Henry “Skip” Gates and Dave Chappelle on Racial Profiling

22 07 2009

For those of you not following the whole Professor Henry “Skip” Gates being racially profiled and then arrested at his own home for “disorderly conduct” here is a summary from today’s WaPo:

After returning from a week in China researching the genealogy of cellist Yo-Yo Ma, Gates found himself locked out of his house, and he and his driver began pushing against the front door. The sight of two black men forcing open a door prompted an emergency call to police.

The white officer who arrived found Gates in the house (the driver was gone) and asked him to step outside. Gates refused, and the officer followed him in. Gates showed him his ID, which included his address, then demanded that the officer identify himself. The officer did not comply, Gates said. He then followed the officer outside, saying repeatedly, “Is this how you treat a black man in America?”

The police report said that Gates was “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior” and that the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, identified himself. “We stand by whatever the officer said in his report,” said Sgt. James DeFrancesco, a spokesman for the Cambridge Police Department. He would not comment on Gates’s version of his arrest.

The department said that Crowley tried to calm Gates, but that the professor would not cooperate and said, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.”

“These actions on behalf of Gates served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed,” the report said.

Gates said he does not think that anything he did justified the officer’s actions. He walks with a cane and said he did not pose a threat.

“I weigh 150 pounds and I’m 5-7. I’m going to give flak to a big white guy with a gun. I might wolf later, but I won’t wolf then.”

Barack Obama’s election as the nation’s first black president was “huge and important,” Gates said, but “did not translate to structural change. Given the demographics of Cambridge, [the officer] probably voted for Barack. That wasn’t much help to me.”

He added: “I want to be a figure for prison reform. I think that the criminal justice system is rotten.”

Interestingly enough, the governor of Massachusetts Patrick Deval is also black. Neither of which seemed important enough to counter the kind of preconceived notions that often lead to racial profiling even in the liberal Bay State.

Years ago, comedian Dave Chappelle explained why he fears the police in a hypothetical (or maybe real?) account of finding an intruder in his house.  Today more than ever it seems especially apropos.

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