Friday, July 31, 2009

Agreeing to disagree (or you'll get arrested)

I have been interested in the Gates arrest since the President mentioned it in that health care press conference. That’s sort of obvious, I’ve posted on it here and if you read 2PJ you’ll see I have commented there as well. I think my views about this affair have evolved, so to speak. But before looking at specifics, let’s review a bit.

When asked about the arrest, I remember full well the President said he didn’t know all the facts, but then he ventured an opinion, saying he thought the police acted stupidly. He could have stopped at saying that he didn’t know all the facts, and maybe he should have, but then look at the issue on its face. Gates is a short, slight, older African American who walks with a cane. Granted, he could take a swing with the cane, but I think that would be pretty well telegraphed, and otherwise absent any other weapon he represented no real threat to Sergeant Crowley. Gates was in his own home. Now I have said previously that as a matter of common sense you don’t yell at cops, and I stand by that, as a matter of common sense. But remember that it used to be common sense for some people to own slaves, even though this is America. You really should act contrite and restrained in front of cops, but that doesn’t mean that is how things should be.

Then there are the facts that have emerged this past week. Apparently on the 911 call, the witness did not say the possible home intruders were black. I believe she has said that when Sergeant Crowley arrived at the scene she again did not say the possible intruders were black. And we have also seen Crowley’s report. Normally I would tend to believe a police report prima facie, but in this case, a black professor, a small man, arrested on his own porch, I think there is reason to believe that Crowley invented parts of the story and got his fellow police officers to support him on at least parts of their report(s). So I believe Crowley’s report says the witness said two black men to him (making it his word against hers), and that Gates was using a less cultured form of black vernacular than I suspect is Gates’ normal speaking manner.

Obviously Obama weighing in on this was a gift to Crowley and the Republicans. Now the Cambridge police department can not investigate this and Crowley can not be disciplined. In fact, the nation as a whole can not have its "teachable moment". I mean, we know there is a hard core of racists in this country who simply hate Obama (“birthers”?). But there is also a fraction (possibly a sizable fraction) of white voters who were able to look beyond Obama’s race, or maybe to believe he was the one black man who understood everybody’s problems, and so could not only get the country out of Iraq and save the economy, but get us all to understand one another. I suspect for some whites that meant they expected blacks to apologize for not realizing that only a few whites are racist and that most of us have moved on. Sure, the racist whites (apparently mostly policemen) should apologize too, but mostly blacks have all the opportunity in the world, if they would just apply themselves in school, learn how to talk and dress “appropriately” and try to get along. And stay away from our daughters (except for maybe that nice Denzel Washington).

Now Obama has gone and let down those whites who supported him because he was going to fix the problems of race. Turns out Obama is one of those "uppity" blacks who think that his people aren't getting a fair shake in America.

Watching the ABC news program on Sunday morning, the "roundtable" part, they talked a bit about the Gates incident. Predictably the conservatives stated that we have talked race to death. Then someone said the statement, and conservatives and liberals (to my great shame) cooed in agreement. The statement: “Well, we have elected a black President”. As if all African Americans can say, lawsy lawsy, we have made it. One of our own is in the White House.

Remember in the campaign when there was talk African Americans wouldn’t support Obama because he wasn’t black enough? Look, I will agree racism is dead when Garfield is just as black as it is now, but it’s average per capita income matches the City’s average per capita income. Until then, we need to keep in mind the difference between anecdote and aggregate.

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