The Lost Opportunities in the Gates Debate

The everyday fact of racial profiling seems to be erased from the conversation around the the Gates Affair. The the most recent hub-bub is about is about what Barak Obama said about the Cambridge policeman who arrested Gates. “Stupidly” may not have been the best word to describe the arrest of one of America’s foremost scholars for disorderly conduct last week. But framing in terms of this event as a simple dust up between two people who lost their temper, diverts interest away from the important statement that he made next: African American and Hispanic people are targeted by the police more than whites.

The fact that the media discourse seem to be stuck on saving face of one cop, instead of the daily practice that reminds blacks that they are not full citizens of America is sadly par for the course. Racial profiling is a practice that violates the Constitution for thousands of people of color each day. As a black woman I may not experience it as many times as black men do but make no mistake, we are profiled also. No discussion will be held on ways to improve policing so that those of us who see the police as agents of containment not protection. No discussion of Elinor Bumpers, Abner Louima, Amadou Diallo, Shawn Bell and countless others who have been injured and died because police saw them as less than human.

After the  touted beer on the White House lawn is anything to be done about these brazen violations of the Constitution or will this continued framed as two guys who “lost their heads?” Yesterday Colin Powell admitted that he had been racially profiled many times, but the comment that Obama made about this practice being a fact has been drowned out by the cries from the men in blue who say his comments about Officer Crowley would make them second guess themselves on the streets. Perhaps it would be good for police to take a second thought when they come into African American and Hispanic neighborhoods. Perhaps it would be nice for them to see the denizens of these communities as human beings instead of  crime statistics.

President Obama said he wanted to make this a teachable moment, instead it will most likely be a if a photo opportunity.  I wish President Obama would share his own stories about being  profiles in hyper-segregated Chicago to emphasize the fact that profiling does not discriminate between class or education but only race. Explain to America how you felt of being identified by those whose first instinct when they see a person of color is not to protect and serve. How about starting a dialogue based on the hundred of studies that say racial profiling is a fact of life. It is doubtful that anational dialogue will emerge to change policing and find ways for those in communities for color to trust these men and women who are much more often seen as agents of oppression not public servants. A beer will solve nothing and I hope that when Obama looks back on this event and  will see it as a missed opportunity not as a so-called teachable moment. Cooler heads should prevail in a police encounter  is common sense that most people of color  practice every day and  should not be the complete message of this gathering, the reasons why communities of color  feel threatened, intimidated, distrustful of the men and women in blue should be.

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