Let’s start this with a disclaimer. I wasn’t there, and I am relying on reports I read.
Tony Fein, a Baltimore Ravens rookie linebacker from Mississippi, was arrested Aug. 23 -- a Sunday evening at a restaurant at Baltimore’s Harborplace dining and entertainment district, hanging out with buddies, also supposedly Ravens. Fein allegedly shoved a city cop after being asked to show his hands after a security guard's report of a man possibly with a concealed gun (it turned out to be a cell phone).
Fein, listed at 6-foot-2 and 245 pounds, isn’t your typical rookie, but he's a good story. Fein, 27, served in the Iraq War before making his way to college and pro football. The guy is a winner of the Pat Tillman Patriot Award. Before his arrest, not many in Baltimore or elsewhere likely had heard of Tony Fein – he’s way down on the Ravens' linebacker depth chart behind the likes of Lewis, Suggs, Johnson, Gooden, Burgess, McClain, Barnes and Kruger.
Tony Fein might not remain in Baltimore once Ravens roster cuts come over the next several days, but some are likening his arrest to the famous and already historic case – only last month in July -- of esteemed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates was cuffed and locked up during an altercation with a white Cambridge, MA officer in his home -- sparking allegations of racial profiling that even elicited public remarks from Barack Obama.
Tony Fein’s arresting officer also is white. Fein’s agent, Milton "Dee" Hobbs Jr., declared in press reports the next day that Fein, too, was targeted by a racial-profiling cop because he is black.
Does Fein rise to the clamor of Henry Louis Gates’ arrest? Probably not. Fein’s no African American Studies scholar, and the case doesn’t rise to the stature of a presidential comment. Everybody is surmising that tensions were a little on edge at Harborplace last weekend because of a recent shooting and some roving gangs running amok and robbing people at the downtown venue during summer. Baltimore police pledged to tighten up enforcement in the wake of incidents.
As everybody knows, Fein simply should have followed the orders of the cop. That much is not disputed. We all know that police officers are public servants raising families like everybody else and that the work can be dangerous. But that this young black man was approached like that – in a Johnny Rockets restaurant of all places – is troubling to some.
Johnny Rockets isn’t a place where young black men go to brandish weapons. They go to Johnny Rockets to devour chili dogs, down root beer and flirt with young waitresses. Hanging out in a Johnny Rockets is pretty innocent.
Baltimore police are adamant that racial profiling did not occur in Fein’s case, and even agent Hobbs acknowledged in a press report he could "understand" how things transpired.
The police report noted that Fein was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the dead of summer and that prompted suspicions. OK, young black guys do wear hooded sweatshirts. Out on the street, say at Bentalou and Baker in West Baltimore or along Bladensburg Road in Northeast DC, it can be a little daunting to confront the dreaded hooded sweatshirt while on a 10 p.m. walk.
But at a Johnny Rockets on a Sunday evening? Pro football players competing in training camp wear sweats. Doesn’t matter if it’s 85 or 90 degrees out. That's what they wear.
Bill Belichick, the Super Bowl winning coach of the New England Patriots, is famous for trolling the sidelines in his hooded sweatshirt – often with the hood up. Some could ask whether a Belichick would be approached and asked to show his hands if wearing his hoddie at a Johnny Rockets.