Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Teach your children (more on Gates)

I just saw this at the Root.com. It's a "Memo to Black Men: What to do when you're stopped by the police." It got me to thinking ....

Under slavery, parents had to teach their children how to avoid being beaten, sold, raped, or even killed by their masters.

Under Jim Crow parents had to teach their children how to avoid being lynched, and what to do if the Klan shows up at your home in the middle of the night.

Today, in the 21st century, parents still have to teach their children how to act when confronted by the police, even, or especially, when you are obviously just being harassed for the crime of being Black.

Under slavery, though, there were people like Nat Turner and Denmark Vesey. Under Jim Crow there were people like Rosa Parks and Rob Williams. And today there are people like Henry Louis Gates (a somewhat unlikely addition to that list).

Colin Powell has been personally "profiled" many times, but he still says that Gates should have been more "cooperative". In a sense Powell is right. But in a sense the same advice applied under Jim Crow and slavery: the best thing to do is just cooperate - unless you're really looking for trouble.

To be Black in the United States of America is to literally live in a police state. Being white I cannot begin to imagine what that is like, and I would never encourage anyone, Black or white or Latino or anything else, to do anything other than what it says in the roots.com recommended "protocol" linked to above. But I admire Henry Louis Gates for standing up for himself. Cooperating with the police is obviously the best way to avoid trouble, but there is more to life than avoiding trouble.

Henry Louis Gates is about as far from the stereotypical "Angry Black Man" as you can get. He is an internationally respected 57 year old Harvard professor and television personality who walks with a cane. But apparently he has always had an "uppity" streak in him.

This is not just about race. It is about freedom of expression, and about freedom in general. American school children learn to admire those who refused to "cooperate" with soldiers stationed in their homes by King George. And they are even taught to admire those who taunted those soldiers and threw snow balls at them and paid with their lives (if that is what really happened).

If you are a free and equal citizen in a republic, that means the police work for you. It is usually best to treat one's employees in a dignified and respectful manner. But being impolite to a police officer is not a crime. And sometimes it is absolutely appropriate.

1 comment:

mamiel said...

When I was growing up a black 15 year old neighbor was severely pistol-whipped by white police officers for running a red light on his moped. His white friends, who had also run the light, were let go and not whipped. I have never forgotten this incident and never will.

Police routinely abuse their power in the US. If they feel insulted they "haul you in" to teach you a lesson. Their egos are fragile.

I just read a really scary article profiling Sheriff Joe Arpaio Phoenix. He routinely gives out tickets to people who oppose him for things like "innappropriate use of a car horn" and the like.

I am with Gates on this one. No way in hell should he have been arrested unless he made physical threats or put hands on the cops, which he did not.