A Professor, a Policeman, and the President

Harvard Professor Henry Gates. Booking photo released by the Cambridge, Mass., Police Dept

There is no need for me to retell this story.  You can read all about it in the New York Times or turn on the TV, the story is everywhere.  When it comes to race in this country there seems to be no shortage of opinions.  However, there are a few things worth noting here before reaching an opinion.  First, one must consider all the facts and not simply make up your mind based on a knee-jerk reaction.  If your are African-American it might be simple to accept Professor Gates’ story without question.  As the President noted, black have been disproportionately pulled over and arrested in many parts of this nation.  If you are white you might roll your eyes and completely accept the officer’s story.  Perhaps both versions are the truth “from a certain point of view.”

If you have ever been pulled over by a police officer in the middle of the night and randomly searched you might understand the distrust so many have for police.  I tend to distrust traffic police, myself, having been tricked into exiting at a closed exit only to have the officer replace the cones after pulling over four exiting cars.   The officer threaten to arrest me if I exited my car (I expect he feared I would photgraph him positioning the cones.) In spite of my protests the judge would not even allow me to speak in court.  Having never encountered a problem with other flavors of the police, I tend not to be as suspicious of them.

The Professor

Professor Gates Book signingMoving back to Professor Gates, let’s take a look at the Professor’s background.  According to the Harvard website, Gates is the Professor and Director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard.  He is also the Editor-in-chief of the Oxford African American Studies Center, a publication dedicated to the news and culture of African Americans.  In 2002, (IMDB says 2002 while Harvard shows 2004, I even found one review placing it in 2003, IMDB is generally accurate,) Professor Gates wrote and produced the PBS documentary, American Beyond the Color Line. This documentary examines the history of and contemporary state of race relations in the U.S.  He concludes that Hollywood is a hotbed of racism, although he does detail improvements in these relations as well.  The story is told nearly exclusively through interviews with prominent black Americans, so naturally the story is from an African-American perspective.

The Policeman

SgtCrowleyNow let us look at Sgt. James Crowley of the Cambridge Police.  Crowley taught a class on how to avoid racial profile at the Lowell Police Department for five years.  He was hand picked to teach this class by the Ronnie Watson the former Commissioner of the Cambridge Police.  Watson is an African American.  Sgt. Crowley was described by Academy Director, Thomas Fleming, as “a role model” and “very professional.”  Perhaps the best testimonial for Sgt. Crowley comes from fellow officer and witness to the events at the Gates’ home, Sgt. Leon Lashley, a black officer.  Lashley described Gates’ behavior as “a little bit stranger than it should have been.” When asked if he supported Crowley’s decision to arrest Professor Gates, Lashley replied, “100%.”

The Incidence

ProfessorGatesArrestPerhaps Gates was tired as Lashley speculated, but I suspect Gates was predisposed to expect racial profiling.  When Crowley explained he was “investigating a report of a break in progress,” Gates shot back, “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”  Clearly, Gates was mentally defensive toward law enforcement and never considered that the officer might just simply be doing his job.  After all, we must understand Gates entire career is built on the premise of racism in America.  His response nearly echoed the theme of his writings.  The overreaction Gates produced would make me wonder if there wasn’t a hostage situation in the other room and perhaps Gates was attempting to get arrested in order to get away from the intruder.

Obviously, Crowley is much more experienced in racial relations and in dealing with these situation, as he appears to have not jumped to arrest Gates.  According to his official police report, he prepared to leave and told Gates he was leaving.  Gates claims Crowley silently turned and left.  I don’t doubt Gates failed to hear anything Crowley might have said.  If the report is true Gates was yelling over Crowley the entire time.  Once outside Gates continued loudly accusing Crowley of being a racist.  Sgt. Crowley twice warned Gates that his disorderly behavior would get him arrested, but no doubt Gates in his rage was unable to hear this warning.

I don’t doubt Gates’ version of the story is anything but true from his perspective, while I also accept Sgt. Crowley’s report as completely true.  The police report is corroborated by other officers at the scene as well as bystanders.  It is sad that Gates has so brain-washed himself with his own negative stereotypes of white police officers that he jumped to the conclusion that Crowley was there because he was a racist.  For Gates, the officer at his door was not there to protect him and his property, but rather he was standing there to harass and torment him.

The Racism

There is absolutely no difference between Professor Gates’ reaction to Sgt. Crowley than that of a white store clerk who carefully watches black patrons due to the conviction that the patron must be there to steal something.  Racism continues to be a problem in this country and this incidence should highlight black racism in America.  However, this aspect of the story is likely to be lost to a biased media that believes racism comes exclusively from whites.  Racism can come from any race and can be directed against any race.  It is wrong and it should be the focus of intense introspection for all of us.  Now is the time for the African American community to address their prejudices.  Have they been victimized, yes.  Is that justification to reverse the racism, no.  As a nation with a bi-racial President it is time to end the racism and move forward not try to turn the tables.

