Watering while Black

The list of ordinary things that you can get arrested for simply by being Black keeps growing. Add watering flowers to the list , at least in the eyes of some Alabama police.

“What you doing here, man?” the white police officer asked an African American man quietly watering flowers in a front garden in Childersburg, Alabama.

“Watering flowers,” was the man’s reply.

Two minutes later, the man, the Rev Michael Jennings, 56, a pastor at the local Vision of Abundant Life church, was put into handcuffs. Three minutes after that he was placed in a police vehicle, under arrest for “obstructing governmental operations”.

The arrest, first reported by NPR, was captured on the police officer’s body camera. The man identified himself without being asked as “Pastor Jennings” and said he lived across the road.

He was told an anonymous neighbour had made a 911 call reporting “suspicious” activity outside the house of someone who had gone out of town.

Watering flowers is not listed under Alabama’s criminal code.

Jennings, who clearly was familiar with Alabama law, remained calm but firm.

“You have no right to approach me, I’ve done nothing wrong,” he said. “If you want to lock me up, lock me up, I’m going to continue watering these flowers.”

The final twist came as Jennings was being ushered into the police cruiser.

“You are racial profiling,” he told the officer.

“We are not racial profiling,” the officer said. “No sir, we’re not about that.”

When Jennings protested that he was just watering flowers, the officer asked: “How do I know that’s the truth?”

“Because I had a water hose in my hand,” Jennings said.

Later in the day the anonymous neighbour called the police back and said it was possible Jennings had been watering the flowers as a favour after all.

“This is probably my fault,” she said.

Childersburg police have dropped all charges.

Jennings told the New York Times he intended to file a lawsuit for unlawful arrest next week.

Honestly, it amazes me that Jennings could have been so calm during this encounter. But Black people have learned to be so because otherwise they could be asphyxiated by having a knee on their necks or shot.

Jennings has in fact sued the police.

The attorneys representing Jennings said the release of the body camera video will furthermore clear the way for “legal action against the officers and more.”

“This video makes it clear that these officers decided they were going to arrest Pastor Jennings less than five minutes after pulling up and then tried to rewrite history claiming he hadn’t identified himself when that was the first thing he did,” Daniels said in a statement to NPR.

Not all police are as suspicious of people of color. When the young white couple who lived next door to us went away for a few days, they asked us to watch out for wedding gifts that might arrive for them and left on the porch and to take them inside. They gave us the their keys and the code to deactivate their alarm. Everything went well but when my wife went to do it one day, she made a mistake with the alarm and could not turn it off. I went over to help just as a police cruiser arrived. I explained to the police officer that we lived next door and what had happened to trigger the alarm and he accepted it and went away, even though I had no identification on me with my name or address. He did not even ask me to go to my home and get one. He was very polite.

A possible explanation as to why that encounter was so different from the one experienced by Jennings is that as an older Asian couple, he did not stereotype my wife and I as potential criminals. It is also possible that the had seen us around the community before since we had lived there for some time.


  1. marner says

    Not all police are as suspicious of people of color.

    It’s hard to assign where and when ignorance of the law, tyranny and racism overlap, but racism by the cops is not required for an arrest here. The police had a call for suspicious behavior and asked for an ID, meaning an official state issued ID or name, address and birthdate. Mr Jennings refused and walked briskly away. Up until this point the cops were well within their rights. However, in order to demand under threat of arrest an ID, they need reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed, is being committed, or is about to be committed. Mr. Jennings telling them that he was Pastor Jennings, lived across the street and was watering the flowers (while actually watering the flowers!) at the homeowners request should have been enough to end the interaction.

    For the police this was never about watering the flowers and all about his not agreeing to have his identity run through the system. If Mr Jennings had provided his ID, he would not have been arrested.
    A guilty pleasure of mine is watching YouTube First Amendment Audits and police interactions, in general. This kind of police interaction is not that unusual for people of any color. There are a lot of cops who think that if they are responding to a call, the “suspicious person” is required to ID and can be arrested if they do not. They are improperly trained. Many of them are also tyrants who interpret anyone who doesn’t play the worm as guilty of contempt of cop (obstruction). So was racism part of this? Maybe. I suspect that a white man behaving similarly would also have been arrested, though. If the cops would have been called in the first place if he had been white is a separate and legitimate question.
    But why even write this? After all racism absolutely exists and people of color are disproportionately targeted by police. I guess my answer is that this type of police behavior affects as all (again -- disproportionately people of color). It might be racism, but its most certainly a lack of training, a misunderstanding of the law and a tyrannical belief that everyone should do whatever a cop tells them to do.

  2. Deepak Shetty says

    . I suspect that a white man behaving similarly would also have been arrested, though

    As opposed to all the real life cases that shows that Cops treat white people differently ? You know like when they shoot a black person who is running away v/s the extreme restraint shown when its a white person with a gun ?
    [To be clear though I dont want the police shooting anyone except an active shooter and even then mostly to disarm and stop and not to kill ]

  3. sonofrojblake says

    @Deepak Shetty, 2:

    As opposed to all the real life cases that shows that Cops treat white people differently ?

    Your problem here is this: there’s a LOT of evidence right there on Youtube. marner mentioned it in their comment. Did you miss that part? Or perhaps not understand it? Saw it, understood it, but didn’t bother to think about it or do any research? Whatever.

    Cops do this shit to white people every day. Do they do it to black people more? Yes, almost certainly. But if you think you can simply tell a cop “I’m the guy from over the road” when you’re on someone else’s property and they’re investigating a report of a trespasser and then smartly walk away from them without incident, well… good luck with that, even if you’re white.

    Take a look at this very evidently unarmed, very evidently white woman being handcuffed on a beach… for wearing a bikini. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=148I0ntw-Eo .

    Take a little time to view some “Audit the Audit” videos and similar, and you’ll see that nobody of any colour in the USA is safe from the armed gang that run the place.

  4. sonofrojblake says

    (side note:

    If the cops would have been called in the first place if he had been white is a separate and legitimate question.

    The white woman in the video I linked was handcuffed because someone had called the cops on her.)

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