Monday, July 27, 2009

Racial Profiling: Henry Louis Gates vs. James Crowley – Who’s right, who’s wrong, or can they blame the nosy neighbors?

In what was a relatively local event that started with a 911 call about two black men who appeared to by trying to break into a house in a Cambridge, Massachusetts neighborhood, the nation will now have a long overdue discussion about racial profiling. As it now appears, this is not a simple case of a young white police officer hassling a black man and presuming that because he is African American that he’s got to be up to no good. It also appears this is not an incident of a white police officer answering this call and not following proper procedure.

This story is now several days old but the discussions continue. Distinguished Harvard scholar Dr. Henry Louis Gates, who also taught at Duke University for a time, came home and discovered that he either left his keys inside or left them somewhere else. He and another man tried to gain entry through other means. A person in Dr. Gate’s neighborhood sees these two gentlemen at the house, looking through windows and other doors, makes a call to 911 to report suspicious activity. Arrives Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley with another officer (who is African-American) and begins to interact and question Dr. Gates. Dr. Gates becomes upset and the rest of the story unfolds.

So, who is right and who is wrong? It seems that Professor Gates overreacted when questioned by Sergeant Crowley. This isn’t to say that he was in the wrong, but it probably could have gone much differently if he hadn’t. And what about Sergeant James Crowley? He’s been a police officer for more than 10 years and he has taught at the local Police Academy about Racial Profiling and how to avoid those policing practices. This story went to a totally different level when President Obama, the first African American elected President of the United States, made the statement that he thought the police acted “stupidly” in this situation. The President has sense walked that statement back and has invited both to the White House for a beer. In all the ruckus, the one thing that I haven’t read or listened to about this event is the person who made the 911 call.

Now, they should remain anonymous because to identify this person or people that made the 911 call would set a bad precedent and would negatively impact the ability to bring criminals to justice. But, how well did Professor Gate’s neighbors know him? Did Professor Gates interact with his neighbors or did they try to get to know him? Even if Professor Gates and the neighbors did know each other and spoke civilly, when they see a black person around someone’s home is it their first reaction to call the police even if they think they know who it is? There are still lots of questions being asked and the national discussion has begun on racial profiling, but does Professor Gates have a good reason for being defiant, defensive and assuming a bunker mentality whenever he might be questioned by police?

Here are some things to consider about being black in America. Around 26% of the United States population is non-white as of 2007, with whites making up the majority at 74%. As of June 30, 2007 there were 2,299,119 inmates in jails and prisons in the United States. 70% of all prisoners are non-whites. Nearly one million are in prison for non-violent crimes. Over 93% of all prisoners are male. As of July 1, 2007 there were 40.7 million African American residence in the United States, making up around 13.5% of the total United States population. Out of all African American Males between the ages of 25 to 29, about 10.4% were in jail or prison compared to 2.4% of all Hispanic males and 1.3% of all white males.

Here are some other numbers to consider about being black in America. According to an article by Philip Walzer of the Virginian Pilot this past weekend, 14.7% of all African Americans were out of work in June of this year in the United States, compared to 8.7 percent for all whites. Historically, the African American unemployment rate has always been higher than whites and other non-white minorities. But this was of significance because of the current Recession. Nationally, around 30% of whites have at least a bachelor’s degree while around 20% of African Americans do. Barely half of all African Americans and Hispanics graduate from High School, 58% for Hispanics and 54% for African Americans, while nearly 78% of white students graduate.

These are some very sobering numbers to consider. There are white people out there that will roll their eyes and say “Give me a break. Stop already. They (those people) need to take responsibility for themselves and quit blaming others for problems they bring on themselves and blaming white people for all their problems.” But, you cannot deny the disproportionate number of non-whites in this nation living in poverty, not graduating from High School, not going on to college, not graduating from college, and that are also locked up in our jails and prisons. 70% of all prisoners in the United States are NON-WHITE.

So, with all these numbers stacked against non-white people of the United States can whites still claim that they don’t see the color of a person’s skin when they decide to not hire a person or when they see a non-white person walking around a nice house in a nice neighborhood? Did Professor Gates overreact? Likely. Did Sergeant Cowley follow proper procedure? Probably. Does Professor Gates have justification for being defiant, defensive and assuming a bunker mentality whenever he might be questioned by police? With the numbers listed above, yes. Why wouldn’t he? He’s an accomplished and highly educated African American male. Why shouldn’t he be defensive and upset when questioned by police at his own home? But again, the people or person that called 911, did they see a Harvard Scholar or just another black male up to no good?

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