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Daniele Watts’ Detainment: An Issue of the Race Card or Her ID Card?

Did race truly play a role in the handcuffing of actress Daniele Watts last week? While the answer to that question is a bit fuzzy now, it’s clear that the cop’s alleged right to see her ID is questionable.

The questioning of Watts (of Django Unchained and “Partners”) and her boyfriend, chef Brian James Lucas, on Sept. 11 seemed like yet another incident of prejudice by police – initially, at least.

According to a Facebook post by Watts, she was detained after “refusing to agree that [she] had done something wrong by showing affection, fully clothed, in a public place.” The actress was cuffed by Sgt. Jim Parker, who responded to the call, and put into the back of his police vehicle upon refusing to show her ID, since she felt she was being targeted for being in an interracial relationship.

Though Lucas cooperated when he asked to be identified, he later took to his Facebook to allege that, based on the cop’s questioning, the couple was being mistaken for a prostitute and her client.

Now that more evidence has surfaced, including photos and an audio recording of the detainment, Watts and Lucas may have been too quick to claim that the incident was based on their race.

Daniele Watts (r.) and Brian Lucas. Courtesy of CNN via NY Daily News.

Daniele Watts (r.) and Brian Lucas. Courtesy of CNN via NY Daily News.

Los Angeles police report that the Parker was responding to a complaint about indecent exposure, and that a call was made to police about a couple engaging inappropriately while seated in a silver Mercedes Benz. TMZ has corroborated this story with an exclusive statement from an eyewitness, which says that Watts was straddling Lucas in the car. The gossip site posted photos of Watts and Lucas that were taken by the witness, who also says that the couple continued the act even after someone threatened to notify police.

In the audio recording of the arrest, Watts can be heard arguing with Parker, saying that she and Lucas constantly get stopped because she is black and he is white, to which the officer accuses her of bringing up the race card. Watts tells Parker that she will not give him her ID, and that he can “say that [she] is resisting arrest.” Parker says that Watts is interfering, rather than resisting arrest, and that he has a right to ask for her identification.

Although it seems less likely now that the encounter was racially charged, another issue may be at hand: Did Watts have a right to deny showing her ID?

While California law does not require individuals to identify themselves during detainment, LAPD spokesman Andy Neiman claims that people are required to show ID if officers have received a call about a crime, or have reasonable suspicion of a crime being committed. Peter Bibring of the American Civil Liberties Union disagrees.

“The LAPD says ‘If we are investigating a crime, you have to show us your identification.’ To put it bluntly, that is not true,” says Bibring, according to the L.A. Times. “In California an officer cannot arrest someone for refusing to provide identification, even if you are being investigated for a crime.”

Watts and Lucas have maintained their innocence, having contacted lawyers, the ACLU and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and look forward to continuing to discuss the incident publicly.

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