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Being black in the ‘post-racial’ age

July 22, 2009

The discipline of humanities, especially as it is practiced in the U.S., frequently talks about trauma, the ‘traumatic event,’ histories of trauma, and so on. You know what I found traumatizing? The police mug shots of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., arrested to humiliate him for lack of subordination to the arresting officer.

I don’t know Dr. Gates personally. I’ve anecdotally heard him described as conservative, Republican, etc. It doesn’t matter to me what his political convictions are: overnight in the city of Cambridge he became an automatic bandit.

Here is a letter from a former campus policeman in Utah on the incident itself. The only issue I take is with the last line, which focuses on cops as ‘non-biased’ people, rather than focusing on the system that produces cops in the first place.

‘Okay, I’d like to say first of all that I worked for the police department of a small college town for seven years. So usually I’m on the side of the cops against the arrogant “Do you know who I am?” types of professors.

‘But this is absolutely unacceptable under any possible explanation of police conduct. Dr. Gates has the right to tell the cops not to come into his home, and to leave his home. He has the right to ask the officer for his name and his badge number, his supervisor’s name, and the police department’s phone number. He even has the right to say, “I pay your salary!” although I wouldn’t recommend it. Once he’s shown his ID to the officer, the officer should apologize, do the PR song-and-dance, and get out. No other course of action is acceptable. Arresting Dr. Gates or anyone else on disorderly conduct charges when all that’s happened is that he’s expressed displeasure with police behavior and wanted to make a complaint — well, that’s so out of line, I can hardly believe it.

‘Just because Gates calls racism out a lot doesn’t mean that the people he calls out aren’t racist. I hope he sues the police department and costs that officer his job. I know it must suck to be embarrassed at one’s home, to have a huge stink made in the papers, and all the rest. But I’m glad that this officer chose to pick on someone with the resources to make it never happen again, instead of spending a career happily harassing the powerless because he can.

‘The majority of cops are good, non-biased people. But frankly, none of them would have done this.’

(Updated: photo from Mr. Bone.)

4 Comments leave one →
  1. July 24, 2009 13:11

    Gates in The Root. He comes off as an idiot.
    And there’s a second police statement by a latino officer and there are already attempts to psychoanalyze him. Rationalism without facts.

    If you have no patience with zionists howling Nazi at every minor act of personal disrespect -and lets be clear: I have none- why not the same with Gates? He’s a rich man who’s made his life explaining black people to white people [and in this context Jews are white-in other contexts not] He plays the victim card then gives his audience the opportunity through association with him the be called a “righteous gentile.”
    Every time I hear his voice I cringe.
    Moral lectures from the greedy striving petit bourgeois
    yargh!

  2. southissouth permalink
    July 24, 2009 13:29

    There is a dominantly held belief in the U.S. that money and class erase race (for a recent example: CNN’s BLACK IN AMERICA series, 1 & 2). That moneyed and classed black people may themselves engender this view (e.g. Gates’ surprise that he was stopped despite he and his driver wearing nice clothes) was not the main point of the incident, at least for me. The main point is the dominantly held belief itself. That and getting arrested in your own house in order to humiliate you for perceived arrogance.

  3. July 24, 2009 15:50

    He could have been the estranged ex-husband. Having nice clothes shouldn’t exempt you from being questioned by the cops.

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – A black police officer who was at Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s home when the black Harvard scholar was arrested says he fully supports how his white fellow officer handled the situation.
    Sgt. Leon Lashley says Gates was probably tired and surprised when Sgt. James Crowley demanded identification from him as officers investigated a report of a burglary. Lashley says Gates’ reaction to Crowley was “a little bit stranger than it should have been.”
    Asked if Gates should have been arrested, Lashley said supported Crowley “100 percent.”

    …CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) — A multiracial group of police officers on Friday stood with the white officer who arrested a prominent black Harvard scholar and asked President Barack Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick to apologize for comments the union leaders called insulting.
    This is all rationalization based on the idea of racism. It’s all generalization. True or not, specific events are just that: specific.

    There is also a belief in the U.S. that race erases issues of money and class. Gates’ career is based on it. The facts as describes by all sides state that Gates didn’t like the cops doing their job. . But they did nothing inappropriate.
    They asked him to come out of his house in the open where it was safer for them. He refused. He got defensive. This is what happens to black men in America! Don’t you know who I am!
    They didn’t care and neither do I.
    They could have left and ignored him being an abusive asshole, but they didn’t. That’s the judgement call,

  4. joseph bone permalink
    July 24, 2009 17:43

    Once he showed his i.d. that connected himself to the house, the incident should have ended with an apology from the police officer, but it’s the trouble with asshole cops that you cannot talk back to them. My suggestion is to cut the police budgets all across America at least 50%, I’m tired of living in a police state, we’re not Isreal.

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