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Everyone's heard the story by now. Renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. gets a visit from police officers after someone reports a someone trying to break into Gates' home. The perp, as it turns out, is Gates himself, who locked himself out of his home. On the off chance that the well-dressed sixty year old man that answered the door for police might still be some kind of burglar, Gates was asked to prove his residency. At the end of the debacle, during which the noted literary critic and intellectual demanded the police officer's name and badge number, he was arrested for "Disorderly Conduct."
Of course, when I first heard the news, I immediately thought of the Dave Chapelle routine about black homeowners and their reluctance to call for police in major cities like New York or Los Angeles. "Open and shut case, Johnson! Apparently this black guy broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere!"
There's been a lot of debate over the whole thing, of course. Whenever a minority is victimized or singled out in some fashion, whether initially justified or not, there is going to be a heated debate. One side will insist it is indicative of institutionalized racism and unfair treatment of minorities by racist cops, whether the person was guilt or not. The other side will rabidly defend the innocence of the police despite any evidence to the contrary, and complain about political correctness and affirmative action. Even the President of the United States of America weighed in on this one, calling the arrest "stupid" and taking the institutionalized racism side. Of course, since Obama is America's first Black President, it makes sense that he would have to give his opinion on the major news story.
But of course, the part of this story that surprises me the least is that the arresting officer, James Crowley, refuses to apologize.
I've known police officers, both directly and through family members, and one major gripe they've always had is the negative attitude that the general public feels towards them. Its a justified complaint; spending your life in service of the public, only to have that public constantly dismissive and suspicious of you, can be a major emotional drain. But no matter how many positive and even outright pro-police propaganda television shows and films are cranked out, public opinion of the police in general is on the negative side. For the men and women in law enforcement, that kind of publicity can make you wonder if the job is worth it.
So who do you blame for negative public opinion of the police? For a start, idiots like James Crowley. Of course, that's a little unfair to Crowley; he isn't the first cop to refuse any civil response to an awkward situation, and it isn't just individual officers spreading that kind of pig-headed stubbornness around. When Guinean immigrant Amadou Diallo was shot forty-one times by NYPD officers because they claimed his wallet looked like a gun, there was no humility on display in their public statements to the press. Granted, no one expected them to throw their own officers under the bus. But not only did they continuously defend shooting an unarmed man forty-one times as a reasonable response and well within the line of duty, they (meaning the
Image via WikipediaNYPD as a whole) also never showed any real remorse for Diallo's death. And they sure as hell never apologized for accidentally killing the man.
Is this kind of bully-boy arrogance really necessary? I'm not saying that cops should run around saying Please and Thank You and asking permission for every little inconvenience. But when someone like James Crowley pulls an obviously ego-driven bonehead move like arresting someone in their own home for being 'belligerent', especially when the racial ramifications of the misunderstanding are painfully obvious, would it really be damaging to police department's public image to shout out a quick "Oops, my bad?"
Sadly, that's not an isolated incident, and not nearly the worst example to be made. I could spend pages listing children and elderly people being tasered to death and being placed in fatal choke-holds, unwarranted brutality and abuse at the hands of chest-thumping 'roid gorillas with badges, gross mishandling of innocent people by the system at a bureaucratic level, and an endless stream of harassment of private citizens for purely personal, political, or ethically unsound reasons. Not all of these examples take place in New York, California, and Texas, either. Honest.
Many will argue that cops shouldn't have to say "I'm sorry." My response is that nobody has to say "I'm sorry," but they tend to do so diplomatically when mistakes have been made. And my warning is that, if you are going to fight the occasional act of grace and courtesy so vehemently, then I don't want to hear you asking why so many people distrust, fear, or outright hate the police. You know why.
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