Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Gates Jr:Over reacted or Racial Profiled?

Picture this, two men are seen, by a neighbor, trying to break in the front door of a house. The “alleged” break takes place in Cambridge, Massachusetts. To add to the drama the two men “allegedly” breaking in are both black. A female neighbor, attempting to be a Good Samaritan, calls the local police to report the “alleged” break-in. To her surprise she finds out the next day that the two men “allegedly” breaking in were the resident of the home and a person driving him home that night. Now enter the officer on duty responding to the call of an alleged break-in. To make the situation more combustible, let’s say the officer is white.

This very situation took place at 17 Ware St. in Cambridge, MA. The resulting conversation between the office and “alleged” break-in artist spawned a flurry of headlines and accusations of racism on the part of the officer.

LA Times headline – “Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrested. Seriously, Cambridge?”

Boston Herald – “Al Sharpton rips Cambridge cops

Associated Press – “Black scholar’s arrest raises profiling questions.”

ABC News – “Prominent Black Scholar Arrested After Racism Charge

Boston Globe – “Racial talk swirls with Gates arrest

Funny how the media focuses on the allegations made by the man arrested and not on the particular situation at hand. According to the police report, as cited in the Boston Globe article listed above, “A visibly upset Gates responded to the officer’s assertion that he was responding to a report of a break-in with, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”” The officer put in his report, according the Boston Globe, “Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was ‘messing’ with and that I had not heard the last of it.”

Now why in the world does Mr. Gates feel the need to add to an already volatile situation with the “Do you know who I am” routine? The officer is responding to your home because someone in the neighborhood felt it was being broken in to. To add to the confusion to the emotional conversation, Mr. Gates responded to the officers repeated request to speak with him outside with, “Ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside” (Boston Globe.7/21/09).

S. Allen Counter is quoted in the Boston Globe as saying, “This is very disturbing that this could happen to anyone, and not just to a person of such distinction. It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment.” Really? S. Allen Counter is a Harvard Medical School professor and ought to know better than to make a statement like this. Once again, let’s look at what brought the officer to the location. Two black men were “allegedly” breaking down the front door of a home which prompted a nearby neighbor to call police to investigate.

Lawerence Bobo, a Harvard sociologist, told the Boston Globe that “Gates ‘did ask him some pointed questions, like: ‘Is this happening because you’re a white cop and I’m a black man? Is this why this interaction is still taking place?’” Bobo went on to say, “Who’s not going to feel upset and insulted when a police officer won’t accept the fact that you’re standing in your own living room?”

Gates was only arrested after he followed the officer out of the house accusing him of racism. Gates is set to be arraigned on August 26th. The Boston Globe did have the police report available on their website but took it down according to Damian Thompson of the Telegraph. Damian Thompson does speculate why the Boston Globe pulled the report by writing “It’s absolutely fascinating. It doesn’t just depict Gates playing the race card; it describes him flinging a whole pack of 52 cards at the officers” (Telegraph.co.uk, 7/21/09) Unless the report resurfaces we will have to wait until the arraignment to find out what was actually reported.

In the meantime, if an officer of the law stops you and asks you a question or two just comply. As was the case with Fong Lee, had Mr. Gates just shown the officer his ID and been compliant he would not have been handcuffed and taken to jail. Instead of showing respect for the law and being a pillar for the youth, Mr. Gates was upset because his neighbor called the police on an apparent break-in and the officer asked, perhaps demanded, for proof of residence and did not arrest Mr. Gates until he continued the verbal barrage and racial accusations upon the officer.