Jeneé Osterheldt

Would this have happened to a white man? Rapper arrested just for wanting to go home

T.I. was arrested for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness for losing his keys and asking the guard to let him in his neighborhood.
T.I. was arrested for disorderly conduct and public drunkenness for losing his keys and asking the guard to let him in his neighborhood. Invision/AP

Add this to the ever-growing list of things black people can't do without being criminalized: go home.

Then again, we knew that. Trayvon Martin was walking home the night he was killed by an overzealous neighborhood watchman.

Early Wednesday morning, T.I., the rapper whose birth name is Clifford Harris Jr., was going home. He'd been drinking and lost his keys. Many of us have been there.

The security guard at his gated community in suburban Atlanta was asleep on the job. According to T.I.'s lawyer, it took some time to wake him up. But when T.I. clearly identified himself, the guard refused him entry. T.I. called his wife, and she asked that he be let in. The guard — who is black — was having none of it. And cursed at her.

According to Atlanta's WSB-TV, police say that T.I. responded, "Don’t you know who I am?"

So what? I would have asked my neighborhood guard that, and I'm not famous. T.I. has five platinum albums, almost 20 Grammy nominations, a TV show, clothing line and movie resume that includes "ATL," "Takers," "Ant-Man" and its upcoming sequel.

As Scott Lang balances being both a Super Hero and a father, Hope van Dyne and Dr. Hank Pym present an urgent new mission that finds the Ant-Man fighting alongside The Wasp to uncover secrets from their past.

Do black folk not have the right to be indignant when someone is wrong? Or are we all supposed to comply or die? Everyone was so quick to applaud the two men who were wrongly arrested for being black at Starbucks last month. They were so "classy" and only asked for $1 settlement and a promise from the city for entrepreneurial programming.

"When you know that you did nothing wrong, how do you really react to it?" Rashon Nelson, one of the men, told The Associated Press. "You can either be ignorant or you can show some type of sophistication and act like you have class. That was the choice we had."

That's the choice we have because, unlike white folk, who have survived arguments and even shoot-outs with the police, we have to behave at all times because to be black is to be considered a threat.

Throw these respectability politics in the trash.

We have the right to be mad when police interrogate us, arrest us and take us to jail for nothing.

Eventually, after arguing, the guard let T.I. into the neighborhood. Like most of us do when given poor service, T.I. asked the guard for his name so he could report the incident to a supervisor. The guard refused. T.I went home. And yes, T.I. called a friend, went back out and got into an argument with the guard.

Could T.I. have just waited and called a supervisor the next morning? Yes. But he was mad, justifiably so. I've seen worse behavior at the Apple store.

The guard called the police. But instead of de-escalating the situation and ensuring that a man who was denied access to his own home was able to get the name of the guard, they "wrongfully arrested" him, as his lawyer said, and charged him with three criminal acts: disorderly conduct, public drunkenness and simple assault. In Georgia, simple assault includes intense arguments that make people think they could be harmed. He was released on bail.

A leaked video shows a cop saying T.I. was arrested for "acting a fool." Calmly and coherently, T.I. asks why he was arrested. The officer tells the rapper the guard didn't have to answer any questions or give his name. He tells T.I., "You shouldna came back."

So a guard can mistreat a resident and can refuse answers, but T.I. shouldn't have had questions. OK.

T.I. told the Blast that law enforcement in his neighborhood are "white cops in a very white area." He has a lifetime of experience as a black man. He's had his own experience with the prison system.

"They'd rather see me in prison than at Stanford," he raps on his song "I Swear." He's long known the deal. To wake up in this skin and simply live day to day is to resist supremacy.

We are forced again and again to validate our existence, to convince others there is no threat. To make them believe Black Lives Matter.

"The function, the very serious function of racism is distraction," Toni Morrison once said. "It keeps you from doing your work. It keeps you explaining, over and over again, your reason for being. ... None of this is necessary. There will always be one more thing.”

Over the last month, people of color have had the police called on them for:

Playing golf too slowly while black.

Taking a study break while black.

Showing up late to a college tour while Native American.

Having a cookout while black.

Eating at Waffle House (two incidents) while black.

Moving into their new home while black.

Inspecting a home while black.

Going to the gym while black.

Returning a purchase to Hobby Lobby while black.

Checking out of an Airbnb while black.

Walking with your baby in a park while black.

In some of these cases, police showed up and did the right thing. They saw the humanity in us and left us alone. In other cases, people got thrown out, threatened with arrest or actually arrested for doing nothing wrong except not being white.

Even when we're doing good, we're accused of bad.

Over the weekend, members of my sorority — Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc. — were cleaning a Pennsylvania highway. Our motto is "Greater Service, Greater Progress." A state trooper pulled over, accused them of fighting and asked for their IDs. He claimed he received a call and then admitted he was lying. He was simply suspicious. We can't even give back to the community without being criminalized.

Wednesday is T.I.'s son Major's 10th birthday. Many of us watched him grow up on VH1's "T.I. and Tiny's 'The Family Hustle.'"

His greatest gift this year is the very fact that his dad made it home alive. And it comes with a lesson to grow on: Racism is a fact of black life.

On his song "Black Man," T.I. raps: "We say black lives matter, you say all lives/But y'all ain't the ones gettin' hogtied/Persecuted, executed, one day it gon' be time for retribution/Hope you don't ever see your son in an institution." David Goldman AP

Jeneé Osterheldt is a Kansas City Star culture columnist. On Twitter: @jeneeinkc