Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Who in Hell Left the Gates Open?! [Updated}

Update: This is the most recent info I could find. Now. There are several out there who feel the whole ordeal was Gates's fault, that had he just complied with the police and been polite, he wouldn't have been arrested - police don't like to be shown up no matter what the other person's race is. All that junk, you'll have to google on your own.

Smooth Criminal (Radio Edit) - Michael Jackson

Me? I hope this finally convinces those individuals who believe that it's not about race as much as class that race does indeed trump class. I personally don't believe the police account that Gates became combative and accused the police of racial bias - mostly because Gates doesn't believe in the overarching construct and impact of racism. But assuming Gates did become belligerent, do the cops really arrest every person who becomes belligerent. Are there no white people who became belligerent with cops and didn't get arrested? I know that's not the case because I've already read a few personal accounts to the contrary.

And it's widely documented that white people accept more disrespect or combativeness from other white people than from people of color. It's also widely known, amongst black people at least, that any sign of resistance will be met with a billy-club and handcuffs. Like I said, I can hardly imagine Gates being belligerent. And the plain truth is he could've done everything the police asked and been as perfectly polite as Emily Post instructs, that does not mean that a request for the cops name and badge would not be met with handcuffs. Or maybe, considering all the cases of police brutality that I've seen and heard, I just think a black person has to give 110% effort at demonstrating their cooperation and respect for the police. Including but not limited to keeping your hands visible at all times. I mean for real. I know of a 19-year-old black guy who was the passenger in a car driven by a white person, and the black guy ends up dead. I'm not even sure the white driver was arrested. I know of a situation where a woman was in some kind of state of medical emergency, I can't remember if she had overdosed on some drug or was in a diabetic shock, but she was shot several times by the police and killed even though, and the police say because, from start to finish she did not move.

The other issue that convinces me this was about race is the neighbor. I mean, why was it necessary to describe the possible thieves as "black?" Whatever it may be and whatever the race of the neighbor, there are racial implications and reason for describing a suspect as "black." Maybe you didn't know you had any black neighbors and you're using the descriptor to indicate the people you're calling about don't belong there. Or, maybe you know that saying "dangerous black male" will get a quicker response. And just who is this neighbor and how long has she been living there? Maybe it's because I've lived in the same neighborhood all my life, or because my eyes are wonderfully healthy, but I'd be able to recognize my neighbors across the street even if it were just by their silhouette.

But there's another issue to address, and this no matter how racism-deniers (You know, like holocaust-deniers? My term, my term.) respond to this, is what it says to black kids and maybe even all kids of color. White people don't know it, but within the black community, adults do stress the importance of education. Work hard, go to college, be the best "you" you can be. We tell our young people that the sky is the limit, they can become whatever they want to become, racism is an obstacle but it has been, can and will be, overcome. In fact, I go as far as to say one of the many strategies of assault on racism is to use education to learn how the "system" works and be able to manipulate it, whether from the inside as a lawmaker criminalizing racial profiling or from the outside as a community activist. But here's the hard-hitting truth, the part of Pres. Obama recent speech to the NAACP that mainstream media ignores: at the end of the day, no amount of education or success can shield you from racism. And especially if it's coming from US senators during your confirmation hearing on your nomination to the Supreme Court and you're a wise Latina woman.
I just heard about this. Just heard about this. Here's what racismreview has to say . . . my thoughts, and a Michael Jackson song, later.

Racism in Cambridge: Harvard Prof. Gates Arrested
Posted by admin on Jul 21st, 2009 2009

Jul 21Arriving home after a recent trip to China and struggling to get into his own home in Cambridge because of a jammed door, esteemed scholar of African American Studies and Harvard Professor, Henry Louis (”Skip”) Gates, Jr., was arrested by police. According to one report (h/t @BlackInformant for a couple of these links), this incident began when someone alerted police:

A witness, 40-year-old Lucia Whalen of Malden, had alerted the cops that a man was “wedging his shoulder into the front door” at Gates’ house “as to pry the door open,” police reported.
None of the reports I’ve read online describe Ms. Whalen’s race, or why someone from Malden was doing calling the cops about a man entering his own home in Cambridge, but apparently it was her call that began this series of events. Here’s what happened next, according to several reports, this one from HuffingtonPost:

By the time police arrived, Gates was already inside. Police say he refused to come outside to speak with an officer, who told him he was investigating a report of a break-in.

