Friday, July 24, 2009



(July 24, New York, NY) President Obama made a surprise visit to the White House Briefing Room earlier today in an attempt to clarify a statement he made during a Press Conference Wednesday night regarding the arrest of his friend, Henry Louis Gates. Since the arrest of the Harvard Professor of African American Studies by a White Cambridge (Mass) Police Officer, Sergeant James Crowley, the incident has received widespread coverage and has ignited a long standing debate related to relationships between members of Law Enforcement and the Black and Latino communities.

Gates was arrested in his home by Sergeant Crowley, who is White, on July 16th after a White female neighbor phoned in a report of a possible break in at Gates’ home. Soon after his release after four hours in custody Professor Gates was fully engaged in an effort to exploit his unfortunate arrest as having been racially motivated. When questioned about the situation by a Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun Times Wednesday, the President admitted that he did “not have all the facts” but added he thought the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly” during the encounter. His statement set off a firestorm of outrage from the Law Enforcement community nation wide.

Professor Gates had escalated the tension earlier this week by “demanding” an “apology from” Sergeant Crowley. Crowley strongly stated that there would be “no apology” coming from him. Professor Gates had received an official apology from the Mayor of Cambridge after all charges were dropped on Tuesday, July 21. By early this morning Police and other Law Enforcement groups were calling on President Obama to “apologize” to the Law Enforcement community as a whole and Sergeant Crowley specifically.

President Obama told the media that he had spoken with Sergeant Crowley prior to his appearance at the podium in the Briefing Room and that he had invited both Crowley and Gates to come to the White House to discuss the matter and maybe have a “beer”.


This episode where a Black man feels he was wronged by a White Police Officer is not an uncommon experience for many men in the African American and Latino communities. Charges of “racial profiling” and other prejudicial, heavy handed tactics have come from the minority communities against individual Officers and Police Departments across the country. There have been several precedent setting rulings regarding specific cases such as the suit against the New Jersey State Troopers accused of stopping Black men driving on the NJ Turnpike “disproportionally” and often “without probable cause.”

A vigorous debate within Police Departments, the Justice Department and academia has been on going for at least a decade. The issue flares back into the headlines every time a prominent or well known Black man becomes involved erroneously with a White Officer. Historically there have been problems with the interactions, relationships and perceptions among members of the Black and Latino communities and cops; there is no denying the problem exists. However, over the last ten years most big city PDs have invested heavily in sensitivity training for their members as well as community outreach efforts, recruitment drives and other initiative aimed towards improving perceptions on both sides of the divide.

What has made this particular incident even more incendiary is that Professor Gates is considered to be the “most prominent African American Scholar” in the country. He has many high placed friends and associates as well as a large “bully pulpit” in his position at Harvard. He is referred to by his friends as “Skip” and the President referred to him by that name on Wednesday night. Other “prominent” African American “scholars”, “intellectuals” and “thinkers” have been pouring out of their richly paneled offices in universities across the country in support of Professor Gates. Many have contributed opinion and editorial pieces to various media outlets as well as appearing on various network and cable news programs to discuss the issue. Honest debate is a healthy method by which to address such thorny issues. It was only after a week of escalating tensions fueled by many Blacks in academia that Police organizations began to speak out. After the President’s “stupidly” remarks, the Law Enforcement began to protest and defend Sergeant Crowley.

The cops did not initiate this conflict. Professor Gates, after displaying appalling disrespect for Officer Crowley, chose to make an issue out of the event. His band wagon filled rapidly with all sorts of supporters. The problem with all the hype surrounding this incident is that it has been cast purely as a matter of race. What it really is, aside from the racial aspect, is a sad statement on the perception of members of Law Enforcement and their lack of respect throughout our culture and society. Apparently, by this afternoon, our President realized the mistake he’d made and that there are far more members of the Law Enforcement community than there are African American intellectuals and that they contribute more to our society and culture in a day than all the Black Studies “scholars” in the country do in a life time.

