Saturday, July 25, 2009
Ultimately, I never believed Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was the victim of racial profiling when police in Cambridge arrested him for becoming outraged as officers investigated a report of a burglary at his address.
But while President Obama backs off from his initial statement in defense of his friend, that the police acted "stupidly," I still believe Gates was the victim of bad police work. And the arrest fits the bill of not being the smartest move on their part.
Police don guns and badges and have a responsibility to have the coolest of heads. When investigating reports of crime they should be aware of potential inaccuracies and biases of reporting witnesses, as well as emotional outrage of those falsely accused. It just seems apparent that by arresting Gates after having determined there was no burglary seems was done as a rap on the knuckles for his anger toward them. It just seems too personal.
If everyone involved were to have taken a deep breath, they would have seen this as a huge misunderstanding.
As information trickles out on what happened, we learn that Office Crowley had, in fact, facilitated training for police on how to avoid racial profiling. It isn’t far from fathomable that Crowley might have become just as irate at the remark Gates made about him being a racist as Gates was about being asked for identification in his own home. The guilt of profiling really belongs to the neighbor who sized him up as a robber, or more accurate it seems, the reporting agencies that ran with the theory before it had been proved.
It is probably true that either party might have been able to diffuse the situation, but I feel police - being the professionals - have the obligation to do so. They should be obligated to make arrests responsibly with an eye on justice, not just to stop a man from saying things that hurt their feelings.
Because ultimately what they are saying is that under no circumstances can you argue with a cop. You can not call him a racist and get away with it. You can only bow your head, say 'no sir,' and hope he goes away.
The thing that remains to be seen, however, is how the event will impact the real issues concerning racial profiling as it has become investigative policy for many police forces.
For instance, in Troy, NY, police are still arresting people of color in higher numbers than whites for traffic violations such as riding a bike without a bell or jaywalking. Not ticketed, not fined: ARRESTED. The idea being that there will be no public outrage for the innocent when drugs are discovered on a handful of the guilty.
That’s not justice, it is lazy police work.
As the nation focus’ its attention on Gates, I just hope the people involved can shine the light on real cases of racism for those who are relegated to the shadows.