Monday, July 27, 2009

Black vs White, Police vs Citizen

This is the mug shot of Henry Louis Gates when he was arrested the other day (July 16, 2009) for disorderly conduct. The charges were later dropped but apparently the mug shot was taken before that.

As celebrity mug shots go this one isn't so bad really. Gates doesn't look bad at all. In fact I think he looks pretty good for a 58 year old guy. He looks reasonable and mild mannered and even kind of scholarly which for a Harvard "scholar" seems to me to be a good thing.

I think about what I'd look like in a mug shot sometimes when I leave the house without my shower and have my cap on my head to keep my notorious (in my family) mad scientist hair in place. Because I know they make you take your cap off. Not that I would be doing anything deliberately to get arrested mind you. But sometimes I think weird stuff like that.

Now this picture (and no I do not have permission to post these because I didn't ask anyone - but they are all over the Internet) is not as kind to Dr. Gates.

Nope. He does not seem so kindly and calm and scholarly in this one.

But I wouldn't be very happy myself if I were standing on my front porch with 3 (at least) rather large police offers surrounding me and me in handcuffs.

This photo was taken by a neighbor by the way. Neighbors figure into this entire incident in a big way, too. The neighbor taking this particular picture is William B. Carter. Carter is also 58 and retired from Bank of America according to one report I read. Same report said he had earned $4,000 for the photo as of July 23rd. I thought that was interesting.

Another "neighbor" began the police involvement in the incident. Her name is Lucia Whalen. She's a fund raiser for Harvard apparently. She was in her office on July 16th and looked out her window. She observed a couple of guys trying to break open a door. She called the cops and reported the incident.

This is the cop who got the call.

His name is James Crowley. He's a sergeant and been on the force 11 years. He's 42. It has been noted that he taught about racial profiling and apparently that's supposed to be of some meaningful importance in the reporting of this incident.

Someone -- maybe many someones -- asked him to apologize.

He refused.

He said he acted appropriately and had done nothing wrong and so there was nothing for which he should apologize.

Then our President (and there's no need for a photo of him because his image is everywhere these days) got involved when asked about the incident in a press conference. He said the police acted stupidly.

Now given the facts of the incident as I have written them and as I understand them to be true it is predictable and understandable what subsequently happened.

Black people (not all but many) said the incident was all about white racism, defended the black victim, recited personal stories of their own encounters with white police racism, and so on.

Lucia Whalen was called a racist because she saw two black guys with backpacks breaking in a door and called the police. All police persons are already assumed to be racists but they were again called racists at every possible turn.

Police everywhere, but mostly white ones, said the President didn't know the facts and shouldn't have gotten involved and that they were not stupid and not racists and that they acted appropriately and so on and so on.

Pundits -- but only white ones -- said the President made a rookie mistake, derailed his health care program; said racism was alive and well in America and we have a long way to go; said it was not just about racism but also elitism (smart Harvard people versus dumb police officers); and a bunch of other stuff.

Regular white people that I know did not initially have too much opinion about the incident until it became part of popular culture. Then the opinions expressed were mostly that you shouldn't screw around with people whose jobs allow them to carry guns and handcuffs.

I've had several incidents in my personal experience that returned to my consciousness as a result of this one.

Long, long ago I was already at work in the wee hours of the still dark morning. My then wife heard someone trying to break in and called me and the cops. When I got home I rushed into the house and right out the back door. I was confronted by two officers with guns drawn on both sides. They had no idea who I was and made me raise my hands and stop. Then I had to prove who I was and that I belonged there. And let me tell you I made no sudden movements and was extremely cautious about every little move I made.

Years after that I and my entire family was home sick with the flu. Somehow we set off the alarm which was monitored and the monitoring company called the police. We straightened things out with the monitor but it was too late to recall the gendarmes. So two officers arrived at my front door and I answered in my robe and best illness marked appearance. The police had no sympathy and demanded -- yes demanded -- my ID. I had to return upstairs to get it and they accompanied me inside but let me go upstairs alone. I rested much easier when they left I can tell you.

Several times I've had to go to an office to meet police because of alarms and actual burglaries. I can tell you that in every instance the police (both men and women, black and white and other) have been at very high alert. There was palatable tension. And their tension alone made me have a lot of tension, too. Usually I was already tense because of the alarm.

A couple of times I've rather stupidly entered a dark warehouse or office alone when an alarm was going off. It is scary.

Truthfully I am kind of cynical about this entire Henry Louis Gates incident.

Not the original incident. I think it was just exactly what it seemed.

But I am suspicious of Gates' subsequent behavior. I think he may have taken advantage of what he perceived to be an opportunity for some publicity. Gates is apparently one of the smartest people in the world. It is hard for me to believe he did not understand or anticipate the result of his action.

And, yes, I do not think the cop was as smart as Gates and I suspect he did fail to anticipate and think through the results of his action. So, yes, I am being a bit stereotypical myself.

And the President of the Unite States? I am absolutely cynical that he "made a rookie mistake." These things are like performances and highly choreographed. And the President is also very smart. It is just hard for me to believe he didn't understand what he was doing.

You have to admit that Gates received publicity that you simply couldn't have purchased at any price. And it cannot be bad for his career -- which appears to be a professional racial victim advocate. And Mr. Obama is his friend. And you know what they say about friends in high places.

Now I don't know any of these people and if I did I might dismiss all my conjecture. It is only conjecture.

But everyone else is conjecturing all over the place so I figured I might as well, too.


Staci said...

I have to agree with you on your points. It seems to me that the people who cried "racism" in this event thought they had something to gain by doing so. And that includes the president. Kinda backfired on him though, didn't it? ha!

~Betsy said...

Flinty, the neighbor who initially called the police has retained a lawyer and released a statement. In her statement, she said she NEVER said there were 2 black men breaking into Professor Gates' home. She said there were 2 men - no description of race. Their backs were to her and she had no way of determining their race.

According to her attorney, the 911 tapes will be released shortly and will exonerate her from any racial statements.

I think this whole thing being mentioned at Obama's presser was intentional (all of the questions are presubmitted). It was to ignite racial tensions to help him in his sinking polls. I hope the whole darn thing blows up in his face.