President Barack Obama
Professor Charles Ogletree
Professor Henry Louis Gates
Is Racial Profiling Dead or Alive?
A White police officer arresting a Black man is no big deal–it happens every day–but when the arrestee is a respected Harvard professor and the incident occurs inside his house, is it racial profiling?
By Yussuf J. Simmonds
Sentinel Assistant Managing Editor
The arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates, the renowned Harvard scholar is not an everyday occurrence. One has to stop and wonder: What did he do or not do to trigger being hauled off to jail in handcuffs? It has re-energized the conversation about race, racism and racial profiling; police misconduct, police brutality and police harassment; Black accountability, Black responsibility and Black criminality; it has re-opened wounds and scars that were never healed. Once again the racial divide is revealed despite the presence of an African American president and an African American governor of the state where the incident took place.
What’s next and can any good come out of this? President Barack Obama called it “a teachable moment.” His critics and many in the law enforcement community lambasted the President for referring to the arrest as “stupidly” while stating that he did not have all the facts.
There is a saying that reasonable people can and do often disagree and in America, Black and White sometimes view the same set of circumstances and arrive at diametrically different conclusions. And the history of this country (past and present) justifies that difference.
Renowned Harvard Law Professor Charles Ogletree is Gates’ attorney. Ogletree is well known for his work in defending those whose rights have been violated under the color of authority. And as one who has mentored the President Obama and Michelle Obama, while they were at Harvard, he is eminently qualified to handle the Gates incident.
CNN news commentator, Roland Martin has stated that the reason that the charges against Gates have been dropped is because “it was not a proper arrest.” It was also precipitated by a recommendation from the Cambridge Police Department (the arresting agency) to the Middlesex County district attorney (the prosecutor) to enter “nolle prosequi,” which means “there will be no prosecution.”
This matter goes far beyond a single arrest; it has historical ramifications and justifications. Without citing specific incidents–and there are too many to recall–whenever a Black man is confronted by a police officer, history has shown that there is a potential for that meeting to get ugly despite racial sensitivity training, consent decrees and proportional “minority” representation. And since status, education, wealth and all these superficial realities are not immediately perceived or apparent, the only recognizable trait is race. Then what happens next could easily be construed as racially motivated–especially if the confrontation escalates and turns brutal and/or violent. In many instances, the Black man pays the ultimate price from what was a seemingly routine encounter with police.
And law enforcement officials never would admit that they might have made a mistake unless they are forced to under oath in a court of law. (The blue code of silence is legendary).
Even some who blasted the president’s ‘stupidity’ remark calling for an apology and a review of the arresting officer, Sergeant Crowley’s radio call to emphasize Gates’ alleged loudmouthed belligerence, had to take a step back when the audio tape and Crowley’s report were made public.
According to Professor Ogletree, Gates’ attorney, and the tape of Crowley’s radio call, the sergeant knew who Gates was before he handcuffed him and took him to the station. It appeared that he wanted to humiliate and embarrass Gates, the Harvard professor.
President Obama has called for the two men to meet at the White House, to drink some beer and discuss the matter in an amicable atmosphere. Professor Ogletree has stated, “I think the president has taken the right approach by trying to make sure we move forward. He’s always had the ability to negotiate difficult conversations.” The ‘beer summit’ is schedule for Thursday evening at six p.m. EST.
The teachable moment called for by the President can be viewed from the positions of two prominent psychologists, Dr. Brenda B. Wall and Professor David W. Rice.
As an African American male and a professor at Morehouse College, Rice could certainly visualize himself being similarly confronted by police. “These are important moves forward, but the cultural and institutional racialized norms that inform individual behavior are not erased,” he explained. “Profiling exists, the mundane type that will get you a brick-cold walk because you’re unable to hail nine cabs on the way to a studio to record a radio segment in Washington, D.C., the day after President Obama’s inauguration, and the type that will get you murdered with 41 shots, 19 hits in a Bronx vestibule grabbing for your wallet.”
And as an African American woman and the mother of a Black man, Dr. Wall has studied the interactions of Black males with White police officers extensively, has been in private practice, a professor and has worked in the federal correctional system. “Notice how no one wants to be accused of racism and everyone has a position that is legitimized based on personal experience,” she chimed in. “No concessions and Sunday morning analysis reflect the paralysis that gets stuck on racial disclaimers and assertions of innocence,” she continued, “The trauma of being accused of racism rivals the actual trauma of racial abuse and victimization.”
President Obama’s call for a teachable moment has given this story a life of its own as the feeding frenzy continues–some constructively and others…..well, there are others. His election to the nation’s highest office signaled, in some areas a post racial society. Reaction to the Gates incident demonstrates that there is still a long way to go.
Veteran civil rights attorney Connie Rice said. “We need to understand when race is operating at a sub-conscious level and also overtly, and I don’t think we’re being honest with ourselves when we try to pretend it isn’t there.”
And in accepting to meet with Sgt. Crowley, Professor Gates issued the following statement: “My entire academic career has been based on improving race relations, not exacerbating them. I am hopeful that my experience will lead to greater sensitivity to issues of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. If so, then this will be a blessing for our society. It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience.”