The President

MLKJr-IHaveADreamThat brings me to the most unfortunate example of racism in this story.  President Obama, obviously taking his cue from Congress, decided Wednesday evening to weigh in on this story without having read the report or even having the facts correct.  He responded from his personal prejudice.  He assumed Gates was the victim of “every black man’s nightmare.”  President Obama demonstrated his racial bias, otherwise known as racism.  Image a white President, a white Professor, and a black police officer.  Now imagine if that President were to say, “black cops often harass white citizens, so it is logical to assume the black officer acted stupidly.”  Now imagine the ensuing press coverage and your own reaction.  Flash back to reality.  President Obama has no problem trotting the globe, apologizing for America, yet finds it impossible to apologize when he acts “stupidly.”

I see race relations as a two way street and the best way to operate in those relations is the very way we keep being told we cannot.  That is to be colorblind.  We should not make race a deciding factor in any decision and we should punish anyone who does, even for the best intentions.  I look forward to the day when people “will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”  Obviously, neither the Professor or the President have achieved MLK Jr.’s dream.

  1. Let there be no mistake. Racism knows no bounds. More than any other community, I have seen more racism come out of the reparations-seeking segment of our society than from anywhere else. This is no different.

    In light of the fact that all of us had equal opportunity to learn about the “latent tendencies” of Mr. Obama, the revelations he now gives the public from the presidential podium should really come as no surprise.

    For those who really cared to notice, they would have gotten a hint by studying Mr. Obama’s 20-plus year relationship with the Rev. William Wright. One only has to ask themselves why it took those years to finally – ahem – “come to terms with” – Mr. Wright and his bigotry. Why did it take Mr. Obama so long to dis-associate himself from Mr. Wright? It’s simple. “Birds of a feather.”

    Then there are those haunting and insightful quotes dropped during the campaign, but ignored by the hypnotized press and adoring voters.

    “I ceased to advertise my mother’s race at the age of twelve or thirteen, when I began to suspect that by doing so I was ingratiating myself to whites.” – Barack Obama

    “I found solace in nursing a pervasive sense of grievance and animosity against my mother’s race.” – Barack Obama

    Racism is not limited to just the white population and the black community is not immune. The “teachings” of Reverend Wright shows that a segment of the black population can also be guilty of racism. The hypocrisy is self evident>

    People can and should be judged by the company they keep. No? What would you think if my best friend were the Grand Dragon of the KKK? Hmmm? What would you think if I befriended radical thinkers who planted bombs at the nation’s capital?

    Simply put, Reverend Wright and Mr. Obama are racists. The failure of Obama to distance himself from the Reverend and this church says it all. It shouldn’t have taken 20 years to do it.

    Veiled racist and in-your-face anti-American rants by leaders who falsely preach hope and opportunity are not what this country needs.

    • I’ve read The Audacity of Hope and found several reasons to agree with you. I found myself actually feeling sorry for him. I saw a man who wanted desperately to connect to a father he never knew. In his quest he encountered an American black experience that had nothing to do with his real father but he embraced it as a way to connect to his father. He bought the rhetoric and the hatred if not in whole at least in part. The most telling and sad story he tells is of an encounter he had with a young woman who, like him, was of mixed race. He was inviting her on a date to see a radical black activist but she wanted no part of racism and told him she embraced all sides of her ancestry. Obama found himself repulsed by her attitude and writes that he felt sorry for her and accused her in his book of hating her black side. In his thinking, when someone of mixed race does not reject their white side it must mean they reject their black side. On the contrary, mixed race children should be the bridge upon which we build the future. As I told one of my 15 yr old son’s friends, “you should embrace both sides, you are a very special and beautiful person because of it.”

      Obama appears to be torn, thinking he has to identify with his black side. He really should wake up to the fact that he is unique. His experience and heritage can be a uniting factor if he could only let go of the hatred he allowed himself to be exposed to for so very long. He was not raised a racist or by racists. His Grandmother might have been distrusting of a black man but it was likely fear of the unknown not hatred of someone because they were different.

      My own Grandfather grew up with little interaction with blacks. All he knew were stereotypes. When my father invited a black college student to live with us for a year we took him to their home, he ate dinner, watched football, talked about faith, and sports with them and we learned about one another. My Grandfather told us he had grown as a person even though he was in his 70s. He told us he repented of all his stereotypical thinking and prayed he would never judge anyone by the color of their skin. The best way to overcome racism is to eat with them, talk with them and breach subjects that might be taboo. We have to see that everyone is human like us. They might have different politics but they laugh, they love, they hurt, and they need respect.

      I pray often for Obama and I hope he can someday come to terms with the fact that he is not a black man, he is not a white man, he is a bridge and he should act like one. He should love both his mother and his father’s race.

  2. WOW! Talk about calling a spade a spade! You actually dropped the “r” bomb on the POTUS! Nicely done! Is reverse racism just desserts or just racism. Whether it is in the White House, the house of justice at the Supreme Court, a house of worship, or a professor’s house in Cambridge, Mass., it’s still racism. Odd that we are seeing it more an more come from the other side now. With the election of Mr. Obama, we were told that we would become a post-racial country. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth!

  3. Well thought out post. Thank you. BB

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    • Kayla
    • April 10th, 2014

    Its sad but its so true. The thing is the President is not the total power, there is the senate, cosnergs and all that. Barak Obama has always and always will be a powerful man. He goes on tv to let them know it.

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