JOHN OSTRANDER: Salt In the Wound
It’s the odd little news story that tends to grab my eye and we got an interesting one this week. Not only the story itself, but how it is being told.
I found the story initially through the Associated Press version on msnbc.com. The story comes to us from Atlanta, Georgia, and tells how a police officer – one Wendell Adams – arrested a cook at McDonalds, one Kendra Bull, who sold him an overly salty hamburger. Bull admitted that she accidentally knocked the saltshaker onto the burgers she was making; on the advice of a co-worker and the manager, she tried “thumbing” the extra salt off but made the burgers anyway. Officer Fife – excuse me, Officer Adams – ate about half of it before it made him sick. Adams came back, took Bull outside and questioned her, and then arrested her. She was in jail overnight and released on a $1000.00 bond.
I’m going to use two quotes from the story itself because I cannot improve on them: 1) “Police sent samples of the burger to the state crime lab for tests” and 2) “City public information officer George Louth said Bull was charged because she served the burger ‘without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it.’”
She served a burger – a McDonalds’ burger – without regards to the well-being of anyone who might consume it. Ummmmm – isn’t that one of the things about fast food in general? That we all know it’s not really any good for us but that we eat it anyway? If that’s the standard, why would any fast food joint be open in Atlanta?
And they sent a sample of the burger to the state crime lab for tests? Oh, that’s the case I want to see on CSI!
I was wondering if this case might work as a “torn from the headlines” case for Law and Order but I’m beginning to think it’s better suited for the sense of absurd comedy you find on Boston Legal.
Digging further, I discovered that the hamburger in question was free. A perk for being a cop. Georgia’s not the only place that this happens. Free soda/coffee for cops on beat happens in a lot of places and I guess a Happy Meal comes under that heading.
I also discovered at Kevin Underhill’s Lowering the Bar site – a fine and interesting place – that a healthy adult would need more than a bit of over-salting to cause the sort of vomiting that Officer Krumpke – excuse me, Officer Adams – says he endured. Which might explain sending the hamburger to the Crime Lab for further analysis.
Several questions come to mind about this story. If there was enough salt in the burger to make the cop sick, why didn’t he stop eating it? But the biggest question that struck me was not the story itself but what was left out of the AP story. It’s a question that may have occurred to you as well – was the cook black and the officer white? I’m not saying that just because the location was Georgia; I live in Jersey and the State Police here have been often accused of stopping a car under suspicion that the driver was DWB – Driving While Black. And Chicago is my hometown; I have heard first-hand the terms some Chicago cops use for African-Americans.
Given that the officer was white and that the cook was black, race – and possible racism –would seem to be a relevant fact. So why didn’t the AP report it in their news story? I found it in other reports on the story, including the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s website.
If the cook had been a twenty-year old white girl, would the cop have arrested her? If the cook was arrested, why not the manager? The manager is ultimately responsible for what is sold. Could the manager have been white?
I know plenty of people who feel that questions of race and racism are “old” and I agree – about 400 years old. What they mean is that they’re tired of hearing about it and, besides, that was all settled years ago with the Civil Rights Movements. People get along just fine now. Take a look around. Of course, those are mostly white people I hear saying that; the only black people I hear saying it are Conservative Republicans.
For a lot of people, racism means white sheets and white hoods, burning crosses on lawns, red-necked Southern sheriffs using nightsticks, dogs, and water cannons on non-violent protestors. It’s all so 60s.
All that was, indeed, racist… but so are small things as well as large. I’ve attended any number of racial dialog meetings and conferences from my church and I’ve heard modern men and women of color talking about what happens on a daily basis. One middle-aged middle-class black woman talked about having to teach her sons how to react when (not if) they were stopped on the highway at night by the state police. How they needed to make sure their hands were visible at all times on the steering wheel. She was teaching what she felt were survival techniques. She wanted them to come home alive.
To confront racism in society, you have to start with yourself. I’m a white male in my late fifties. Some conditioning as a racist was inevitable, although that’s not what we were taught in the home where I was raised. I was a boy in the 50s and the early 60s and, outside of the housekeeper that my paternal grandmother employed, I met no-one of color until I was in my teens. The only images that I had of colored people was that which was given to me by the media and popular culture.
I’m very aware of race and not always in good ways. There are reactions that I have deep down and they are often the opposite of what I believe. If I see an inter-racial couple and one of them is black and especially a black male, I register that more quickly than any other combination. On the street, especially at night, if the person approaching me is black and male I have, in the past, crossed the street – based solely on the fact that the person approaching me is black and male. And so on. These are not reactions of which I am proud and I fight against them but the fact that I do have to fight against them means they’re still in me. And they are racist. Where do they come from if they weren’t drilled into me by my upbringing since blacks weren’t part of my daily life?
I’ve heard from some African-Americans that, while the South was blatantly racist, the North was not less so – just more circumspect. In the South, whites would encounter blacks day in and day out; in the North, it was arranged so we never had to meet one another. Mayor Daley help choose the route of the I-90/94 highway on the south side specifically to form a concrete moat to prevent black neighborhoods from spilling into white neighborhoods in Chicago – including his own.
In absence of actual contact with black Americans, white Americans would have only what they saw in advertising, read in books or newspapers, heard on the radio, saw in the movies, or later on television – and those largely fed racism. If we insist on the power that words and images have to influence people – and they do – then we must also admit the power they have to do so negatively, to feed and re-enforce lies. In this case, to demean, slander, and disenfranchise an entire race of people.
There are always exceptions. I remember, as a boy, watching the Nat King Cole show on television. I loved that show and thought the world of him. He had the most beautiful male voice I’d heard. When he died, I grieved. Exceptions, however, are exceptions. Then again, nobody advertised on Cole’s show – the network carried it on a sustaining basis.
When Mike did his article on the Tom and Jerry DVD collection earlier this week, some people replying noted that there had been attempts to go back and “fix” the offending, racist cartoons. I disagree with that concept and think they should stand as they are – as witness and evidence of a condition – a crime – that we, as a nation, let stand for too long and that continues today. Witness the McDonalds in the suburbs of Atlanta. Race had to be a factor and yet, the AP evidently felt it was not a relevant fact in the story and left it out.
The cook, Kendra Bull, has a one year old daughter and, the last I read, was still suspended from work. The judge refused to dismiss the case. Maybe, in this era of “terrorist threats” and “heightened awareness,” there is fear of something like anthrax being added to the meat. I’m trying to give those concerned the benefit of some kind of doubt. But if that lab report comes back and says the only thing wrong with that burger was too much salt – as I suspect it will – and the DA’s office goes ahead with the case anyway then I think we can dismiss that.
It’ll mean that too much salt in the meat becomes just a little more salt in the wound.
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/.