Monday, July 20, 2009

A Real Life "Amos & Andrew?"

Back in 1993, a movie by the name of Amos & Andrew (a play on the infamous title "Amos 'n' Andy"), staring Samuel Jackson and Nicolas Cage, explored racial stereotypes in comedic fashion. In the movie, a wealthy third-generation college educated Black author and Pulitzer Prize winner (Jackson) from New York City moves into a nearby predominantly White Connecticut suburb where he is viewed one evening through his living room window by his new white neighbors as he attempts to set up his TV and VCR. The neighbors instantly assume Jackson's character is a burglar and call the police. Subsequently, when asked by news media how they knew the man was a burglar, the neighbors responded: "well when you see a black man in this kind of a neighborhood with electronics in his hands, you know damn well what he's up to."

In an eerily similar "Art Imitates Life" type scenario, on Thursday, July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a Yale educated, world renowned author and Harvard professor who lives in a white suburb of Boston, Massachusetts was spotted by one of his white neighbors having trouble with the key to his house. The neighbor, assuming Gates was a a burglar, called the police who showed up to investigate, much to the dismay of Gates. According to the police report, Gates was agitated when he was asked to step outside of his home to speak with the officer. After that, according to the report, Gates then asked the police officer who he was and what he was doing there. The officer responded that he was there investigating a robbery-in-progress reported at Gates' residence. According to the report, Gates then responded "why, because I'm a Black man in America?"

After much back and forth between Gates and the Police officer, Gates was then arrested for disorderly conduct in his front yard and taken into police custody.

And in an interesting twist of events, Professor Charles Ogletree has stepped forward as legal counsel for Gates. (Now they have officially messed up - you do NOT want to see Ogletree on the other side of the courtroom)

My take on it after reading the police report is that Gates, who had a clear right to exist in his home and who was under no obligation to allow the officer to enter his home, was understandably upset. Lord knows, as Black people in America, we've all been profiled at some time or another. However, I think his frustration should have been directed at the neighbor who assumed he was a burglar instead of towards the police officer who had to respond to the call placed by the neighbor. Of course, when the police show up to your house, they rarely, if ever, tell you who called them there so my point is kind of moot, but you see what I'm getting at. Sometimes (key element being "some") its not always the fault of the police that they had to show up at our door or pull us over on the road. Sometimes their hand is forced.

Nevertheless, speaking of the police, I will say this - once the man identified himself...what are you still doing there, Officer Crowley? It is then time for you to go. You came to investigate a claim of breaking and entering, you did a little police work and found out that the alleged house "burglar" was in fact, the house "owner." OK. False alarm. Time to go. The fact that the owner of the house is pissed at you is irrelevant at that point. They have a right to be pissed - it's their house! Furthermore, why would you then, knowing that this is the owner of the house, arrest the man? You had to know that was going to at least give off the appearance of a racially motivated arrest. Good luck with Ogletree.

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