Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Post-racial" and the "unfathomable" arrest and Star Fucking Hipsters.

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. (who is old and cute) has been getting a lot of media coverage that I just caught up on yesterday while eating a massively delicious egg and croissant sandwich at the diner up the street (where there was the cutest old man in the world at the table next to us.) I just read CNN's article on it and I haven't changed any of my opinions on the incident. If anything, a lot of what has been said has reaffirmed it.

1. Don't argue with police officers. Raising a stink, no matter what color you are, is what gets you in trouble. So what I should say is don't argue with police officers unless you know what you're doing/what is going to happen. It's not like arguing with the DMV people.

Three days ago, coming back from the bodega, we saw an Italian/LI type run and get the cops and sic him on a black guy around the corner (apparently they had gotten in a fight.) He ran to a van full of cops who were sitting around outside the pizza place, and they all hustled over to investigate. One of the cops patted the black guy down, and the black guy, instead of pulling a Gates, let them do it, then talked to them reasonably, if loudly. Yeah, I'm sure he was upset, but he knew what to do in the situation. By that point, the accuser had of course disappeared and while it's ridiculous that six bored cops had to take care of the situation, the situation was actually taken care of by everyone's keeping their cool. We saw all this because they were right outside our building and we didn't want to go back in since we're not supposed to be living there. Experience with other incidents and the way things have been taken care of has made it clear that not raising a stink, no matter how humiliating, frustrating, or unfair things seem to be or are, leaves everyone not happy but at least kind of mildly satisfied with NOT BEING IN JAIL. (I'm really not into the romanticism/bragging rights of being in jail/your man being in jail, whatever.)

I'm not defending cops. Cops, for all the good they do or could do, cause just as many problems and have the capacity to cause a lot more. But right now, there's a system.

2. Who's racist? Gates brought up the subject of race.

The officer asked Gates to "step out onto the porch and speak with me," the report says. "[Gates] replied, 'No, I will not.' He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was 'Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge Police' and that I was 'investigating a report of a break in progress' at the residence.

"While I was making this statement [that he was investigating a phoned-in break-in], Gates opened the front door and exclaimed, 'Why, because I'm a black man in America?' "

According to the report, Gates initially refused to show the officer his identification, instead asking for the officer's ID. But Gates eventually did show the officer his identification that included his home address.

"The police report says I was engaged in loud and tumultuous behavior. That's a joke," Gates told The Root. "It escalated as follows: I kept saying to him, 'What is your name, and what is your badge number?' and he refused to respond. I asked him three times, and he refused to respond. And then I said, 'You're not responding because I'm a black man, and you're a white officer.'"

Wrong. Sgt Crowley was "not responding" because Gates was a non-cop and the sgt. was a cop. You can call police neo-SS-blah-blah-whatevers but you could be a walking Skrewdriver song and the police will get you for talking back.

Gates was the one doing the racial profiling when he said, "You're not responding because I'm a black man, and you're a white officer." He chose to be immediately indignant, which is understandable, but aggressively so and with regards to race. He had the higher ground because it was his house and he has proper ID. He lost it as soon as he started making the same assumptions that he accused the cop of making-- impressions based on race as well as assumptions about professionalism-- he assumed the cop couldn't see a black man as a wealthy professor, he assumed the cop as a white cop couldn't make a decision without regards to race. He has now also lost the right to accuse anyone else of racism without first acknowledging his own towards both whites (as anti-blacks) and towards blacks (as victims of anti-black whites.)

A neighbor phoned in the "break-in." All the coverage is likewise racial profiling by reminding everyone she is white. The "crime" she committed is not knowing who her neighbor was. On the other hand, she was trying to help out her neighbor. Gates and his driver were trying to force the door open because the lock was jammed. He had been on a trip. Of course someone is going to call the cops if the neighbor has obviously been out of town and two guys are huddled over a doorknob. It was all very innocent. Perhaps Gates' blackness contributed to her suspicion. Gates has said that he doesn't blame the neighbor but rather the policeman. Gates is clearly trying to find a way to bring up racism. His own admission that it was a "trumped-up charge" is correct-- but arrests usually are.

