Ah, finally, a time for reflection on Harvard Professor Gates' arrest at his castle last week. It is not about racial profiling. It is about racial profiling's antecedent.
POLICE: FEAR AND POWER
With Harvard Professor Gates it was partially a matter of his race that led to the police incident. With me it was my ugly pick-up, but I can get another pick-up.
Somebody told me once that two things drive police; fear and power. I have found that to be true. Not long ago, I was moving stuff stored at my office to my new home in another county. My office is located in a mixed area. After carrying boxes out to my old, beat-up, battered, even ugly pick up; I left the office and drove about two blocks when the police pulled me over. Someone had alerted them that I was moving boxes out of the building late at night and that call led to the police stop. The police asked me about the boxes, asked me for my ID and politely let me go after the above explanation. I am white. The police were white. We all chuckled a bit about the stop.
Here are words of advice. If a police scenario leads police to a state of fear then they will react accordingly. If the fear is diffused by polite enjoinder then there will be a different reaction. For example, if an object of police attention smiles kindly at the officer and asks, "Was I speeding Officer, Sir?", then the fear is immediately gone. But, if the object of interest is rude and pushy, then power issues begin. That is the scenario that may have engulfed good Professor Gates on that fateful day.
There is no bad guy
Here is the real problem. We are hiring the wrong people to become police officers. I should know, I was almost one of them. After my college days the local police department was only hiring college graduates and they were on a hiring binge. The Sheriff's office was purporting to become an enlightened force following the raucous ‘60's. But, I didn't join because I did not like the looks of the underlying culture.
Years later, I watched my local police with interest as I defended hundreds of minor criminals in city court as a court-appointed defense attorney. Virtually every police officer lied on the stand, even when they didn't have to. Virtually every police officer made multiple mistakes when completing their reports to shade the events against whoever was arrested and to make themselves look better. Unfortunately, my local police departments are made up of muscle-bound thugs with few exceptions. (Check out the three burly policemen in the oft-shown photo of Professor Gates in handcuffs.)
Here I must tell you about a real Portland, Oregon case a few years back where a burly, even muscle-bound police officer, bent the middle-aged woman he had captured in the ladies room, over the hood of his patrol car. You see, she had decided she was not going to pay her restaurant charge of less than $100 because the restaurant would not honor her discount coupon. As he bent her arm behind her back to handcuff her, the assembled witnesses were horrified to hear the audible ‘crack' of her forearm bones as those bones were forcibly disassembled due to Mr. Policeman's leverage on her wrist. She was no match for him nor was Professor Gates a match for his interlocutors. We are at the dawn of a new age on that issue. I hope.
Subsequently, I took on civil rights matters including police brutality cases. Right here in my small town where I used to defend the poor, the meek and the middle class shoplifter, I got a real look on the inside of what sort of feeding frenzy is partaken by public officers at citizen's expense from time to time. Here is the dynamic. No one respects police any more. This is largely because, since the Los Angeles Rodney King beating and the voluminous sequels, police no longer deserve our respect. Thus, when police get a chance to vent their frustrations over the disrespect they receive on a daily basis, they do -- even though the object of their affection is a far cry from what really caused their present rage.
Take, for example, my young black client who made the mistake of parking with a white woman in a middle class neighborhood late one Friday night. As in Professor Gate's case, a public minded citizen called the police regarding ‘suspicious activity'. When the police got through with this young, skinny black man in their feeding frenzy, they had clubbed him from head to toe -- severely. The only problem was no crime had been committed. He got the beating because he sassed back to one of the white police officers. The legal tools lawyers have to right this wrong are sadly inadequate, because seldom will a jury rule against a police officer's actions, however misguided. Police officers have the uniforms of authority, citizens do not. That is our present cultural reality. That is why there is this minority outcry. Minorities don't get justice under our present systems. Still.
The question is not whether Officer Crowley should apologize to Professor Gates nor whether President Obama spoke too soon. The answer to the REAL question is we have to completely reevaluate what we are hiring for our local police departments. Yes, I believe we should discriminate. We should discriminate against Arnie-body builders for this job. More suitable muscles should be activated inside police skull caps. Wimps and Nerds can also serve the public as ‘peace officers', often with better results. Just as Wall Street must purge greedy leaders from their positions of pomp and authority, police departments must purge thugs masquerading as being there to ‘protect and serve'.
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