Both incidents touch on race and show that such issues can still arouse anger in this country and that whites are tired of being painted as racists by minorities. That is why the Gates story has aroused such outrage. And the assumption that a white officer in a confrontation with a black man must be motivated by racism is tired ideology. Note that the one black officer on the scene sides with the police and denies the accusation of racial profiling.
Heather MacDonald debunks the standard storyline of racial profiling.
The ACLU and other anti-police activists have alleged for years that blacks are the victims of disproportionate and unjustified traffic stops, a charge that has become received wisdom among large swathes of the population. It happens to be contradicted by drivers themselves. The Bureau of Justice Statistics regularly polls tens of thousands of civilians about their contacts with the police. Virtually identical proportions of white, black, and Hispanic drivers — 9 percent — report being stopped by the police, though in 2005, the self-reported black stop rate — 8.1 percent — was nearly a percentage point lower than the self-reported white stop rate (8.9 percent). The stop rate for blacks is lower during the day, when officers can more readily see a driver’s race.Unfortunately, Gates, Obama, and the Governor of Massachusetts Deval Patrick, all chose to paint this incident in the lines of race when it is clear that the only one who jumped to talking about race was Gates himself. Gates was understandably tired from a long day of travel, the frustration of having forgotten his key, and the irritation of being confronted in his own home. Instead of being quietly grateful that the Cambridge police were responding quickly to protect his home when informed of a possible break-in, he immediately escalated the whole incident to one of race and then played the "you don't know whom you're messing with" card with the policeman. Just as with his insulting clinging to guns and religion remark, Obama assumes he knows what is in the mind of a white lower middle class person. And by his remarks and connection to America's history of racial prejudice, Obama has actually exacerbated problems. And an editor at the Harvard Crimson in his column certainly buys into the approved storyline that this arrest was about race. This is so unfortunate and does nothing to improve relations between town and gown.
As for urban policing — where the police have victim identifications and contextual and behavioral cues to work with — blacks are stopped more, but only in comparison with their proportion of the entire population. Measured against their crime rate, they are understopped. New York City is perfectly typical of the black police-stop and crime rates. In the first three months of 2009, 52 percent of all people stopped for questioning by the police in New York City were black, though blacks are just 24 percent of the population. But according to the victims of and witnesses to crime, blacks commit about 68 percent of all violent crime in the city. Blacks commit 82 percent of all shootings and 72 percent of all robberies, whereas whites, who make up 35 percent of the city's population, commit about 5 percent of all violent crimes, 1 percent of shootings, and about 4 percent of robberies.
These figures are not police-generated; they come from the overwhelmingly minority victims of crime in their reports to the police. Such crime reports mean that when the police respond to community demands for protection against crime, information-based police deployment will send officers to minority neighborhoods where crime is highest. When the police respond to a call about a shooting, they will almost never be told that the shooter was white, and thus will not be searching for a white suspect.
National crime patterns are the same. Black males between the ages of 18 and 24 commit homicide at ten times the rate of whites and Hispanics combined. Such vastly disproportionate crime rates must lead, if the police are going after crime in a color-blind fashion, to disproportionate stop and arrest rates. To criticize the police for crime-determined enforcement activity is to blame the messenger.
As always, Mark Steyn finds deep humor in the sorry details of this whole story. First he relates a funny anecdote about Henry Louis Gates that I'd never heard.
As to the differences between the professor's and the cops' version of events, I confess I've been wary of taking Henry Louis Gates at his word ever since, almost two decades back, the literary scholar compared the lyrics of the rap group 2 Live Crew to those of the Bard of Avon. "It's like Shakespeare's 'My love is like a red, red rose,'" he declared, authoritatively, to a court in Fort Lauderdale.Ah, just the type of expertise one seeks in a Harvard literature professor. He might not know English literature, but he sure knows racism which he sees everywhere.
As it happens, "My luv's like a red, red rose" was written by Robbie Burns, a couple of centuries after Shakespeare. Oh, well. 16th century English playwright, 18th century Scottish poet: What's the diff? Evidently being within the same quarter-millennium and right general patch of the North-East Atlantic is close enough for a professor of English and Afro-American Studies appearing as an expert witness in a court case.
In the Sixties, the great English satirist Peter Simple invented the Prejudometer, which simply by being pointed at any individual could calculate degrees of racism to the nearest prejudon, "the internationally recognized scientific unit of racial prejudice." Professor Gates seems to go around with his Prejudometer permanently cranked up to 11: When Sgt. Crowley announced through the glass-paneled front door that he was here to investigate a break-in, Gates opened it up and roared back: "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?"Steyn is right. For those like Al Sharpton who jumped from embracing those racial heroes, Michel Jackson and his parents, to pronouncing this whole story "the highest example of racial profiling" that he had ever seen, race is still at the basis of any story where a black person is involved. And President Obama's words just exacerbated that perception and encouraged that culture of victimhood which imbues so many aspects of our culture.
Gates then told him, "I'll speak with your mama outside." Outside, Sgt. Crowley's mama failed to show. But among his colleagues were a black officer and a Hispanic officer. Which is an odd kind of posse for what the Rev. Al Sharpton calls, inevitably, "the highest example of racial profiling I have seen." But what of our post-racial president? After noting that "'Skip' Gates is a friend" of his, President Obama said that "there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately." But, if they're being "disproportionately" stopped by African American and Latino cops, does that really fall under the category of systemic racism? Short of dispatching one of those Uighur Muslims from China recently liberated from Gitmo by Obama to frolic and gambol on the beaches of Bermuda, the assembled officers were a veritable rainbow coalition. The photograph of the arrest shows a bullet-headed black cop – Sgt. Leon Lashley, I believe – standing in front of the porch while behind him a handcuffed Gates yells accusations of racism. This is the pitiful state the Bull Connors of the 21st century are reduced to, forced to take along a squad recruited from the nearest Benetton ad when they go out to whup some uppity Negro boy.
As professor Gates jeered at the officers, "You don't know who you're messin' with." Did Sgt. Crowley have to arrest him? Probably not. Did he allow himself to be provoked by an obnoxious buffoon? Maybe. I dunno. I wasn't there. Neither was the president of the United States, or the governor of Massachusetts or the mayor of Cambridge. All of whom have declared themselves firmly on the side of the Ivy League bigshot. And all of whom, as it happens, are African American. A black president, a black governor and a black mayor all agree with a black Harvard professor that he was racially profiled by a white-Latino-black police team, headed by a cop who teaches courses in how to avoid racial profiling. The boundless elasticity of such endemic racism suggests that the "post-racial America" will be living with blowhard grievance-mongers like professor Gates unto the end of time.