Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Back on the Soapbox

I have been boldly dared by my dear friend Whitney (check her out at Savannah Notions) to give my three cents --- we all know I have more than two --- on a controversial issue that has been in the media spotlight for the past week or so: the arrest of black Harvard scholar, Henry Louis Gates.

If you live under a rock, or otherwise don't read the news, here is the background:

Before climbing onto my soapbox, I must first state the obvious: I am not an African American. I have never been in the position that I have felt racial discrimination, and can only imagine how horrible that must feel. I do not condone racial profiling in any situation.

Whew - got that off my chest. Now, here are my thoughts.

Whether I am white, black, green, pink or polka-dotted, if while I was in the process of trying to break into my own house, a police officer (who was called by an eyewitness to investigate the potential break-in) decided to come question me, I would not have a problem at all providing them with all the information they needed to make sure it was my own house to break into. And not only would I comply with their requests, I would actually thank them, heartily, for ensuring I was not a thief. I would hope that if anyone was forcing their way into my house - it would be investigated.

That said, there are two differing accounts of the story. The police officer claimed that the professor was unreasonable and behaving inappropriatly. The professor insists that he simply could not believe he was arrested for trying to break in to his own home (or more accurately, for behavior after the fact). Both sides seem to agree that the professor was so indignant at the accusation he initially refused to show his identification. I believe that if the professor would have calmly explained the situation and told the officer he was more than happy to show him proof of residency, the situation would have been diffused immediately. However, the immediate response of "Is this because I'm a black man and you're a white cop" escalated the situation to a place where it did not need to go.

The morning after the story broke, I watched the officer on NBC's "The Today Show" defend his actions, and maintain that his actions were not as a response to any sort of racial profiling. He said that treated the professor the same way he would have treated any person -regardless of race- if they were being disorderly. In fact, he mentioned that he followed the law knowing the media circus that would result because of the professor's stature. He would not allow the threat of being called a "racist" change how he did his job. For this, I commend him.

Again, I maintain, I do feel sad for Professor Gates to have felt singled out because of his race- even if the feeling was unwarranted. You cannot help your feelings some times, but you can control your reactions.

I without a doubt believe there is unfortunately still a lot of racism in the world - but I don't think people should jump to the conclusion that racism is what provoked this officer's actions that day. It is unfortunate calmer heads did not prevail.

Gates and the arresting officer, James Crowley, are scheduled to meet over beers with President Obama to discuss the situation tomorrow at the White House. I'll be interested to hear the result of their meeting. Hopefully they all can take something away from the situation and both be better at their respective careers because of it.

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