Monday, July 27, 2009

New York Daily News Fails Gates Arrest Test

The New York Daily News took an unacceptable and dangerous position in its editorial two days ago regarding the arrest of Harvard Professor Gates in Cambridge. By suggesting that the arrest might have been appropriate, the Daily News reinforced Mayor Bloomberg's race-based policing philosophy and contributed to the abuse that people of color are facing at the hands of the NYPD.

Daily News Fails Crucial Test

Saturday's New York Daily News editorial contained the worst possible interpretation of the arrest of Professor Gates in Cambridge and added to the problems we face in New York City.

The New York Daily News described the arrest of Professor Gates by an officer named Crowley with words that are consistent with everything that has been reported elsewhere.
To recap, Gates and his driver arrived at Gates' house near Harvard after a trip. The door lock had been jimmied and the door was stuck. Gates and the driver forced it open. A neighbor reported two men attempting to break in. Crowley responded. On the porch, he asked Gates to step outside. Gates refused. Crowley asked for identification and followed Gates into his kitchen, where Gates produced ID. All that appears to have been standard procedure for a police officer investigating a potential home invasion. But Gates objected to this treatment, reading the cop as hostile. What happened next is in dispute. Gates said he asked Crowley, firmly but not belligerently, for his name and badge number to file a complaint and wound up arrested. Crowley reported that Gates became highly agitated, warranting a disorderly conduct arrest.

The problem is how the New York Daily News addresses the arrest.

That the arrest of Gates, a 58-year-old who walks with a cane, appears to have been unnecessary, as Obama still believes, does not translate into "acted stupidly." Or into Gates' description of Crowley as a "rogue." Or into a charge that Gates had been arrested merely for being in his house while black." Or into Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick's description of the event as "every black man's nightmare." Then and now, Gates says he believes Crowley assumed him to be a criminal out of racial bias. He described in a radio interview what transpired after he showed Crowley identification: "I watched his face. He's trying to unpack a narrative that he has. This is where racial profiling came in. He was so sure that he had a catch. And all of a sudden he had to unwrite that story." Pardon us, but who was profiling whom? If anyone was.
  1. If the arrest of Gates in his own home for "disorderly conduct" is not "stupid", nothing will qualify, and being arrested in your own home for no good reason is indeed a recurring nightmare that black men face. But, the New York Daily News seems to have reviewed the nightmares of all of America's black men and comes to a different view than Manhattan Viewpoint.
  2. Professor Gates is under no obligation to avoid profiling a police officer who is challenging him in his own home. Professor Gates is a private citizen, with no gun, no governmental authority, and no power to arrest citizens. The officer had the gun and the power, and he chose to use that power to arrest a Harvard Professor for being "disorderly" in his own home.
  3. The only thing a police officer should be doing after realizing that he is challenging a citizen in the citizen's home is apologizing; he should not be looking for excuses to arrest the citizen. The obligation is on the officer (an not on the citizen) to ensure that the citizen's confidence in law enforcement is restored and that the mistake that the officer has already made doesn't create additional problems. Officer Crowley used his mistake to injure Professor Gates.
  4. The President was far too polite in his "acted stupidly" comment. Officer Crowley has refused to apologize. The President would be correct to ask how Black residents in Cambridge can feel safe with an unapologetic Crowley on the force. He is not a remorseful officer who claims that his misconduct was not racially motivated. He is proud of his arrest of a Black Harvard professor in the professor's home, and he needs to be taken off the streets before something much worse happens to another innocent resident of Cambridge.
  5. The New York Daily News is a New York City newspaper. In NYC, the current Mayor is seeking re-election, and that Mayor is on a pace to set a record for police stops of innocent people of color, despite the fact that stops of white New Yorkers are twice as likely to result in the recovery of illegal guns or drugs. In NYC each year, 2% of the innocent white residents are stopped by police, but 21% of innocent Black New Yorkers are stopped by police. Despite all of this, the New York Daily News fails to connect the police misconduct in the Gates arrest with the daily abuse of innocent New Yorkers of color by the Bloomberg NYPD. By suggesting that the Gates arrest might have been appropriate, the New York Daily News endorses the race-based police misconduct directed by Mayor Bloomberg every day, and the Bloomberg police misconduct is too dangerous, too de-humanizing, too unconstitutional, too racist, and too prevalent to be tolerated in our great city.
NAACP Demonstrates Leadership

The NAACP announced its position regarding the Gates arrest last week. The NAACP observed that "even after Professor Gates turned over his IDs, and told the officer that he was the owner of the residence, he was arrested on the front porch of his own home, allegedly after exhibiting 'tumultuous' behavior. It is an experience familiar to millions of black Americans who are subjected to racial profiling, arrested, and jailed nationwide each year. Many of them are incarcerated for much longer than the four hours and fifteen minutes that Professor Gates was held."

The NAACP called for the following immediate changes with regard to law enforcement in Cambridge.

  • A comprehensive anti-racial profiling training program for law enforcement personnel in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
  • Race and gender sensitivity and diversity training for law enforcement personnel.
  • The immediate formation of a Police Accountability Citizen Complaint Review Board. This board should be invested with the resources, subpoena power, and independence to investigate reports of misconduct, abuse, and racial profiling by city law enforcement officers; and with the ability to make recommendations for the resolution of complaints.

These NAACP suggestions represent solid leadership and constructive efforts to make the best of a bad situation. The President and the New York Daily News should learn some lessons from the NAACP about the appropriate approach to the abuse of Professor Gates by the Cambridge Police Department.

How Would a Fish Know What "Wet" Is?

If fish live only in water, how can they understand that they are wet. Similarly, white Americans typically struggle to understand "white privilege" because white privilege surrounds their lives the way that water surrounds fish. Non-white are often helpful in explaining white privilege to white Americans, but a white scholar's discussion of white privilege is probably a great place to start. Peggy McIntosh of Wellesley College wrote "White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack" in 1988.

Of the 50 examples of white privilege offered by Professor McIntosh, three stand out as relevant to the Gates arrest discussion. Speaking in the first person as a white person, Professor McIntosh offers:

4. I can be pretty sure that my neighbors in such a location will be neutral or pleasant to me.
15. I do not have to educate my children to be aware of systemic racism for their own daily physical protection.
25. If a traffic cop pulls me over or if the IRS audits my tax return, I can be sure I haven't been singled out because of my race.
30. If I declare there is a racial issue at hand, or there isn't a racial issue at hand, my race will lend me more credibility for either position than a person of color will have.
32. My culture gives me little fear about ignoring the perspectives and powers of people of other races.
34. I can worry about racism without being seen as self-interested or self-seeking.

In a week in which yet another study demonstrated that people of color get lower quality medical treatment in the United States, even when the people of color have greater wealth and income than their white counterparts, we must look at policing as suffering from the same racial discrimination. While skin color trumps all other factors in determining the quality of medical care that people of color receive, doctors and hospitals are not proud of this reality. That may be the most frustrating white privilege, the white privilege to be healed when sick.

In NYC, the Mayor is proud of his record of record on stops and frisks of people of color, and the New York Daily News is too surrounded by water to notice that it is wet.



    This article in the NY Times by Bob Herbert expresses views shared by Manhattan Viewpoint. The title is "Anger Has Its Place", and the thrust of his message is that Professor Gates was justifiably angry and was arrested for expressing that anger. Such an arrest is unacceptable in the US, though it might be the norm in Iran.

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