Wednesday, July 22, 2009

AB.Com Guest Post - HomeOwning While Black?!?

[Editor's Note: I'm busy day jobbing, but thankfully my homegirl The Black Snob already went in on this whole Skip Gates/Homeowning While Black fiasco.]

Obviously the Cambridge, Mass. police department didn't get that memo about us living in "Post-Racial America" and felt it's still cool to arrest a man of a certain age (58) for trying to get into his own house. All he was was the homeowner and a well-connected Harvard Professor. I'm sure he looks EXACTLY like someone who would break into a house in that Tony suburb.

Um ... What's up with this, police?
Police arrived at Gates's Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.

He was booked for disorderly conduct after "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior," according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had "no idea who he was messing with,'' the report said.

Gates told the officer that he was being targeted because "I'm a black man in America.'' [To read a copy of the police report, click here]

Friends of Gates said he was already in his home when police arrived. He showed his driver's license and Harvard identification card, but was handcuffed and taken into police custody for several hours last Thursday, they said.

The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. "It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,'' the officer wrote in the report.
So they arrested him because he got loud about being harassed for being in his own house? How many things are WRONG with this sentence? The man had trouble getting in his house, got in his house then was harassed for being in his house then was arrested for being upset about being harassed for being in his house. These all sound like pretty natural reactions to me. Unless Gates administered a Hong Kong Fooey-style beatdown on the policeman, what was the problem here? You can't take some yelling from a naturally upset person? You're the one who messed up, Cambridge Po-Po. Not Gates! You're the one harassing homeowners because they have a permanent tan. I get that there were reports of a "prowler," but once he produced proof that it was, in fact, his house, shouldn't that have been "I'm so sorry for your inconvenience" time? Not, "you're under arrest?"

Personally, I think Gates was arrested for having a normal, human reaction as opposed to the reaction my Grandpa was taught to have living in segregated Arkansas. Meaning, be humble and apologize even when the police are in the wrong. My grandpa, while in his 60s was once stopped because he and his brother, also in his 60s, had a bunch of furniture in the bed of their truck and the officer, young enough to be one of their grandkids asked, "What are you boys doing with this stuff?" Grandpa Snob, apparently looking like some kind of menace in his work clothes (a pair of Dickies) and being SIXTY-SOME-ODD-YEARS-OLD was polite the whole time and waited patiently for the cop to call their truck in and learn they were moving things for an employer.

In St. Louis, about a decade or so back, a commercial was run on several stations with black audiences instructing black people how to interact with the police to avoid getting shot. Among the instructions was to not get angry no matter how wrong the officer was. The ad was highly controversial, but there HAD been a rash of police shootings that summer. Usually in the back.

My father and mother, both in their late 50s at the time, helped me move to Midland, TX. As they were leaving my father was pulled over. He was doing the speed limit and hadn't broken any laws. The officer was curious who these folks with out-of-states plates were. My father was naturally furious and ready to go off until he remembered the advice of his younger brother who told him it was better to shut up and smile than wind up arrested when folks are looking for any excuse to arrest you.

Long story short: Black people are not allowed it seems, under any circumstances, to ever have a human reaction to police error or harassment. Even in Post-racial America. Even if you're a Harvard professor. You are not allowed to get mad. You are not allowed to voice your opinion. You are not allowed to be loud and tumultuous or whatever that means. You are supposed to be apologetically black. Sorry for being an obvious target of racism. How dare you be born this color and attract this negative attention? I'm so very sorry for being born black in America. How can I make this up to you, Mr. Officer? It's my fault we all look alike to you. Pardon me for my Negroness.

[Editor's Note: The Cambridge Police have since dropped all charges against Gates.]

Question: Was Skip Gates arrested for HWB, or for not necessarily knowing when to "let it go"? Do you have any notable personal stories of run-ins with the cops?

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