“Why, because I’m a black man in America?” Gates said, according to a police report written by Sgt. James Crowley. The Cambridge police refused to comment on the arrest Monday.

Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him,” the officer wrote.

Gates said he turned over his driver’s license and Harvard ID – both with his photos – and repeatedly asked for the name and badge number of the officer, who refused. He said he then followed the officer as he left his house onto his front porch, where he was handcuffed in front of other officers, Gates said in a statement released by his attorney, fellow Harvard scholar Charles Ogletree, on a Web site Gates oversees, TheRoot.com.
As this story has begun to get out on the web in the last 12-24 hours, it seems to be touching off a tsunami of outrage at the persistence of racial inequality in the U.S., even for one of the most well-known and accomplished scholars. If this could happen to Skip Gates, at his home in Cambridge, Mass., it does not speak well for the state of racial progress in the country as a whole. As Rev. Al Sharpton said, “If this can happen at Harvard, what does it say about the rest of the country?”

But, make no mistake, this outrage is not universally shared. Almost as soon as this story broke, the undertow of white backlash to the reality of racism began to counter the outrage. For example, Bruce Maiman, writing at The Examiner, contends that the Cambridge police were just doing their job, responding to a call about a break-in to a home, and that Prof. Gates escalated the situation. Here’s Maiman:

So I ask you: Who’s the person who caused this encounter? Professor Gates is now being represented by another distinguished law professor from Harvard, Charles Ogletree, and they’re going to claim that this cop was racist and mishandled this situation because the fact that a black male was involved.

I don’t see any racism, do you? Tell me where? No names were called. Nobody was hassled or pushed around. Legitimate requests were made and cooperation was not forthcoming from a man, Henry Louis Gates, who know better than most people on this planet what happens when you escalate a confrontation with the police. But he does it anyway.

Is there racial profiling in America? Sure there is. But if you justify the behavior of Henry Louis Gates because other black men have been hassled by other police officers unfairly and thus you assume every black man has a right to a chip on his shoulder every time he meets a cop, you are asking for trouble.

This doesn’t appear to be racism. It sounds to me like a colossal case of extraordinarily bad judgment on the part of a distinguished African American historian who happens to teach at Harvard, and who certainly should’ve known better.
Here, Maiman’s interpretation of these events is completely steeped in the white racial frame. He says, “I don’t see any racism” and, of course, he can’t from the WRF. He only sees a black man “with a chip on his shoulder,” not the racist behavior of the cop. Maiman further diminishes Gates by referring to him as someone “who happens to teach at Harvard” and questions his judgment because he “certainly should’ve known better.” Known better than to what, try and enter his own home? Maiman is simply wrong on the facts here, and wrong on his interpretation of the events. Maiman is like other whites, as philosopher Charles W. Mills writes, “unable to see the world he has created,” unable to see how his not-seeing-racism contributes to the problem of racial inequality.

The research on the racial inequality in policing, arrest, and incarceration in the U.S. is starkly clear (as we’ve recounted on this blog hundreds of times): those who are black or brown, particularly men, are much more likely to be stopped, frisked, harrassed, arrested and convicted than whites. And, this inequality in criminal ‘justice’ is part of a larger pattern of racial inequality that operates systematically throughout U.S. institutions. The irony, for those that have followed Gates’ scholarship closely, is that he has tended to downplay the significance of institutional racism in the contemporary U.S. Reports are that Gates’ is “shaken” by this experience, as anyone would be. This is a horrifying, and yet all too common, experience for black men in this country. Perhaps Gates’ next volume will be called “Harvard Professor, Still a Suspect.”

More good sociological analysis on this case (and others) from City College Prof. Dumi Lewis, here.

As a history student, and nerd, I know Gates and hold him in fairly high regard. However, I've always been disappointed in his views, or maybe his lack of outspokenness, on systemic racism. I wonder if this will do anything to change his thinking. Though, regardless, whatever it matters and to the extent that I can, I got his back like black.

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