Friday, July 24, 2009

Three Stupid Acts

Screw health care. The national discussion is our racial divide. So let's discuss the match which ignited the latest fire. Keep in mind not all the facts are in. I'm extremely curious to hear the 911 and police recordings of the Cambridge, Mass., incident.

The scene is a quiet residential neighborhood in which renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. returned from a trip and found himself locked out of his house. Someone called police reporting a burglary in progress. The cops arrived, claimed the man was verbally abusive, and even though determining he was the rightful owner, arrested Gates in connection with obstructing a police officer's commands and public disturbance. The charges were dropped.

Stupid Act No. One

Gates is black, a serious scholar on race relations. That doesn't give him license to verbally challenge a police officer and call police headquarters to talk to the chief because he is a person of equal status. Especially, before the cops said they had an opportunity to determine the 911 call was unfounded. And double especially when that same house had been reported burglarized weeks earlier while Gates was out of the country. It was Gates who initiated the race comment by both his admission and the police reports.

Stupid Act No. Two

While Gates' attorney said much of the police report were lies and misrepresentations of his client, police still screwed up on procedural matters. For one, the responding cops on the beat did not know the people on the streets they were protecting. Second, the sergeant who had Gates arrested failed to adequately size up the situation and allow time for people, especially Gates, to cool down. I must say the cops showed mercy on the older man who walks with a cane to handcuff his hands in front of his waist rather than behind his back. If you ever been cuffed, you know what I mean, but it is usually against police procedures.

Stupid Act No. Three.

Of course, it's President Obama's answer to a press conference question Wednesday calling the arrest of his old friend a "stupid act" by the cops. Obama backed off that comment today, saying it was a poor choice of words. Not stupid, but dumb on the president's part, was to jump into a racially sensitive situation without knowing all the facts. But, he is a politician at heart, and not answering the question directly would have pissed off his black and strongest constituency.

No question Gates, Cambridge police and Obama would like to put this whole rhubarb to rest, toast a beer to one another and sing Kumbaya. No one is about to lose face and apologize. It ain't gonna happen because this story has too many legs to stop running through the mass media and blogosphere.

The subject has hit a raw nerve and picked a scab off a thin veneer that has plagued our nation for centuries. This case is slightly unusual since the President of The United States, the first African-American, stubbed his big toe on it and the black victim who raised the race card is not some young bandana-bound-head-with- trousers- drooped- below- his- crotch punk.

Being the focus of racism no matter how slight or unintended is painful. As a white person, it is easy to sit back and pontificate that blacks and latinos too often complain about racism when stopped by a white cop.

And, that leads us to the heart of the problem cops must deal with and that is so-called racial profiling, a subject dear to Obama's heart when he was an Illinois state senator.

My years as a police reporter and following my son's 15-year career in law enforcement tells me profiling is an essential tool in crime prevention. All it is is a bunch of statistical details indicating the incident rate of ethnic groups committing particular crimes in a given area. If 75% of the crimes are being committed by blacks, the cop on the beat naturally will prioritize black perps.

My son will be the first to admit profiling can be abused by, you guessed it, stupid cops.

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