Cops Still See Black Males Through Biased-Lens
Can you imagine Noam Chomsky being arrested in this manner? I have the utmost respect for Professor Chomsky; but, you get the point. The silver lining hereâ€™s that Professor Gates wasnâ€™t gunned down in a hail of 41 or 50 shots. But it should shudder us all to the bone, because, that that could have easily happened.
[Speaking Truth To Power]
President Barack Obama said the Cambridge Massachusetts Police Department “acted stupidly” when it recently arrested distinguished Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates.
But aren’t police always “acting stupidly” in regards to Black folks?
This now infamous incident happened on July 16 after Gates came back from a trip to China. Apparently Gates, who was accompanied by his driver, was having trouble opening his front door and a “neighbor” thought a break-in—by “two Black males”—was in progress, and called police.
What happened next is in dispute. Cambridge Police claimed Professor Gates initially refused to produce identification and got testy, scolding arresting officer, Sergeant James Crowley, who told Gates they were investigating a break-in.
The police claim Gates responded “Why because I’m a Black man in America?”
Sergeant Crowley claims he warned Professor Gates his behavior was becoming disorderly, but the Harvard heavyweight continued to berate him. He also claims that Gates said something about Crowley’s mother.
Gates maintains he did provide his identification but that he demanded Sergeant Crowley’s identification, including his badge number, as he followed him outside. Gates was arrested on his porch. Gates said that he’ll use this incident to address the issue of racial profiling.
The issue of racial profiling within the white American criminal “justice” system is a deadly serious one. Blacks represent between 12 to 15 percent of the American population but account for 50 percent of the prison population.
In every aspect of American “crime” statistics Blacks are overrepresented. Are we to believe that’s just a coincidence? Or, are we to accept what many American bigots have been propagandizing since the early days of this country: African-Americans are genetically-inclined to engage in crime and at a vastly disproportionate rate to whites?
The arrest of Professor Gates is a classic example of the scope—and tolerance—of racism in America. Do you remember ever hearing of any white person, especially a pre-eminent scholar in America, being arrested in their house on a disorderly conduct charge? Can you imagine Noam Chomsky being arrested in this manner? I have the utmost respect for Professor Chomsky; but, you get the point.
Typically, under the disorderly statute a person can be arrested if they recklessly, knowingly, or intentionally (1) engage in fighting or tumultuous conduct (2)makes unreasonable noise and continues to do so after being asked to stop; or (3) disrupts a lawful assembly.
Now, on one level, elements of this statute are written rather broadly and vaguely. For example, what is “unreasonable noise” or “tumultuous conduct?” There’s a free speech question here too.
At any rate, in this instance, the disorderly conduct charge is a clear abuse of power. For one thing, the disorderly conduct charge makes no sense since Professor Gates was in his home. Shouldn’t one have the right to be disorderly in their home?
The message here is: in America only whites get to mouth off to cops and get away with it. Although, that is the reality the question is: in the era of Obama should we continue to accept this double standard? True, we should school our kids on how to avoid being arrested by police.
But we also need to exert more pressure in the political arena to force change within law enforcement. And in predominantly Black communities we must push for the implementation of residential police forces that reflect the demographic make-up of the people. We must demand that from bottom to top, from the beat cop to police chief, that those calling the shots are from the community.
This incident should be seen within the larger context of police brutality. The silver lining here’s that Professor Gates wasn’t gunned down in a hail of 41 or 50 shots. But it should shudder us all to the bone; that that could have easily happened.
Professor Gates is a small man about, five-foot-seven and 150 pounds. Imagine what could’ve happened if Gates was 6-6, 250-pounds walking towards Sergeant Crowley?
The arrest of Professor Gates is a clear example of the disrespect and racism this country has always had towards African-Americans. After all, it wasn’t so long ago that the police were helping Ku Klux Klan nightriders execute their campaign of lynching Black men. In 1964, 24-year-old Michael Schwerner and 20-year-old Andrew Goodman were murdered along with 21-year-old Black Civil Rights activist James Chaney. Sheriff Lawrence Rainey and Deputy Sheriff Cecil Price helped to facilitate these murders.
Now, its true America has come a long way, in race relations. But this asinine arrest torpedoes any remaining fantasy of America being a “post-racial” society. It also reminds us that prominence doesn’t spare you from racial indignities, once you wear Black skin.
Famed O.J. lawyer, Johnnie Cochran found this out while working in the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s office. One afternoon as he drove in his Rolls Royce, with his two young daughters, he was pulled over. The police ordered him out of the car with guns drawn and proceeded to search his car. "Well, talk about an illegal search and seizure!” Cochran exclaimed in The American Lawyer, where he retold the story. "These guys just go through ripping through my bag. Suddenly this cop goes gray. He sees my number three badge from the D.A.'s office! He's like, 'Ahh! Ahh!' They all go apoplectic. I never got stopped again, but I'm careful not to make any weird moves. I might get shot!"
Cochran played down the incident because he didn’t want to tell his daughters that the police harassment happened "’because of racism.’”
“I didn't want to tell them it happened because their daddy was a Black guy in a Rolls, so they thought he was a pimp. So I tried to smooth things over—As an African American, you hope and pray that things will be better for your children."
That’ll only happen when Black America declares war on institutional racism.
Benjamin is a member of The Black Star News Editorial Board.
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