Further to the Gates fiasco
But you know who did it better, briefer, and to much greater effect?
That skinny guy with big ears you’ve heard a bit about:
Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little bias ed here. I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys. He jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. so far so good. Right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger in — well, I guess this is my house now so it probably wouldn’t happen. Let’s say my old house in Chicago. here I’d get shot. But so far so good. 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 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 is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And 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 this 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 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 cast 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’s going to be.
I have a young son. He heard my wife and me talking about this arrest over the last couple of days, and we told him the nine year old version of the story, as best we could. And as for what I hope I got across…and what I may try to express again tomorrow by using the elegant formulation President Obama has given me — this is it:
I want race to be over in this country. I want world peace, too, and I want my left-handed kid to develop a nasty curve, for then he’ll never be out of work; I want….I want all kinds of things. But one of the things I hate most about being some kind of a grown up is being forced to recognize the difference between aspiration and the reality through which we still slog to get to any goal worth seeking.
As President Obama said: we’ve come some considerable distance. But not all the way, not nearly….which is what I will tell my son.
James Montgomery Flagg, First World War US propaganda poster, 1917.