The “Mission: Impossible” series returned to theaters this weekend, prompting a press tour that led franchise actor Ving Rhames to recount another real-life recurring story in America — that of a black man being accosted by police for attempting to enter his own house.
Rhames shared his story on Sirius XM’s “Clay Cane Show” on Friday. As the actor told it, he had just returned to his home in Santa Monica and was watching ESPN when there was a knock at the door. Wearing only basketball shorts, he rose to answer it.
“I get up, I open the door, and there’s a red dot pointed at my face from a 9-millimeter, and they say, ‘Put up your hands.’ Literally,” he said. “Now, I just walked and opened up the door.”
The police, he said, told him to open the door with one hand and exit the house. One officer kept a pistol trained on him as he walked outside, where Rhames found another officer, the captain of police and a police dog.
Suddenly, one of the officers recognized Rhames — not because he was an actor but because the two men’s high school-age sons played against each other in basketball. The situation de-escalated, but Rhames naturally wanted to know why they came to his house in the first place.
“He said to me, ‘A woman called 911 [and] said a large black man was breaking into the house. And so we came,’ ” Rhames told Cane.
Santa Monica Police Department Lt. Saul Rodriguez confirmed the incident in an interview Sunday with The Washington Post, but he said it happened on July 29, 2016. Rhames said in the interview, “This is the God’s honest truth. This happened this year.”
Rodriguez also said that the weapons did not include the type of laser sight or any other equipment which would project a red dot.
The department also released an official statement through its Facebook page that bore many similarities to Rhames’s account:
On July 29, 2016 at about 1:52 p.m., Santa Monica Public Safety Dispatch received several calls from residents of a possible residential burglary in the 800 block of 23rd Street in Santa Monica. The reporting parties indicated a black male was seen entering a residence and did not live there. Officers from the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) responded to the area with the information available to them. Within minutes, officers arrived at the residence. As officers were assessing the residence, they encountered the resident at the front door. Officers recognized the resident and the situation was quickly de-escalated with no use of force occurring. The resident was identified as Ving Rhames.
The statement added that after the incident, the department launched a program called Meet Your Neighbors “to address situations such as this. The program was designed to encourage neighbors to step out of their comfort zones and get to know each other over coffee, ice cream or block party. The Santa Monica Police Department encourages neighbors to become familiar with each other to avoid similar situations.”
If the situation sounds familiar, that’s because it is.
Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s most prominent African American scholars, was infamously arrested in 2009 for trying to force open his own locked front door. “This is what happens to black men in America,” Gates said at the time. More recently, Starbucks CEO Kevin Johnson was forced to apologize after at least six Philadelphia Police Department officers arrested two black men at one of the chain’s shops. A white employee had called the police on the men, who hadn’t yet ordered because they were waiting for an associate.
Though police apologized to Rhames for the incident, he said it instilled in him fear for his children’s safety.
“What if it was my son, and he had a video game remote or something, and [the police] thought it was a gun, just like Trayvon [Martin] had a bag of Skittles?” he said.