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To Protect and to Serve. To Canvas and Observe.

Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was taken away in handcuffs  from his front porch in Cambridge. The reason according to the arresting officer was he was making a disturbance and being uncooperative. But according to Gates he showed identification proving he lived in the residence and the police officer was both guilty of racial profiling and abuse of power.

I was not there, none of us were so it is all speculation. But the account of the incident has sparked the national discussion on racial profiling and the proper way to relate to police officers. Is not being cooperative your right as an American citizen protected by the 1st and 4th amendments? Is it your job as a police officer to demand cool heads in most situations because those with guilt are rarely calm and collected?

Here is my take on Racial Profiling.

To protect and serve the community you work within as a police officer I imagine you need to canvas and observe the area you patrol. Over time there might be patterns that emerge that you notice lead to criminal behavior.  There is a reason there are laws against loitering.  If a group of men sit on a corner all day as cars drive by, slow down and then drive off you would assume they were dealing drugs. If a man sits in a car for a long period of time you can assume he is not waiting to pick someone up but waiting for something else. And its that vague "else" that is the justification to ask him what he is doing.

But what if these patterns involve not just actions but certain types of people.  Hair style, clothing, nationality, skin color?  Can you continue to act upon your assumptions or are you then racial profiling?

I don't have the answers but I do know that how people react and how people are approached in situations with this many unknowns (criminal or father waiting on daughter?) might be what really matters. If I assume you are a criminal and approach you in this way you will react one way, especially if this is not the 1st time this has happened.

I am white but I have been questioned about "what I am doing" before by police. I have been loitering. I have been up to no good. Not selling drugs mind you but having too much time on my hands and making a ruckus. I did not assume the police where doing anything other than their job.  But how would they have approached me if I had been young and black?

July 24, 2009 in BITCHING & SCHEMING | Permalink


I was not there, so I don't know how Gate's reacted. I can tell you how he surely could have made the situation go better.

My reaction when confronted with the identical situation, breaking and entering my own house. I approached the officer at the door, I did not exit the house, but opened the door wide and thanked the officer for coming, offered him my ID, explained the situation and the officer was on his way in a matter of a couple of minutes. The officer was clearly disarmed by the smile on my face and my immediate gratitude for his doing his job.

From what I have read, it appears that Gates had a total lack of empathy for the officer. He failed to appreciate that the officer believed he may be entering a situation where his life might be in danger.

It may be that the officer made mistakes as well, but I have seldom seen a situation where being polite and respectful to a law officer is not the best course of action.

Posted by: ClarkT | Jul 24, 2009 9:35:10 AM

Just to clear things up a little, there was no "profiling" issue here.

Posted by: MAD | Jul 25, 2009 7:07:50 PM

Well said, Clark.

Posted by: Rouse | Jul 25, 2009 9:36:45 PM

that's cute, clark. what a sweet suggestion. be polite to the cops, and they will be polite back. white privilege is so darn precious.

Posted by: aaaaw shucks | Jul 26, 2009 1:33:19 PM

What do you mean by "white privilege?" Sounds like a racial slur on Caucasians.

Posted by: sean | Jul 26, 2009 3:17:27 PM


Posted by: dave chapelle | Jul 26, 2009 3:43:01 PM

What? Oh here are my hands. Here's my ID. I live here. Thanks for checking! Hey neighbor!!!! Good looking out!!!!

Thank God they patrol this area, or else I could have been burglarized.

Posted by: Chaz | Jul 28, 2009 1:46:23 AM

The only case of racial profiling is that Gates profiled the officer as racist because he was white.

If a black officer was dispatched to a burglary in progress and heard that someone was shoving his way into a house he would have done the same thing but the name OBAMA would never have touched the national consciousness and the scholar wouldn't have made it a racial issue.

Not many who have reacted to this have considered seriously what they would have done in the officer's place. For all those people, go talk to the complainant (neighbor) and then ask yourself if you'd appreciate that sort of neighbor. I've got them. I appreciate them. If you've got nothing to hide, then don't react indignantly. Cops get lied to more often than anyone else. You're not going to investigate a burglary under these circumstances and simply accept statements. I would certainly hope that police who investigated a prowler at my house didn't simply go by the (alleged) perpetrator's word.

I've been in the officer's situation hundreds of times. I ask the alleged resident to follow me to the police vehicle. I explain to them the nature of the call. I take their ID, run them through the computer to ensure that they live there and that's that. The guilty are easy to spot, but the innocent are still subject to investigation. If anyone would like to change that, please let the city council know so the NOPD can start ignoring those calls.

I guess every so often you come in contact with someone who's made his living being a victim and it just sucks for you. I feel horrible for this sergeant. But, ignorance, limited information, and publicity sometimes comes and stings you. There's never any serious discussion about how many burglaries this man has thwarted, just that a renowned professor was victimized in his own house by a racist cop.

Or not, right? As long as my shit's ok. How about no burglary and I get the chance to grab the national stage? Sweet. Whatever. This guy saw that the policeman was white and said "BINGO!!"


If my house ever gets burglarized I just hope a black cop responds so that he isn't scared to arrest the guy. After all, if he were white he'd be "acting stupidly" and should probably just leave vice risking national (PRESIDENTIAL?!??!?!) attention.

This happens twenty times a night in New Orleans and everybody is usually very appreciative. What the hell is this story all about?

Posted by: Chaz | Jul 28, 2009 2:19:29 AM


Posted by: aaaaw shucks | Jul 28, 2009 7:57:50 PM

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