By Allan Wall
July 30, 2009
William Shakespeare wrote a play entitled “Much Ado about Nothing.” As I’ve read about “Gatesgate” – the recent brouhaha stirred up by Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates - I was reminded of that play title.
In a sense, Gatesgate was “much ado about nothing” in the sense that a simple misunderstanding wound up becoming a national issue in which the president became involved.
On another level, however, Gatesgate is much more than a misunderstanding, touching as it does on the big question of race in our society, and how it is dealt with.
What happened — Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates (who is Black) returned from an overseas trip, and discovered his front door couldn’t be opened (though the back door could). Gates obtained the help of his driver and they got it open.
Somebody who witnessed this situation didn’t know what was going on, and suspecting it might be a burglary, asked another person to call the police.
James Crowley, an officer in the Cambridge Police Department arrived to Gates’ house. Rather than cooperate and simply explain the misunderstanding, Gates immediately began to yell at Crowley and call him a “racist” (the worst insult in today’s society). After Crowley realized that Gates lived there, he attempted to leave, but Gates followed Crowley outside and continued the verbal abuse until Crowley arrested him for disorderly contact.
Of course the charges were dropped, and Gates was only in jail a few hours. But it became a national issue, even commented upon by President Obama, who said the Cambridge police department had acted “stupidly.”
All of this, resulting from a door that wouldn’t open.
Haven’t we all been in situations that started out like this one — Misunderstandings that can be easily cleared up. If Gates had simply been polite and explained the situation, we would have never heard about this. But thanks to Gates’ flying off the handle, a minor police call was turned into a majory injustice. Gates indulged his martyr complex and now is more famous than ever.
As for President Obama, he should never have gotten involved in a local police matter. The President even admitted that he really didn’t know what was going on, but said that Gates was his friend and the police had acted “stupidly.” This caused such a stir that a few days later he had to – well, not exactly apologize – but “re-calibrate” his words. Obama even arranged for Gates and Crowley to come to the White House and have a beer with him.
Bravo to Crowley, by the way, for not apologizing. Most white Americans nowadays buckle under to this kind of pressure very quickly. But Crowley didn’t.
Gates sent an email to the Boston Globe that read: "My entire academic career has been based on improving race relations, not exacerbating them. I am hopeful that my experience will lead to greater sensitivity to issues of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. If so, then this will be a blessing for our society. It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience."
Gates you see, made this minor matter into a case of racial profiling, which now is considered a horrible injustice. But used correctly, it’s an effective police tool that can save lives.
That’s because different groups do have varying criminal propensities. We’re talking about averages here. To say that one group is more apt (statistically) to commit a crime by no means implies that every member of the group does. But it’s a fact that the odds are higher with some groups than with others.
Most people instinctively know this, but are afraid to say it publicly. Nowadays, some people could lose their career over talking about it.
By profiling, I don’t mean arresting people based on their group and not their individual behavior. Of course not. But certain groups have more of a statistical propensity toward crime than others, and it’s not wrong for the police to take note of that.
Males and females, for example. Males are statistically much more likely to commit a violent crime than females. So you can profile by gender.
Or, you can profile by age and marital status. A twenty-year old single male is more likely to commit a violent crime than a thirty-year old married man. There’s something about marriage that reduces men’s criminal propensities (on average).
Now, about race. Black activists complain about Blacks being profiled. But there’s a reason for that. The reason is that Blacks have a much higher rate of violent crime than Whites do. That’s a fact.
That’s why law-abiding Blacks are sometimes profiled or not trusted by strangers. That’s sad, but it’s a result of the high rate of crime among the black population.
By the same token, Americans of Japanese ancestry have a lower crime rate than Whites. Which means that the White population has a higher propensity toward crime than Japanese-Americans.
Imagine that you are a cop on a street. On one corner you see a group of fifty-year old Japanese-American women. On another corner you see a group of 15-20 year old Blacks. Which group are you going to pay more attention to? Be honest. Aren’t you a profiler too?
So there’s a bigger issue here than the self-righteous posturing of a Black Ivy League professor. We’re talking about social realities here.
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If Dr. Gates is really so concerned about profiling, how about if he can convince young Black criminals to stop committing violent crimes that get all Blacks profiled from time to time.
I guess that’s not half so rewarding as playing the victim though, is it?
© 2009 Allan Wall - All Rights Reserved
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Allan Wall recently returned to the U.S. after residing many years in Mexico.