Atlanta, Jan 22: Maybe, like the pronunciation of tomatoes, some things -- like jaywalking -- just don't travel well between the United States and Britain.
A British history professor has caused a stir in Atlanta, and back home in Britain, over his arrest this month after he tried to cross the road outside an Atlanta hotel where he was attending a conference.
Felipe Fernandez-Armesto has complained his arrest was a "violent assault."
According to a police report, officer Kevin Leonpacher, working off-duty for hotel security and wearing a jacket marked "Atlanta Police," blew his whistle for Fernandez-Armesto to stop crossing Courtland Street in central Atlanta on January 4 and directed him to a crosswalk.
The historian ignored Leonpacher who then asked "as many as ten times" for Fernandez-Armesto's identification. When he refused and instead demanded Leonpacher's identification, the officer made an arrest, the report said.
"I asked him to put his hands behind his back so that he could be handcuffed .... He pulled away and began to wrestle with me. After about a minute I was able to wrestle him to the ground ... as I called for backup," the report said.
Fernandez-Armesto said he was not aware it was an offense to cross the street at that point.
"I was an absolutely innocent person. I am very sorry to have crossed the road when I shouldn't have and to have failed to recognize he was a police officer but I cannot find anything I did as not the normal behavior of an honest person," he said in an interview on Friday from Tufts University near Boston where he is teaching.
Fernandez-Armesto was detained for eight hours before being taken before a judge who dismissed a charge of disorderly conduct.
The case might have ended there. But in an opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution last week, the historian said being "assaulted by the police and locked up for hours in the company of some of the ... dregs of the American underclass" had taught him something new about the country.
"No one truly knows a nation until one has been inside its jails," he said, quoting former South African President Nelson Mandela, although he added he was well treated by staff at the jail and by the judge.
Subsequent comment in the newspaper and on the city's talk- radio shows was largely unfavorable to the historian.
One letter called him an "arrogant Englishman," although the newspaper said in an editorial the incident had "bruised Atlanta's reputation as a ... city known for Southern hospitality."