3. People need to stop saying "post-racial." In the article, it is used to describe a society free of racism. First-- it heavily implies (not explicitly) that the only racism existing and that needs to be fixed is that of white people. Second, pipe-dream. Third, Gates is quoted as saying, "There's been a very important symbolic change and that is the election of Barack Obama. . . But the only black people who truly live in a post-racial world in America all live in a very nice house on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

The Obamas do not live in a post-racial anything. The fact that he is celebrated as the first black president of the United States means that there is still recognition of race. And frankly, that label is incorrect. He is the first biracial president of the United States. Racial groups will always claim or reject based on their own makeup. Virulent white racists will see Obama as black, virulent black racists will see him as half-white, and the list goes on. As a biracial American, I'll obviously see him as biracial. None of these are steps towards a post-racial society. Gates labeling the Obamas and himself as "blacks" is the first clue that we aren't in a post-racial anything, without efforts towards such a state coming even from its self-proclaimed proponents.

I see nothing "unfathomable" about the arrest, and I definitely see racist tendencies from both sides. Anyone who has dealt with a cop knows that raising a stink will be the determining factor in how far the law is applied. Gates is pushing the onus of his decision to argue with a cop on the easiest way out-- calling "ism."

Gates said, "There are 1 million black men in the prison system, and on Thursday I became one of them." Obviously a dramatic personality. Because he was probably kept over night and ACD the next day. And there is no reason to presume all 1 million of those innocent of a crime. Gates should not cast his lot so casually.

Gates is obviously a smart guy (Hahvahd) and knows it, which is probably one of the reasons why he chose to object to the cop's presence-- not as a black but as a self-aware well-off intellectual. He has said

"I can't believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me; and more importantly I'm astonished that it could happen to any citizen of the United States, no matter what their race," Gates said. "And I'm deeply resolved to do and say the right things so that this cannot happen again."

The focus should be on his words "to any citizen of the United States." Hopefully, as a media figure, if he tries to use this as a teaching tool, he will see it not as a racial issue but as a problem that needs to be fixed with the way police operate, especially the amount of power that they have. Because the cop was doing what he probably would have done no matter what.

There's a difference between having a valid complaint and doing the wrong thing-- the equivalent of doing nothing--to try to fix it. Take what Scott Sturgeon did, for example. Also a smart and friendly guy, and he did something dumb-- threw donuts at cops. Haha, funny. He did it to get arrested. He knew what a cop would react to and Gates didn't. Sturgeon sees his action as helping to raise awareness of what he sees as a violation of free speech (I'm still iffy on the whole thing but SFH has a valid point.)

This is not simply an issue about an arguably politically juvenile punk band & their lyrics or their sound decibel debate -- this stretches past all that now. [. . . read more here. . .] On top of that - during the incident last May - they flat out refused to give their badge numbers & took down the information of every kid that walked up to the venue. No matter what inane ramblings the man says - its punk to challenge authority (at least - the last time I checked) & its now an issue about the violations of free speech. Quoting an officer from the 9th precinct on the behavior of these Brooklyn Cops : " these people are no longer cops, they are criminals. "

("an arguably politically juvenile punk band & their lyrics or their sound decibel debate"-- hee hee.) Anyway, hopefully Gates will see that what's "punk" or "anti-racist" or whatever you want to say should be secondary to fixing a problematic system. The more you work on that system of authority and governance, the less problems, ie racism, there will be to contend with as that system is perfected by its citizens.

Mick has some good advice (cos this is supposed to be a music blog.) And PS- I'm really sick of hearing this album even though I love it-- I got mad into it last fall and then it tapered off from over-exposure, and now the boyfriend is getting re-back into it and monopolizing the living room speakers--but here's the video for "Two Cups of Tea," from Star Fucking Hipsters.

1 comment:

Jim said...

But but but, arguing with five-oh is so much fun, and will never ever result in your stupid fucking friend being carted off to jail while you switch between apologising for him, calling him an idiot and covering your own arse to avoid joining him.

Not that I speak from experience or anything.

It's a bit like "hey that guy over there looks like he might want to fight me, I'll go yell a really loud obscenity in his face, that'll calm the situation" (different friend, same result, me talking my way out of trouble) except the police lok you up instead of giving you a beating. Unless it was about ten years ago or so, when they'd do both.


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