A man taking photos of his teenage daughters on a New Jersey ferry was interrupted by a stranger, who asked his daughters if they were being exploited.
The photographer, Jeff Gates, was taken aback, but told the stranger that he was their father, which may not have been so obvious at first considering he is white and his adopted daughters Asian.
But that still wasn’t enough reason for the stranger to intervene.
However, the stranger later claimed to work for the Department of Homeland Security, which means he is trained to view anybody with a camera as a suspected criminal.
He later told Gates that he found him suspicious because he had been taking photos of his daughters hugging for 15 minutes.
But Gates has been taking photos of his daughters for more than a decade on the family annual retreat to Cape May as you can see in the above collage, so he obviously wanted to take the time to snap the perfect shot.
Gates wrote about the incident in a column for the Washington Post.
Would this man have approached us, I wondered, if I had been Asian, like my children, or if my daughters had been white? No, I didn’t think so. I knew I’d regret not going back to speak to him about what had happened. My wife warned me I might be asking for trouble, but I reassured her that I would be fine.
I walked outside to where he was standing and calmly said: “Excuse me, sir, but you just embarrassed me in front of my children and strangers. And what you said was racist.”
The man didn’t seem at all fazed. He replied: “I work for the Department of Homeland Security. And let me give you some advice: You were standing there taking photos of them hugging for 15 minutes.”
I see. So we didn’t fit the mold of what he considered a typical American family, and he thought my picture-taking was excessive, possibly depraved. How long should family snapshots take? He thought he was qualified to judge. I told him I was a professional photographer and take lots of photos.
“My wife’s a photographer,” he said. “I understand.”
“Then you should have known better,” I replied.He agreed to consider everything I had said. But he didn’t sound very sincere. When I had questions about his observations, he deflected them, hoping to manage my reaction with simple apologies, except they weren’t simple at all: He apologized; he criticized; and he apologized again.
There was nothing more I could say, nor did I need to hear any more explanations from him. I thought about asking for his business card or his name, but instead I just walked away, feeling exposed.
Gates should not only have demanded identification, but should have snapped a photo of the man, just to remind him that photography is not a crime.
However, several of the people commenting on the Washington Post article, reposted below, tell Gates he should have been grateful for the stranger’s intervention because he was only trying to keep his daughters safe.
But if the man couldn’t have figured out that nothing was amiss after 15 minutes of observing them, then he really has no business working for the Department of Homeland Security, if he was even telling the truth.
12:21 PM EDT
Get over yourself Dad. In today’s world, most people are taught to keep a close watch for behavior that is out of the norm. And this is out of the norm. it was not racism.
The man did the author a favor. Instead of saying something, he could have called 911 and reported a suspicious old white guy exploiting young Asian girls. He might have embellished it with lurid details which happens more often than one might think. Who knows how the police would have responded? It could have been real ugly. Talk about ruining a vacation.
12:25 PM EDTWhat’s the problem. I’d be flattered a perfect stranger took such an interest. And relieved that we still have people in our country who care about each other. He wasn’t a cop either. Get over it.
12:26 PM EDT
the man in question to me is what every citizen should be. He was looking out for those that might need help and not just turning a blind eye and walking away. If there were more people like him my guess would be we would start to see a drop off in crime. In a way I have done the same thing. I watched a man and a little girl in a resterant that didnt look right. I had planned to follow them out and see where they would go. The girls mother showed up and it was obvious nothing was going on. Grandfather daughter and grand daughterWould you want an army of people helping to keep yourt kids safe in public?
1:14 PM EDT
I sort of see your point – but really – what harm was done? It was a simple question – you answered – he moved on. So should you.Be grateful that someone actually cared to ask… how many times have we seen, heard or read about people looking the other way…
Relax and let it go…
1:15 PM EDT
If we’re going to look out for one another, what’s needed is reciprocal courtesy. That, and a recognition that we might get things wrong.In this case, perhaps the guy came on too strong. He probably could have done better, but nobody bats 1.000. When you set him straight the courteous thing for him to have done is apologize (sincerely), say a kind word about your family, and excuse himself. Perhaps then you could have accepted that his heart was in the right place, and ‘let him off the hook’. That would have closed the loop in a courteous manor.
It’s tough. Nobody wants to be a busy body, but I’d like to live in a world where people look out for each other (especially kids).
Maybe instead of aiming for the *exact* right words for each interaction or context, we should offer each other some wiggle-room when we’re wrong.
1:18 PM EDT
To the author of this article: Cut with the paranoia. It’s the world we live in. Stupid, I know. But better than abductions, human trafficking, etc. In another decade, this story will be part of the family laugh line. In our family, waitstaff frequently think my young-looking Latino husband has a trophy wife when he’d out running errands etc. with our more European-skinned 22 year old daughter. Creepy but what are you gonna do?
1:23 PM EDTThis guy was erring on the side of caution and was willing to take the risk of embarrassing himself and the family so that he could potentially help two young ladies from being exploited. Sex trafficking and exploitation are prevalent in the US. It’s probably true that this DHS guy wouldn’t have approached the family if the dad/girls were from the same ethnic group. The author of the article was right to turn this into a teaching moment for his girls and a moment of reflection for himself. I’m sure if his girls were being abused or taken advantage of in public in some way, he’d want a concerned citizen to intervene.1:27 PM EDT [Edited]You couldn’t appreciate the gesture as if your girls were in a bad situation that there are concerned people who would help them? He didn’t know your situation.1:36 PM EDTThis story falls into the category of “get over it”. If I felt the need the chronicle every weird encounter I’ve ever had, that’s pretty much all I’d be doing. Good grief.1:43 PM EDTThe father is overly paranoid and made a mountain out of molehill. What DHS guy actually said to the girls, “I’d be remiss if I didn’t ask if you were OK,” is very straight-forward. Dad is asking society to ignore the girls obvious Asian appearance. Dad has been hurt through the years by comments people have made, rightly or wrongly, and he’s now wearing it on his sleeve.Simply asking two teenage girls if they are OK … how can that be a bad thing?2:33 PM EDTSounds like a lot of whining. There are a lot of people who regularly exploit young women and girls in the US, and most of them are middle aged, white and men. That’s just a fact. Humans will never swallow this politically correct rubbish that the track record of an ethnic group does not count. It goes against every lesson any sane person has learned through life – that patterns are to be watched and the more common the pattern the more one needs to be concerned.We learned this as a species back in the caves, when we figured out which animals are tend to be more dangerous or less dangerous. It continues today and to try to teach folks otherwise will never, ever work.
If you want folks to treat middle aged white guys taking photos the same as, say, a young female photographer then convince the gazillions of middle aged white dirtbags to stop leading the pack when it comes to exploiting young girls. Failing that, deal with it.
2:32 PM EDT
We often hear of exploitation of Asian women that are brought here for illicit purposes – and if we heard that a ring was busted because someone noted a situation that seemed like it might possibly be of that nature – and some women had been liberated – then this guy would have been a hero. The only thing that was hurt here was someone’s feelings vs. the potential of saving some one from a horrible fate – but obviously the author thinks his feelings are more important – I’m surprised the way our society has developed that he didn’t want to hire a lawyer and sue