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Is this how you treat a black man in America?

So said Henry Louis Gates, Jr. to James M. Crowley, a Cambridge police officer who was responding to a call of a break-in at Gates’ home.   This is now national news (Obama apparently mentioned it on primetime last night) but because of being sequestered at training for work, today is the first that I am reading about this.  This is poised to be a hot topic about race and racism as Crowley is unwilling to bow to pressure to apologize and thus make a case that he is not racist.

This is a classic ‘my word against yours’ situation as only Crowley and Gates were present during the confrontation.  However, as you can imagine, a charge of racism is on par with a charge of child molestation… the facts are secondary, your guilt is presupposed.  So Crowley is put on the defense first, and any questioning of the charge can implicate you in siding with racism.  This is a dilemma that any politically-minded person will come across as they begin to debate public policies such as affirmative action, educational reforms, or any number of issues that may affect the black community in any way.  If you want to dismantle the public school system, are you racist because it may affect poor black children?  Are you racist if you disagree with affirmative-action and it’s attempt at “equality”, even if you think you have evidence of its damage?

And thus you may find yourself in this quandary if your instinct says that Gates, Jr. was playing a race card and not an actual victim of racism.  Again, by possibly dismissing this accusation (and I am not, it is too new and information is still coming…I’m just talking about a gut reaction to claim racism) are you therefore saying that racism does not exist, and racial profiling is a myth of liberal creation?  Absolutely not… but that IS the implication.

As Paul Mirengoff of Powerline states (initially quoting a Washington Post article):

“Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. has spent much of his life studying the complex history of race and culture in America, but until last week he had never had the experience that has left so many black men questioning the criminal justice system. . . .”I studied the history of racism. I know every incident in the history of racism from slavery to Jim Crow segregation,” Gates told The Washington Post on Tuesday in his first interview about the episode. [note – really, everyone single one?] “I haven’t even come close to being arrested. I would have said it was impossible.”

Instead, in a country where one in nine young black men are in prison, where racial profiling is still practiced, the arrest of a renowned scholar on a charge of disorderly conduct in front of his house last Thursday has fueled an ongoing debate about race in America in the age of its first black president.”

Gates is actually admitting plenty here. For if he has lived as a black man in America for 58 years without ever being mistreated by the police, to the point that he believed being arrested was an impossibility in his case, that speaks rather well for the police forces of America. (emphasis mine)

This is a powerful observation.  How a black man, who has gone 58 years of his life and never experienced a racist act by police, can finally have an alleged experience and have that lead to an accusation of rampant racism by American police does not follow.  And the broader implication of general racism in America is beyond me.  It seems to do the opposite, and that is Mirengoff’s point.  I have long felt that the playing of the race card by too many black Americans (read: Sharpton, Jackson, NAACP) dilutes the power of the offense when truly racist acts take place, and can serve to desensitize people to the charge itself.  The Duke lacrosse rape case provides an example where the knee-jerk racism card and it’s broad acceptance can now be seen as so highly unfair as to possibly cause skepticism if another similar situation (that may actually be factual) were to arise… and that would be a terrible shame.

I am very fond of the writings of black writers Thomas Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder and Clarence Thomas (who actually lived under extreme racism) and how they deplore the act of racism, but equally deplore the race card for the very fact that it does dishonor those who have encountered true racism.  They rightly question the race-accusations against police and the judicial system which many people blame for the over-representation of blacks in jail.  But who is to blame for the fact that over the last 30 years 94% of black homicide victims are killed by a black offender?  Is that statistic somehow linked to racism?  Is that stat alone enough to disprove racism?  Hardly… and the point isn’t to disprove it, but to not rely on it.

Which brings me back to Gates and Crowley.  Let’s suppose that Gates is right, and that Crowley actually did refuse to identify himself and was somehow rude to Gates (which is Gates’ charge) does that immediately imply racism?  Couldn’t Crowley just be a prick or something? Is it at all possible to be belligerent to someone of another race, without it being racism?  That is why I don’t like the automatic jump to race.

I have a similar sentiment towards the term “hate crime” to define a crime against a member of society based on their race, sexual orientation, etc.  It is most often associated with Matthew Shepard and his death, and the idea that he was murdered because he was gay.  Hate crime legislation serves to add an additional weight to crimes of this sort… which is a position with which I disagree.  Is murdering someone not hateful enough that we need to add another element?  Similarly, if Crowley was being belligerent to Gates, then that should be sufficient for a complaint… race should have little to nothing to do with the validity of the charge.

Thoughts?

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