Thursday, July 23, 2009

On Being Black in "Post-Racial" America II: Channeling Dave Chappelle

Before I get to what I really want to discuss, I want to put a few things out there. First, I think that there needs to be more in-depth discussions on all sides on the issue of racial profiling. Second, I would love, desperately, to see the number of crimes perpetrated by black men drop precipitously, and see that drop sustained; they screw it up for all of us law abiding black men. Finally, I want to point out that I believe that there are some who think law abiding black men exaggerate these issues surrounding law enforcement. On this, I think American history is the best evidence, and that history, coupled with too many fools committing crimes, does inform this issue. More often than not, the feelings of violation and shame after encounters with law enforcement are real, and they are based on legitimate experiences.

Now to my original point. A friend of mine sent me this link, an ABC News segment on the Skip Gates imbroglio. When I finished watching it, I felt a little unsettled. We really don't know what happened between the officer's arrival and Gates arrest. It's the classic case of a story with three sides (in this case, Gates' side, the officer's side and the truth).

Finally, a possible scenario hit me. What if this is an example of Dave Chappelle's skit "When Keeping it Real Goes Wrong?" Work with me on this. Gates has had a long trip home, and he is beat. He then realizes that he can't get into the house. The neighbor sees some, what she deems, shadiness happening and calls the cops. Cops arrive once Gates is home. Is it possible that what happened with Gates is akin to the following?

What remains a mystery to me is why, after it was established that Gates was in fact the resident of that house, it didn't end right then and there. And, I don't think that the arresting officer is a racist. I just don't. I just wonder if the Chappelle idea is potentially informative.

If somehow we learn that I am close to right, then BHO may have to backtrack on his comments from last night's press conference. They did not go over very well with the Cambridge law enforcement community, I am sure.

And, if I am close to right on this, then sadly, the usual will happen. Actually, it's already begun. Charges of race hustler will fall on Gates, thus dismissing all past and any future legitimate problems associated with racial profiling. This is because, for some, whatever a black person has to say that challenges the notion of everything being just this shy of utopia in America is suspect. On the other side, Gates becomes a saint, and law enforcement officials will continue to be treated as suspect, because, for some, their worst fears will have been confirmed about "racist" cops.

It's amazing what a little time and reflection can do to one's position on an issue. I still hold to much of what I wrote on this subject before, but I now offer an update and a new angle. I am tired of the usual, and I know I am not alone.


Anonymous said...

I agree completely. I don't think he's racsist. I think he lost his cool and so did Gates. Neither sides are going to back down. What makes me the most uncomfortable is it is SUMMER. When we look back on the seasons in which people come undone over race, it is usually summer. High unemployment doesn't help...hey people need shit to do! FOX news is running the words "studpid" over and over again...working up all the folks who aren't happy with BHO. This is shaping up to be a good ole mess.

by d.b.

Micheal Sisco said...

The confrontation should have ended as soon as Gates produced the requested ID. It should have been the following.
"I'm sorry for the inconvenience, sir. Have a nice day."
Any further invective would have been directed at the officer's back, as he walked back to the squad car and drove away."
Case closed.
But unfortunately, police officers -- a lot of them, anyway -- believe that the citizenry OWES them respect, OWES them subservience. Taking someone to jail becuz he said "yo mamma?" Really? I understand that law enforcement is a stressful occupation. I understand it's a "face death job every day" kind of thing. But in Cambridge? In a well-to-do neighborhood?
Like Oprah trying to get some shopping in after closing time, this one is gonna get weird and stoopid -- really fast.

femmenoire said...

BHO sometimes speaks before he thinks. And sometimes he is a little too casual for me. One previous example is when he made (in very poor taste) the joke about Special Olympics. It was a poor choice of words for BHO to say that the officer's actions were "stupid". This little slip has now catapulted this discussion into another realm.

Racism and racial profiling are still real issues. In this case, I am beginning to feel that it was not racial profiling at all. The officer involved actually teaches a class on racial profiling, and apparently gets high marks for his teaching abilities. So, perhaps this is a case of two men who lost their temper. Again, I believe apologies are probably warranted on both sides.

Clancy said...

People who are completely aware of racism and racial profiling can still act on racist impulses and profile. All too often, we're too polite or blind to feel comfortable calling someone a racist. I'm fine with that, but don't be afraid to judge someone's actions in that respect.

As a white man, I like to believe I'm not a racist. However, as race and racism are cultural constructs and America is a racist (or race-obsessed) society, I cannot help but to have been shaped by that culture. Our ability to defeat racism has to come from whites (and others, I don't want to single out just one group) getting past the label and focusing on the underlying emotions, thoughts, and actions. Recognizing when race/racism is playing a role in a situation is 9/10ths of ensuring misunderstandings such as this don't get out of control. Which is what Officer Crowley's training should have taught him.

More than anything, this officer seems to have been obviously acting well outside of his training. He allowed the situation to get personal rather than keeping it professional. For Gates, confronted by a police officer in his own home, it was always going to be personal. It's incumbent on the officer to make sure he doesn't join Gates there.

What is more, this is clearly a case of what is commonly referred to as "contempt of cop." And, while this form of "justice" is meted out across the racial spectrum, it disproportionately hurts minorities, who many officers feel owe them a special level of deference. Gates berated Crowley in front of his colleagues. In the end, Crowley let it get the better of his emotions and clearly decided to show this guy who was boss.

Fiona said...

I guess I'm a little confused about the link. I didn't see anything in the ABC report that suggests that Gates was out of line, nor did the officer give any further information.

Did I miss a link?

hscfree said...

@Fiona: You didn't miss a link. It was merely a feeling that made me wonder, and some of that was based on encounters with Gates that people I know have had with him (he apparently can be a bit on the arrogant and self congratulatory side). There was something about his body language and demeanor in the portion of the clip that showed his interview with CNN's Soledad O'Brien that made me go down the Chappelle Show road.

Scott said...

I donno if racism had any part in any of this. Could be. Donno.

What I'm left with is the thought that the definition of "disorderly conduct" may very well be, "the refusal to kiss a policeman's butt."

Anonymous said...

As a former law enforcement officer, I would often be confronted by beligerent people. However, as long as there was no physical/verbal threat, to myself or anyone else, I'd ignore the mouthing off. Unfortunately, it came with the territory. After confirming ID and verifying residency, I would have thanked Gates for his time and left. Now retired, I have a security co. I hire people for tact and diplomacy and brains, not brawn. We do concerts, bounce at bars and public events. We train, train and train some more on how to diffuse situations, not escalate them as the officer seems to have done, based on the reports. If one of my staff had reacted like the officer, I would have sacked him.

Anonymous said...

Let's not forget the officer is PAID to NOT take comments personally. Moreover, how does anyone know, conclusively, that the officer is NOT racist? He may/may not be and I'll give him the benefit of the doubt. However, while he might not be a card-carrying member of the KKK, his perceptions of racialized people and their "deference" to police are still informed by society. My opinion is that he is most likely racist...but my opinion doesn't matter. What does matter is the training officers receive to handle situations like this, as diplomatically, as possilbe. He should have said "Sorry to trouble you" and left! It's outrageous that his dept is defending him!