Monday, September 21, 2009
The Skip Gates Debacle
Odd first topic, I know. But I want to discuss this issue and because it is somewhat time sensitive material and I must hit it before it completely drops out of the public consciousness. So, everyone knows what happened and my initial reaction, before hearing all of the details of the situation, was "Damn, all the money, status, and intelligence in the world can't get you past racism at your very own doorstep." It seemed like just another incident of the police's well-documented tendency to abuse their power for no other reason that to reaffirm to the Black community that they can still do whatever the hell the wanna do to us as long as they have the badge on. I guess incidents from the videotaped beating of Rodney King all the way to the videotaped shooting of Oscar Grant were not strong enough messages; they were "nobodies." Why not go straight to the top and arrest Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, who is on the short list for most intelligent and influential Black men on the planet at his very own doorstep for being frustrated that his door wasn't opening smoothly. As u've probably guess, I've been harassed by the police and put nothing past them at this point. But upon further review, there was some wrong done on both sides. Therefore, rather than unnecessarily flexing their ridiculous power for no reason, they unnecessarily flexed their power because Skip Gates made some pretty stern smart-ass comments to the cop. So to truly get to the bottom of things, I decided to formulate questions that I would have asked it I was also invited to come to the White House to have a few beers and discuss the situation:
Question #1: How do you arrest someone for disorderly conduct in their own home?
After further review, the 911 caller did not make any assumptions or say anything controversial on the 911 call, she was legitimately concerned because she saw shoulder used to open a door and wasn't sure if there was a key involved. In some kushy Cambridge neighborhood, i fully understand how the cops may be called for this. However, once the police arrive and make it into the man's house and see his pictures on the way, they should have turned around and left. I'm not sure when Gates's smart ass mouth and angering comments started in the incident, but it's still abuse of power to arrest him for being a jerk. To my understanding, disorderly conduct requires one of the following: a public threat to members of the general population, a threat to the police themselves, or some type of extraordinary disruption in public. Being that an almost 60 year old, 5'7" Black man who walks with a cane is not a threat, and this entire incident happened on his property, these conditions have not been met no matter whether he makes a "your mamma comment or not." I could understand if this was some 6'5", 260 lb professional athlete; if he gets mad and loud, a policeman may legitimately feel threatened. I call this an abuse of power because if I, a civilian, am out and about and some guy who I do not know comes up to me and is making comments about my mother or some other offensive jabs at me, I will get mad or frustrated, but my best course of action is to let it go and go about my business. If I hit him, the fact that he was a jerk will not protect me from assault charges. Therefore, I do not think that him acting like a jerk warrants being arrested on your own property, the policeman's best course of action once he learned that it was Gates's house was to leave.
Question #2: How does Skip Gates, a racial relations professor at Harvard, not know how to deal with the police?
I could not have been more than about 12 when my father first had a conversation with me about what can happen when a Black man does not know how to act around the police. I was not nearly at the age to drive yet when I was told, with a straight face, that you stay calm and don't make any sudden movements around police or you could very easily get beaten, tased, or shot. FIVE YEARS BEFORE I GOT MY LICENSE. So I'm very sure that Gates, who was born in 1950 and lived through more racially tense times than I have, has discussed these things with students in his classrooms. He is very aware that the national image, largely among financially well-off non-minorities (the people who run the world), is that the police should not be punished for their actions in the quest to keep the citizens safe from harm. They have not been brought to justice for their actions because they still make the aforementioned people "feel safe." Personally, as a 6'2" athletic Black male, I feel a lot safer in a room full of guys who look like me with misdemeanors and minor felonies to their names than I do in a room full of policemen. Unless he thinks the fact that he has become wealthy and successful has changed policemen's perception of him, Gates knows this better than I do. So although I do not believe he should have gotten arrested, his actions in yelling and throwing out "Yo Mamma" insults at policemen is completely unacceptable and if he were not at his own home, I think he may have gotten tased or beaten; I know I would have if it was me.
Question 3: Why should President Obama, who despite being mixed has undoubtedly dealt with racism, have to apologize for calling the policeman's actions "stupid"?
I guess I understand that in his position at the forefront of the civilized world, Obama has to be overly diplomatic about anything he says. But there are certain moments where I feel his true emotions have surfaced and I appreciate the legitimacy of his worlds in those situations. When he called Kanye West a jackass for his actions at the VMAs, there was no speech writer involved, that was 100% what Barack thought of the situation. Similarly, when he heard about the Skip Gates arrest at his own home, he probably did what I did. That is, thinking "what in the world do I think a person has to do to justifiably get arrested at his own home?" And because he couldn't imagine Gates doing those things, he probably assumed it was an abuse of power and there's no way on earth that the charges will stick, making it a "stupid" arrest. There was probably some nostalgia about bad experiences with police and not fully knowing how stupidly Gates also acted that contributed. But I still feel like the apology was more out of obligation than legitimately rescinding what he felt about the situation.
Question #4: What planet does Larry Elder live on where he believes that Black men making it to positions of power constitutes racism being over?
I saw a video on worldstarhiphop.com where Larry King hosted Michael Eric Dyson (one of my favorite Black intellectuals with Cornell West), Judge Joe Brown (whose overall demeanor I admire), Ben Stein (I drew a blank too), and Larry Elder (who I had heard of but did not truly know much about beyond being an intellectual) to talk about the issue. By the end of the segment I was honestly outraged by some of Elder's perspectives on this issue. He insinuated that because the US has a Black President, Massachusetts has a Black governor, and Cambridge has a Black mayor (admittedly impressive) that racism is no longer a factor in the interaction between Black people and policemen. Furthermore, it is reported that Gates had just returned from a long trip from China and had to deal with problems and changes on a cane getting back home from his long trip, and all of a sudden his door is stuck even with his key being used. In Elder's eyes, his frustration is completely unwarranted but the policeman has every right to arrest someone for annoying him when he's had a long day doing his job. This ain't New York PD, Los Angeles PD, New Orleans PD, this ain't even Boston's department, this is Cambridge, home of Harvard; although workdays are long for everyone, I would imagine that the everyday requirements of a Cambridge policeman are much more relaxed and less strenuous than those of a policeman from one of the aforementioned police departments, so that doesn't fly with me. And last, to add to the outrageous nature of his statements, he listens to Joe Brown (a judge) tell him how technically, Gates had no legal obligation to either let them into his house or present identification according to the law, then listens to Dyson speak about different bad experiences he has had with the police making him conscious of how they abuse their power interacting with Black men, he even listened to Larry King and Ben Stein (two of the whitest people in America) say how wrong they the police acted, and stated that he's repeatedly been stopped and questioned by the police when he has done nothing wrong but says that these incidents had nothing to do with race but were instead just coincidental events of the police randomly questioning people to preserve safety for the general public. I was flabbergasted. I showed it to my older brother, he couldn't even watch all of it.
Needless to say, I think I may have changed the tone of the conversation if I asked these questions to each individual during their beer-drinking group therapy session at the White House. Even trying to be diplomatic and account for Gates being an asshole to the cops, the actions of the policemen combined with my prior negative perception of some policemen (not nearly all, but higher percentage than I'm comfortable with) still leads me to believe that they acted "stupidly" and it shouldn't have happened.
Some would call me paranoid, but I've been called worse...