Our society is constructed on the concept and actuality of laws and order. Without such fundamental principles in place we would have anarchy. Yes, there are flaws in the “system” and flawed individuals as members of the “system” but, for the most part, by and large, law and order is maintained; the criminal justice mechanisms run true. To think otherwise is to deny facts.

What a society and a culture respects and elevates says a great deal about its people. Our society has drifted far afield from the days when there was respect for authority and fame was a status attained by few. Sure, we have had reason to loose faith in our institutions. Everything from the race riots of the 1960’s through the lies of Viet Nam and Watergate, have conditioned us to be cynical and apathetic. Police corruption and abuses in the 1970’s actually ushered in a new era of policing and police oversight. We have come a long way from where we were but have a long way yet to travel. Every unanticipated bump in that road, when every Henry Louis Gates who wants to stir the always simmering pot of racial animus does so, we become distracted and detoured.

We celebrate musicians, athletes and other characters of dubious merit while we take for granted our teachers, cops and other civil servants; the hundreds of thousands who labor almost anonymously to ensure our safety and the cohesiveness of our society. Without those who labor in the unglamorous trenches embedded within our society, we would not be in a position to have any kind of culture. The infrastructure of our society, the men and women who operate it all, are who and what allow the rest of us, prominent or ordinary, rich or middle class, talented, famous or infamous, to be what we are.

The contribution to society made by African American scholars is probably important to members of certain circles. For all their collective “expertise” and high powered intellect, it seems they do little to actually contribute to, elevate or assist the African American community writ large. They write their books and give their lectures, they hold conferences, debates and seminars. They claim to be experts on the “plight” of the Black community and possess expertise on everything from the true meaning of rap music and graffiti to all the many socioeconomic, historic, societal and cultural reasons that a large portion of Black America remains mired in poverty, broken families, drug addiction and cycles of abuse, crime and criminality.

Your average New York City Police Officer, after just a few years on the job, has a better practical understanding of the dynamics of neighborhoods and broader applicable education in sociology, psychology and human behavior than any Black “scholar” will ever possess. They live and work from ivory towers so far removed from “their people” that they haven’t a clue. Interestingly, Sergeant Crowley had just recently completed a stint as an instructor for sensitivity training for Officers in that jurisdiction. He had been appointed to that position by a Black Governor. Sergeant Crowley probably understands more about interracial relations and many other aspects of the social sciences than the esteemed Professor Gates. Gates would most likely quickly run back to his cloistered academic world the first time he rode with Sergeant Crowley and had to confront what cops confront every day of their working lives.

Contributions to society and culture can, in part, be measured by how many lives are affected by a given institution, agency and individuals. There is no doubt that Police Officers have a greater, more positive impact on and in peoples lives by a staggering order of magnitude than all the Black Professors in the country’s universities and colleges combined - and then some.

As long as African American “scholars” insist on framing every issue, each debate, every discussion about virtually everything and anything in terms of race, we will never get close to walking the road that remains unexplored turf at this point in time. We elected our first African American President last November and, President Obama attained his victory by the votes of a broad, diverse, multiracial, multi-ethnic coalition of citizens who saw beyond color, prejudice, bias and history. Perhaps Professor Gates, the eminent scholar could learn a lesson or two from the President. Obviously, he and most of his ilk remain stuck somewhere back in the past, cemented in places that don’t exist anymore, carrying enormous chips on their shoulders they could have shed years ago. But, maybe, if they were to do so they would somehow loose their relevance. We have an African American President and have had other very highly placed officials on all levels of government of African American identity for many years.

Perhaps Professor Gates should be more interested in helping to cultivate the next generation of African American doctors, lawyers, engineers, judges, military leaders, statesman, police officers and other professionals than in crying loud and long from Harvard Yard about how wronged he was and what all that “really “ means.

Gates can play this event up for all its worth for as long as he wants. That is a luxury of being an academic. Officer Crowley and all the other Police Officers across the land have no such luxury; each tour of duty, every shift brings its own and any number of incidents and events of varying severity and seriousness. That is real life. That is what cops do. Our society should be a little more respectful to authority, give a bit more thought towards the perspective from the other side of the street and not look down on those who are the very glue that holds this whole thing - our culture and society together.


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