Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our friends still need a little education, sometimes

Professor Randolph McLaughlin gives me a "teaching moment."
This evening I attended the New York Civil Liberty Union Lower Hudson Valley chapter's annual dinner, at which we honored our retiring Executive Director, Linda Berns, and awarded the Myron Isaacs Community Service Award to two sisters, Joanne Robinson-Boettcher and Roberta Robinson Frazier, for their lifelong work in community activism across a broad spectrum of causes.

The evening's principal speaker was Randolph McLaughlin, Esq., who is a civil rights lawyer, a professor at Pace Law School, and who is currently a member of the legal team representing the Chamberlain family's interests in connection with the shooting death of retired corrections officer and Marine veteran, 68 year old Kenneth Chamberlain, killed by a White Plains police officer in his own home for no reason except for the fact that he was an African American male who did not shuffle and say "yassuh" when the police came to his door, ostensibly to help him because his life alert pendant had triggered an alarm.

Professor McLaughlin's speech was inspiring and outstanding.  He even cited one of my favorite quotes about the law, from the play A Man for All Seasons.

His speech was marred by a different reference, one I realized was rooted in an innocent ignorance.

In a portion of his speech, he compared the police refusal to allow Mr. Chamberlain's niece, who had arrived in the hallway, an opportunity to speak to him to try to get him calmed down, to the situation police offered to the character played by Al Pacino in the movie Dog Day Afternoon, when he was allowed to speak to his pre-op transsexual girlfriend (in the real-life bank robbery the movie was loosely based on, this character's inspiration was Elizabeth Eden). . .

.  . . except Professor McLaughlin referred to the person on the other end of the phone, as the bank robber's boyfriend.

I realized that the factual inaccuracy was secondary to the point that was being made, but I did find it disturbing enough that I had to broach it to Professor McLaughlin afterward.  And I did.

It was an opportunity for education, and I took it.

I explained the inaccuracy in the reference to him - and I pointed out the fact that the purpose of the bank robbery in both the film and in the real life situation, was to obtain the funds for Elizabeth's surgery (or surgery for the character based on Elizabeth).

When I finished explaining, Professor McLaughlin asked me to repeat the phrase "pre-operative transsexual woman."  I realize that he was trying to commit the phrase to memory - and I am sure that the next time he gives a speech on the subject, and makes that reference, that he will be more respectful of the identity of the character based on Elizabeth's life.

My suspicion that the gaffe was based on an innocent ignorance that led to the initial reference was conformed by the respectfulness and attentiveness that Professor McLaughlin gave me when I spoke to him after his speech.