The Henry Gates Incident
It’s certainly been a rather interesting few days here with the arrest of Harvard professor Henry L. Gates and the attendant accusations of racial profiling and racism being leveled at the Cambridge MA police department as a result. Here are a few of my observations:
Winning a war starts with choosing your battlefield. Choosing to go to war on the battlefield chosen by the other guy almost ensures that you will lose mainly because he knows his battlefield better than you do. Such is the case when dealing with the police. Since they can dispense “justice” as they see fit while on a battlefield they’re imminently more familiar with, it’s probably best to address injustice in a forum where one can win. It would have been far more effective for Dr. Gates to have waited to address any problems in another forum rather than confront Officer Crowley in front of his colleagues. Notwithstanding that, it was stupid for Crowley to arrest Gates and Gates was stupid for failing to choose the right battlefield.
Of course, as a one who has been stopped and searched by the police when driving while black, I can definitely relate to where Gates is coming from. This can be highly upsetting and insulting. The police often have difficultly distinguishing between the African-American criminal element and law abiding citizens and all too frequently, they’re not overly concerned with even attempting to draw a distinction.
During the extended Democratic primary campaign between Hillary and Obama, there was a consistent attempt mounted from the Clinton camp to force Obama out on the race issue beginning with the debate over whether Lyndon Johnson or Martin Luther King were more responsible for civil rights advances and culminating with the controversies around Jeremiah Wright. Of course, Obama bobbed, weaved and did everything he could to avoid being drawn into a race debate knowing full well that if he were drawn in deep, his chances of prevailing in the presidential race would be diminished. That worked fine up until Jeremiah Wright came onto the scene, but he ultimately survived the controversy by distancing himself and condemning Wright.
The game really hasn’t changed much since he prevailed. There are still some who’d like to force him out on the race issue. Now, the idea is to negatively affect his approval ratings with a divisive racial debate. At issue is the fact that the republicans are still smarting over their losses and would like to see those approval numbers down substantially as that would hem in Obama’s agenda. No doubt that some from this camp were prepared to seize upon Obama’s inadvertent entry in the Gates/Crowley fray by playing up Crowley’s and the Police Union’s outrage over Obama calling the arrest of Gates stupid. As of this writing, Obama has backtracked from the stupid comment and has arranged a sit down between Gates and Crowley so everyone, including him, can exit gracefully from this debate. That’s a very smart political move that will leave his opponents grasping for straws once again. Unlike Gates, he knows how to pick his battlefields. But it must be noted that while a sit down between Gates and Crowley might resolve their issues with each other, there are a number of other issues that won’t be.
We can’t talk about disparate treatment of black men at the hands of the police without also talking about the high incidence of crime in African-American communities. This justifies a high police presence and, in the minds of many, “justifies” the disparate treatment. If there’s a high police presence in an area due to crime, it follows that there’s an increased chance that people will be shot by mistake and/or abused at the hands of the police. When a third of all African-American males under age 30 are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, there’s a taint that follows every black man, whether justified or not. That’s just a fact. The paramount civil rights issue of the 21st century is the challenge of reducing crime in our communities. All else is secondary. That’s the first elephant in the room that no one seems to want to talk about.
But there’s more than one elephant in the room. We can’t talk about the high incidence of crime in the African-American community without talking about the high crimes committed by other people. This is especially so when one considers that much of the crime in the community is as a result of illegal drugs. According to www.DrugWarFacts.Org , the average drug dealer works a low wage job and sells drugs part time to obtain them for his own use. People like this and the gang members who wreak havoc in our cities are not responsible for the sort of criminal activity that goes to the very heart of the infrastructure of the illegal drug industry such as the wholesale importation of drugs and money laundering. They’re basically the “retail” link of a distribution chain that starts way before their involvement.
I consider it to be a high crime to spend this nation’s treasure to conduct a war to guarantee “Iraqi freedom”, when a citizen is not “free” to walk down his own street without fear of crime. How is it that the same government that claims to be adept at protecting us from terrorists is so clueless when it comes to the interdiction of illegal drugs? How is it that the same government that claims it has cut off the financing of terrorists by freezing and seizing accounts seems so outmatched when it comes to draining the swamp of laundered illegal drug profits? How is it that the same government that has spy satellites arrayed around the globe that can see the license plate on a car while orbiting miles above us somehow can’t train those satellites on those entities responsible for the wholesale importation of drugs into our nation? These are real questions that demand real answers. This is the third elephant in the room that’s beginning to get rather crowded with pachyderms. Actually, government inaction on this issue is one of the main things that the African-American community needs to be pressuring federal, state and local officials on.
You see, this incident with Dr. Gates is but a small corner on a huge supporting canvass of things that need urgent discussion. It’s doubtful that these topics will get much airing with Obama, Gates and Crowley breaking bread over a few brews, but I guess we’ll all feel better.