July 29, 2009
Another teachable moment slipping away
It could have been another teachable moment. Just as the OJ Simpson trial could have been an opportunity to examine the intersection of race and class and the criminal justice system, the Henry Louis Gates arrest could have sparked a conversation about black men and the police. Instead, we’ve become distracted by he said, he said, he said noise. What did the professor say, what did the officer say, and what did the president say and then re-say? At this point, does any of that matter anymore? No, not when the persistent issue remains – there is a fundamental mistrust between black men and the police that too often can lead to a dangerous and volatile confrontation. It’s a mistrust that perpetuates a ‘don’t snitch’ mentality among inner city minority communities. It’s a mistrust that makes it damn near deadly for a brown or black man to be pulled over driving in the wrong neighborhood. And it’s a mistrust that can lead to an unarmed man being shot down in front of his home or on the night before his wedding.
Those who sympathize with Gates seem to be responding to generations of disrespect and hostility towards minorities at the hands of one too many white police officers. Those who see the story from Crowley’s perspective look at incidents like this as a contained event separate from any broader context. With both sides so steeped in who is right or wrong (and the media gleefully fanning the flames), once again we seem to be taking the easy way and focusing on the superficial and obvious. Any therapist will tell you that it’s impossible to truly heal a wound (in this case, the one inflicted by racism) and move forward without doing hard and painful introspection to figure out how you got to this point and why these things keep happening. Unfortunately, we as a collective are once again going to avoid having that serious and deliberate come-to –Jesus moment, and then when something “racial” happens again, we are going to wonder why these things keep happening to us.