How do you like “post-racial America” so far? I, for one, can’t tell the difference. Last week, Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested outside his own home in Cambridge, MA, after returning to the States after a trip abroad. He had locked himself out of the house, so he and his driver (who is also black) pushed against the front door in an attempt to enter.
He eventually got in, but police soon arrived because a passerby had called 911. According to Gates, the cops entered his home without permission and demanded identification. He offered his ID and asked the cop to identify himself; according to Gates, the the officer refused. Then, according to the police report, Gates began “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.” Naturally they had to arrest him for not quietly submitting.
“These actions on behalf of Gates served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed,” the police report said. For heaven’s sake; we can’t have that on the streets of Cambridge. Gates is a well-connected man and a prominent resident of Cambridge. The charge against him was dropped yesterday, presumably due to pressure from the community. Most victims of police harassment are not so lucky.
As you may have guessed, I am not inclined to believe the police report. But some authoritarian-types will give the police the benefit of the doubt no matter how much evidence points to their corruption or stupidity. I have read a lot of stories and blog posts about the Gates incident, and seen far too many people insist that Gates should have known better than to stand up for himself. Police apologists claim he was out of line and had no business causing a ruckus.
Of course, you’ve got to be careful when dealing with the trigger-happy police, but that doesn’t make it right. A lot of people accuse Gates and his supporters are “playing the race card.” Because black people aren’t in any position to give an “objective” report on racial profiling or racist brutality. White people say it can’t be happening because they don’t see it.
Well of course white people don’t see it! It’s not happening to them. And since it’s not happening to them, to the “objective” individuals in society, it’s either not happening at all or there must be a good reason for it. It reminds me of how men don’t believe women who complain about street harassment. “Strange men tell you to smile? That’s absurd! I don’t do that and I’ve never seen that, so you must be imagining it.”
It’s happening. It happens when there are no witnesses. The powerful abuse their positions and in extreme cases, innocent people die for Existing While Black or having the audacity to believe they have civil rights.