So now President Obama is in trouble for saying the same thing I said in my last blog. And it seems that everyone on CNN is talking about Professor Gate's arrest. And even Rick Sanchez is assuming that Professor Gates must have been at fault because the "record," as in the official police record, shows that the police officer really didn't want to arrest him, made his last warning with his handcuffs in his hands. Now that sounds very calm and friendly doesn't it? So a friend of mine wrote a comment on my last blog post saying "so tell us what we can do about it?"
Now... after all is said and done, the police office refuses to apologize. AND he's now being set up in the media as an expert on avoiding racial profiling. So how do we as faithful people looking for ethical responses on matters of justice respond to a situation like this?
First, we must untangle the power structures that were operating in this situation. Secondly, we must see who had and exercised power. Who has privilege and who is oppressed by that privilege, because these two things always go together.
There's no question that the guy with the gun has the power. The guy with the handcuffs. The guy with the power to put someone in a police car, take them to jail, book them, photograph and fingerprint them, and make them go before a judge to get out and get back home. Professor Gates may have had the perception that he had power, but the truth is he didn't have power. He might have thought he could yell at the police officer from his own home, on his own front porch, on his on lawn... but he was wrong. The police officer had the power to handcuff him and take him to jail for yelling. And that is exactly what he did.
He even has the power to determine what is the "truth" of what happened. Because the structures of order and power in our society privilege the official police report as being THE truth of what happened. The officer's perspective IS the truth. The officer's version is considered the universal unbiased version. It seems like nearly everyone is willing to say that Professor Gates was emotional and out of control. But no one is willing to say that the officer might have become emotional and out of control as well. The difference is.... the officer had the power.
I don't think there is a single thinking person in the US who would deny that the legacy of black racism has a part in this event. And I will give you this much.... if both guys had been white, the same ethnicity, the same class, and this had happened, I might be willing to give my vote to the police officer without much consideration. But not in this scenario. And the bottom line comes blazingly clear when we look at the officer's comments and unwillingness to apologize now. And uppity black man mouthed off to him, what else could he do? He had to protect his honour. And now the ulitimate uppity black man, the President of the United States, has said that the Cambridge Police "acted stupidly." What will they do now? Arrest him?
The officer is showing us that he lives in unacknowledged privilege by his actions and his responses. If he really had any sensitivity to what it might be like to live as a black man in this society, he would be able to consider what that situation must have been like for professor Gates. He would have been able to deconstruct the triggers that got set off for Professor Gates. He would be able to acknowledge that his whiteness and his position as a police officer put him in a position of power and privilege that would be threatening to anyone, even a powerful Harvard professor.
And make no mistake that Professor Gates was under a very erroneous assumption that his class and his educational status gave him some power... Power that he is attempting to exercise now in the media. And who could blame him? The truth is that both of these guys were fired up. Both were angry, both were overly emotional, both were probably wrong in some instances. We all make mistakes. We all become emotional and let our mouths "overload our rear ends" as my father used to say.
But does everyone who mouths off to a cop get arrested for disorderly conduct? Does everyone who yells at a cop deserve to be threatened with arrest? Are cops so thin skinned that if he's embarrased in front of his fellow officers and the neighbors that he arrests someone who is justifiably irate?
What we can do with this situation is look at the power structures, deconstruct them, realize that Professor Gates great offense was that he mouthed off to a police officer, and ask ourselves if this is ok. Professor Gates thought he was being treated differently and unfairly because he was a black man. But he percieved that he had the power to stand up the power structures that perpetuate this kind of oppression. And he was wrong.
I'm not sure that continuing to beat this dead horse is the answer, but using this situation as a model to deconstruct power and privilege is a useful endeavour. What I'd like to see is Officer Crowley reconsidering, publicly apologizing and Professor Gates offering to have dialogue with him and others, particularly white officers but not exclusively the white ones, about how police can learn to acknowledge their privilege in the exercise of their power. I'm imagining these two men shaking hands, appearing on TV together, both saying they let their testosterone take over, and both talking frankly about the racist structures that still exist in this country. This is my prayer for the resolution of this situation.