably confused. I told the man I was their father. He quickly apologized and turned away. But that perfect moment was ruined, and our annual photo shoot was over.
Angered at the racist implication that something untoward was going on simply because his daughters were Asian and he was a white middle-aged man, Gates decided to find and confront the individual, telling him, “Excuse me, sir, but you just embarrassed me in front of my children and strangers. And what you said was racist.”
“I work for the Department of Homeland Security. And let me give you some advice: You were standing there taking photos of them hugging for 15 minutes,” replied the man, somehow living under the delusion that his employee status within the most loathed and overreaching federal agency in America gave him the right to act like a secret agent.
Although the DHS detective wannabe apologized again, he continued to question Gates for taking pictures of his own children.
Gates reflects on the incident as a disturbing reminder of how the mantra of “see something, say something” has muddied the waters of what constitutes suspicious activity in comparison to harmless behavior.
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“When the government is telling Americans that we should be on guard against everyone, everywhere, at all times (“If you see something, say something”), it might start to seem plausible—likely, even—that a sex trafficker would take photos of his sex slaves, in public, for 15 minutes. In reality, of course, that’s absurd,” writes Lenore Skenazy.