This Is Exactly Why We Can't Discuss Race In This Country

Cross posted at Daily Kos

I wasn't going to post a diary here until after I finished my exam next week, but I really just want to say this. The entire Gates-gate situation is illustrative of why we can't discuss race in this country.

President Obama was asked a question about the situation and what it says to him about race relations in America. Here is his full answer:

Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don't know all the facts.

What's been reported though is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called in to the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into -- well, I guess this is my house now, so...


... it probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago.


Here, I'd get shot.


But so far, so good. They're -- they're reporting. The police are doing what they should. There's a call. They go investigate what happens.

My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is, is that Professor Gates then shows his I.D. to show that this is his house and, at that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact.

As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.

And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody is going to be.

All emphasis is mine. At no point in his statement did he EVER accuse the officer of being a racist or state that this case was an example of racial profiling.

Now, out of that entire statement, what do they focus on? They focus on one fucking word. I agree with the President, the officers on the scene acted stupidly in arrested Professor Gates. In fact, the night I learned of the incident, this is exactly what I said on my blog:

So basically, I think both sides of this situation are at fault for Professor Gates' arrest, but I'm having trouble believing that the officer here was actually as innocent as his report makes him out to be. We'll probably never know what really happened here, but let's cue all of the people saying one side or the other is racist for whatever reason.

then the following day, after Obama's press conference I wrote this:

So instead of this being the teachable moment it could have been, it's now going to be a reason for people to yell over each other on TV while trying to get their point across (like I just saw on CNN with Roland Martin trying to get a word in edgewise on CNN). Now we are going to have all of the "race experts" out there all over TV talking about why the President was right or wrong to say the police officer acted "stupidly." It's all going to turn into one giant headache all because Lynn Sweet couldn't stay on topic during the HEALTH CARE presser.

and here's what I wrote earlier this morning:

So here it is, day 3 of the Gates fall-out, and the media STILL doesn't get the issue. Like I said yesterday, President Obama said a LOT of things worthy of being focused on when he answered the question, but our increasingly inept press corps is choosing to focus on ONE word. I suppose I'm not REALLY surprised about it, we ARE talking about Obama here, and any little "mistake" he may make is going to be beat repeatedly until everyone is sick of hearing about it.

And now the cop, Crowley, is going to become the latest "posterboy" for this alleged White Racism that Obama is perpetuating (nevermind the fact that the family that RAISED him is White) now that he's President. Ooooooh, the poor oppressed White Man, they've been held down now for MONTHS because now the Black people have all of the power. HA! Even if we DO have a Black President, we still aren't "the power." But I digress. . .

All in all, the way this entire situation has blown up is completely illustrative about WHY it takes so long to make progress on race relations in this country, and WHY the election of a Black man as President is NOT proof positive that "it's all good." Instead of using this situation as a moment to talk about REAL racial disparities in the criminal justice system, or even whether the police officer abused his power (seeing as how the charges were DROPPED), we get this media circus where press conferences are held (by the officer and his pals) every day. Gates has actually been relatively silent on the matter . In fact, the press conference from earlier today shows that this is all about a bunch of hurt feelings.

The press is doing a SERIOUS disservice to the American people by focusing on what is essentially a pissing contest (where admittedly it seems the cops are the only ones really playing at this point) and back and forth mudslinging. I'm personally SICK of it. Now we have people coming out and talking bad about the President and calling him a DISGRACE because he gave his damn opinion (which is what was asked of him). He let everyone know he's not exactly a neutral party in this, but he's a DISGRACE for sticking up for his friend. Well Cambridge Police Union President (of which Crowley isn't even a MEMBER) you seem to be doing the same thing in standing behind Crowley, were YOU there? No.

Until people learn to get over themselves and have a REAL HONEST discussion, we aren't going to make any REAL progress on race relations in this Country. What happened to Gates only brought something to the forefront that we Black people have to deal with all the time. Even if it didn't necessarily happen TO Gates in this situation, it happens every day in this country (maybe even in ~gasp~ Cambridge). President Obama KNOWS what it's like to be racially profiled:

Security guards tailing me as I shop in department stores, white couples who toss me their keys as I stand outside a restaurant waiting for the valet, police cars pulling me over for no apparent reason. I know what it's like to have people tell me I can't do something because of my color, and I know the bitter swill of swallowed-back anger

I'm a Black woman, I've BEEN in a store with a friend (who was also Black) and saw a store employee follow us around the store (I guess they thought they were being discreet) while we shopped, it's not a good feeling.

This was an opportunity to have a great conversation about a REAL problem in this country, and instead it's become another missed opportunity.

[Update]: President Obama just came out and spoke on the issue, essentially saying what I said in this post (from Poltico 44):

"I actually just had a conversation with Sergeant James Crowley," Obama said, "and I have to tell you that, as I said yesterday, my impression of him is that he was an outstanding police officer...and that was confirmed in the phone conversation.
"Because this has been ratcheting up, and I helped to contribute to the ratcheting up...in my choice of words, I unfortunately gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically," he continued. "I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Prof. Gates out of his home and to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Prof. Gates probably overreacted as well."
"Because of our history...African Americans are sensitive to these issues."

Now, Obama did NOT apologize for what he said, he merely re-worded it. I'm willing to bet it will be characterized as an apology (in fact the press was trying to call it an apology right after that). He ALSO said that he does NOT think it was inappropriate for him to comment.
Cross posted at Daily Kos


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