Wednesday, July 22, 2009

email to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Dear Dr. Gates,

I do not blame you for being outraged by your arrest. From the news stories I read Sergeant James Crowley's reaction was out of proportion to the situation.

But do I think his actions reflect any racism on his part. Well...technically no. And I will get to that below.

If there was any overt racial profiling involved in your recent arrest it was on the part of the neighbor who called the Cambridge Police Department when she saw, "...two black males with backpacks on the porch," with one "wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry." (Melissa Trujillo, AP) Your neighbor owes you and apology...and then some.

However, what Sgt. Crowley arrested you for was "contempt of cop." Now as my cursory research shows me, African American men are arrested for "contempt of cop" at higher rates than whites, but I was almost arrested for contempt of cop myself last winter! This happened after I had spent two hours of struggling with a software problem on my computer, I decided to take a long walk.

During my walk the credit union where I do my "banking" was robbed by a white, male wearing sunglasses, a baseball cap and hooded jacket. Guess what I was wearing.

Anyway, as I was making the last leg of my walk home I noticed a larger number of police and Sheriff's cars than usual in my neighborhood. I had just crossed the intersection of a major street when the "Neighborhood Patrol" officer of the Des Moines PD pulled his SUV over to the side of the street where I was walking and haled me:"Where are you going?"

"Home!," I truthfully answered.

"You know a bank's just been robbed?"

"How would I know that, I was out on a walk!"

"You fit the robber's description," because, he said I had a narrow face, white hair and was wearing a hooded jacket, ball cap and sunglasses.

This particular bank robber had been caught on camera at an earlier robbery where it was established the man was well over 6 foot tall. I'm 5'6". And I told the officer so. He replied,"You know eye witnesses are unreliable."

Long story short, this went on for five minutes or so, during that time a local business waddled up and offered his two-cents worth that I did, indeed, match the description of the robber. During this time the office threatened me with arrest more than once. Noting that I was "feisty."

What saved me from arrest was that the cop radioed in a description of me and what I was wearing. Fortunately, besides being several inches shorter, my hooded jacket and cap were not the same colors as the robber's clothing. So I was allowed to go my merry way home. Undoubtedly had I been African American, different color clothing or not, I probably would have been cuffed and taken for a ride downtown. Needless to say, I was pissed and wanted to call in a complaint to the police and my city council man. But upon reflection that would have been futile. However, I have heard the words "arrogant" and "asshole," used by neighborhood businessmen with whom I trade, describing our "Neighborhood Patrol" officer.

I think your arrest goes beyond merely being an issue of white cop-black civilian man. I feel there is a systemic problem with our civilian polices forces throughout the nation. In the recent past two small town Iowa police officers, actually one was the chief, were tried, convicted and sentenced for rape. This has become especially acute since the founding of the Milton J. Friedman All Volunteer Force in 1973, since most police departments recruit officers directly out of the military. I have no remedy for the situation but as long as police officers, especially white police officers, feel that they are somehow apart and above those whom they are sworn to "protect and service" then arrests such as your's will continue.

I'm glad all charges, spurious as they were, were dropped.

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