Tuesday, July 28, 2009

My Response to a Former Student Who Thinks Henry Louis Gates was "Trippin"

Since when is yelling at a police officer, and asking for his identification, grounds for arrest? Especially when you are 5'8" tall, 58 years old, and walk with a cane!

While you can question the wisdom, as well as the consistency, of Professor Gates actions, as well as his sudden emergence after years of silence, as advocate for victims of racial profiling, it is hard to justify his arrest as good police work

While it is entirely predictable that a police officer would arrest a citizen who questions his competence, asks for his badge number. and accuses him of racism, that doesn't make it legal and it doesn't make it right!

To me, freedom of speech is a more important value than the reflexive defense of police authority. Mark Smith's comment about Sgt Crowley motivations "he didn't want to be 'punked' in front a fellow officer", unfortunately is a tellingly accurate analysis of the police officer's motivation. The Sgt was not going to allow a civilian to disrespect him on the streets of his city and get away with it! If that meant arresting a sixty year old man with a disability who broke no law- and who also happened to be one of the most respected professors in the nation, so be it. What is true in the Bronx- just ask Rebel Diaz- is apparently true in Cambridge MAss- "asking a police officer for his badge number is an automatic trip to central booking."

So Dr Gates, welcome to the United States of America, where police officers have their own ways of dealing with people who question their authority.

At least you weren't beaten up in the station house,as I was 40 years ago,or in a back alley as has happened to some of my friends.

When you grow up a working class neighborhood, whether its black, latino or white, you learn very quickly that the police make up their own laws. And you don't expect it to change any time soon. Most people seem willing to give the police this kind of leeway on the grounds that they need to maintain respect on the street to keep criminals under control

If freedom of speech is a casualty, that's the price they are willing to pay.

I for one am tired of paying that price.

So thank you Henry Louis Gates for putting the issue of racial profiling and police misconduct before the nation more vividly than it has anytime since the beating of Rodney King.

I am not sure anything will come of it, but at least some people who didn't grow up in "the hood" are getting a much clearer picture of how the police really work,and how little "the law" -and the Constitution- serve as a guide to their actions!

Mark Naison