Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Ridiculous Gates-Gate and the President of Us All

This country still has a bigtime problem with race that doesn't always end with a lynching. What it does end with is every pissed off cop who has a confrontation with a non-white person being accused of racism.

It seems to me that there are two prongs to this problem. One is that racial profiling does, indeed, exist and happens on a daily basis. If you are a Hispanic guy driving a BMW in a white area, you're more likely to be pulled over by cops who (at least to some extent) think you might have stolen the car. And if you're a black guy breaking into a house in a very nice neighborhood where a neighbor called the cops about a breaking and entering, you're going to be treated with suspicion.

This brings up the second prong of the race problem, and that is the idea that such profiles are simply wrong on their face. There are reasons besides racism that cops assume things that aren't politically correct to say, and one of them is that they may be true. This is as true about breaking and entering as it is about terrorists getting on airplanes. Yes, white people burglarize residences and steal cars. But if, as a police officer, the person at the door answers even a superficial description of the guy you're looking for, you have a right to ask them plenty of not-nice questions.

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. probably felt both embarrassed (about being caught breaking into his own home) and angry (because the officers were suspicious and asked a lot of questions). But Gates has no reason to overreact as he did, because every one of us has been taught that arguing with the police usually ends up in bad consequences for us. Every. One. Of. Us.

Whether the officer overreacted to Gates's overreaction is something we don't know. It's not unheard of for an officer, facing a churlish accused, to start finding reasons to ticket or arrest said person. So, I'm not going to argue that Crowley was cool under pressure.

What is a problem, though, is when the President of all of us American citizens starts calling some of us stupid because, in his opinion, the police were abusive and we're all a bunch of (closet) racists. What Obama, the President of us all, should have said was, "You know, I can't really comment on that since I don't have all the facts" and left it at that. But then, the President of us all would have missed an opportunity to show us why he's so much smarter.