Now what about Obama’s comment about the way the police acted in Cambridge with that Harvard Professor? Well I am of two minds about this and it’s partly out of my experience and partly out of my prejudices. First I must say that his comment about minorities being pulled over is probably true and unjust and backed up by the facts. But it’s also true – and he as a lawyer should have understood this – that this Professor was not pulled over, he was in a house that someone reported seeing a burglar breaking into, that’s a horse of a different color entirely.
To say that the cops over-reacted to the situation is self-evident; after all, if they didn’t, why were the charges immediately dropped against the Professor? So I would say that in this situation, the people paid to keep their cool lost it. Their bad, but was it stupid? Maybe so, but surprising? Probably not.
I have been in a heated race-driven situation a time or two myself as a white Principal of a school where the majority of the school children were African American. I know that pulling out the race card comes fast and it comes with heat. No doubt that a cop in this situation is going to feel indignant at being accused of being racially biased. Perhaps this policeman doesn’t have a racist bone in his body. Perhaps he’s a paragon of racial virtue like the newspapers and his own Department asserts.
But how much experience does this guy really have in dealing with heated racial incidents and strife? I heard that he tried to revive a black basketball player who suffered a heart attack but this hardly rates with negotiating with the Office of Civil Rights now does it?
Well, let’s look at the demographics of Cambridge, MA. The most recent census showed that only 12% of the residents are African American and 65% of residents are White. This tells me that Cambridge isn’t Philly or Chicago or LA where these officers would experience a much higher level of racial pressure than in Cambridge. This is not exactly a training ground for the kind of racial anger that it sounds like this officer encountered with the good Professor.
I found when I moved to the inner city to work that I held prejudices that simply didn’t matter until they were challenged by real people and real problems. I was indignant when I was called a racist for disciplining a child, because I didn’t feel like a racist. But I did have to come to terms with my own racial attitudes and bias because in the face of real people, they simply couldn’t hold up. But my attitudes got challenged both internally and externally.
I bet that this police officer reverted into the “I got the badge, so shut the hell up” mentality that I’ve observed in law enforcement at times. The officer’s job is to keep things cool to keep themselves and others safe and my guess is that this Professor blew his cork at being challenged in his own home. So the Officer sensed danger and the need to control the situation, hence the over-reaction.
Was the Professor right to blow a cork? Well maybe, or perhaps his racial attitudes rose white hot and blinded him to the job that these officers were trying to do which was actually safeguarding his property. Perhaps this Black Professor lost his perspective the same way that the Officer did who puffed up his indignant chest in that “you don’t screw with the cops” manner.
It sounds like perhaps they both acted a little stupidly. Cops are going to act like cops, they were called to a burglary after all. African American Professors who teach in a Department about African American culture and who are challenged about being in their own house by white cops are going to react badly to what they perceive as unfair treatment by authority. Perhaps they both needed to count to ten and then sit down to tea and talk it over.
Perhaps instead of teaching a class about racial profiling, the Officer needs to take a class from officers who work the inner city every day and learn a little about understanding the racial divide. It’s filled with dry brush and it doesn’t take more than a spark to light it.
Perhaps the Professor needs to get the big picture on an officer’s job and why they asked him for his ID in a house where a reported burglar was sighted and where a door was busted open.
I mean come on people, can’t we stop for a second and think this through? It didn’t have to be more than a story for old men to chuckle over during a game of checkers. In my opinion, the stupidity on display did not have to rise to the level of a Martin Luther King rally or to an arrest of a man who was pissed off about being asked for his ID.