Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Profiling of a Professor’s Pigment

By Gary Flowers

Executive Director and CEO

Black Leadership Forum, Inc

July 26 – August 1, 2009

Professor Henry Louis Gates has arguably learned and taught his most profound lesson of his academically acclaimed career in handcuffs.

Dr. Gates’ arrest last week by the Cambridge, MA Police Department has generated a renewed national discussion relative to the issue f racial profiling of people of color. Although Dr. Gates and the officer Crowley, the arresting officer, have conflicting accounts of what was said by whom, the essential facts are not in dispute.

Officer Crowley responded to a call from one of Dr. Gates’ neighbors who reported a possible break-in occurring by two Black men at Dr. Gates’ home. Upon arrival of the officers, Dr. Gates was in his home and produced his driver’s license bearing his home address and a Harvard University faculty identification card. Dr. Gates asked for officer Crowley’s name and badge number and was told to step out of the house to receive the information. Upon stepping on to the porch Dr. Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Under Massachusetts law, an individual cannot be charged with disorderly conduct inside of his home (thus officer Crowley conditioned the provision of his name and badge number on Dr. Gates’ exiting his house only to arrest him). Therein lies the central issue: officer Crowley acted improperly (I agree with “stupidly” as President Obama opined) by luring Dr. Gates into custody on an unrelated charge to the original call to police of a possible break-in of Dr. Gates’ home.

Once Dr. Gates produced his identification the officer should have left the home (or at least asked nicely to search the home for any burglars). Instead officer Crowley racial profiled the professor’s pigment and made yet another unnecessary arrest of a Black man.

Racial profiling of Black and Brown people in the United States has been-and is-a daily occurrence by police and private citizens. During the Transatlantic Slave Trade, Africans were racially profiled and subjected to the most atrocious dehumanization in world history. Following the 13th Amendment to the United States Constitution outlawing slavery, southern corporations seeking cheap labor racially profiled African Americans into virtual enslavement in the form of sharecropping and actual neo-slavery. Corporations such as U.S. Steel, 1st National Bank (Sun Trust), Alabama Coal Company, and Southern Brick Company worked with southern sheriffs to enforce “vagrancy” laws on Black men alone on street and roads in the South. Black men would be bonded to White executives and worked for free until the “bond” was paid (determined arbitrarily by the sheriff). Such practices are exposed in the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Slavery by Another Name (Blackmon).

According to the National Black Police Association (member of the Black Leadership Forum), Black men have a far greater chance of being racially profiled and arrested than any other ethnic demographic.

According to Amnesty International, approximately 32 million people (near the population of Canada) are victims of racial profiling, and excessive force by police officers, which actually undermines law enforcement efforts. Moreover, racial profiling is a human rights violation of the Standards Against Non-Discrimination in treaties signed by the United States. Among them are the UN Convention of the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD) and the International Convention of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

In the case of Dr. Gates, and although the preponderance of blame should be shouldered by the officer Crowley, he is not the lone culprit. Dr. Gates exacerbated the situation by exclaiming, “Do you know who I am?” Was he serious?

Such a statement implies that, if officer Crowley “knew” of his cerebral celebrity, he should have treated him with more respect. No! If professor Gates is a true advocate for the victories of racial oppression then it should not matter “who [he] is.” All citizens of the United States of America-regardless of race or resources- should not be subject to racial profiling. No one!

The biggest lesson learned by Dr. Gates may well be that he was misinterpreted Dr. W.E.B. Dubois’ view of a “talented tenth” within the Black America. Dr. Dubois suggested that the Black intelligence should lead the masses in fighting oppression, not that the Black elite should expect a “pigment pass” due to their academic acumen.

But, in the final analysis, how far down the “post racial” road is American society when today there are racially charged placards planted in front of Dr. Gates’ home. Hmm….

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