Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Acting White: Damned If I Do, Damned If I Don't

Many commenter’s on the Gates affair, here and elsewhere, have said that the professor was too quick to take offense at the tone and manner of Officer Crowley’s approach, and perhaps they are correct. They ask why didn’t he just ignore police gruffness and ‘turn the other cheek’, or just say no big deal? For the record, this benefit of the doubt approach definitely has its merits, but it is not without its own costs, as my memory recalls.

Many years ago, I had the six-month occasion of a weekly Boston to SFO commute. One Monday morning at the ticket counter, I entered the first class and ‘Premier’ flyer line, behind at least five others, and ahead of more. At some point an agent surveyed the line, came around the counter, and approached me. Speaking only to me, she asked if I was either first class or premier status, and I answered yes. She then asked to see my premier card, which I showed her, whereupon she returned to the counter. She questioned no one ahead or behind me in line.

Now I did not have to wonder why she had singled me out of the group, as this ‘special treatment’ was nearly-typical for me over the 100,000 miles I logged that particular year, but that morning I decided that I should turn the other cheek. Besides, I had been through this drill so many times; frankly I was just too tired to mount a ‘campaign’ to set things straight, that day.

After about a minute had passed, the older gentleman directly in front of me, turned and gave me a stern lecture that was much more painful than the profiling of the ticket agent. He began by saying the agent had not asked anyone ahead of me for proof they were in the correct line. He asked me if I had realized that the agent had singled me out because I’m black, wherein I answered yes I had, but he wasn't done. Why do you let someone treat you this way young man? Do you not have self-respect for you or your people? You must stand-up for yourself or others will never have respect for you, he declared. Wow, body-slammed by an old white guy at 7 am!

I calmly beckoned the ticket agent to return and told her to retrieve her supervisor, as we needed to have a ‘chat’. When the supervisor arrived I tongue-lashed him good for the treatment by the agent. He took it well and apologized profusely, repeating that it was not company policy to single anyone out in this manner. I hoped that the supervisor would not object, as I sensed my instigator was ready to pounce in that instant. I accepted the apology and sent the two on their way. I then looked at the old white man, whose arms were still folded, but now under a smug-grin, and I said, “satisfied?” He nodded agreement and we went our separate ways. But I went away thinking I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t – and just perhaps this is a little of the maddening feeling that came over the good professor that day in Cambridge.

James C. Collier


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sungod said...

good post...it depends of the situation i guess as a fellow young black male i too have encountered being "singled" out. I tend to turn the other cheek and not cause a scene unless it is grossly disrespectful. then again arent they all????

Unknown said...

That is an excellent story, sir.

atldude said...

good point. it's a no win situation.

I do want to point out that people of all races are at times singled out.

As a young skater, I was constantly harassed by the police/security guards, even if I wasn't skating at the time. Same thing when I had a 12" mohawk. They assumed I was up to no good (even though I was actually a nerd in disquise).

Until recently, I had really long hair. I always "felt" judged, and would really get a kick out of going into a high-end restaurants and getting treated different, because I didn't fit the mold.

Driving around in a little convertible marks me as a speeder. Rolling in a big truck marks me as a redneck. Each gets me different treatment.

Not diminishing your stories (James and commenters) or experiences in the least, just want to note that us white folk get it too.

Anonymous said...

Good Example Professor, I recall last November checking into a major hotel property for a two night stay in the surburbs of Birmingham, AL. Upon checking in for two night stay, the check-in clerk that happen to be white look at me, winced and ran my credit card.
Upon checking my credit card balance online to purchase a airline ticket that evening, I noticed that the clerk ran my card for $1500, which is unsual for a $89.00 dollar a nite stay, was this a error or just racial malfeasance!

The average credit card is ran for the amount of the stay plus additional 25%.

Diogenes said...

And we're back to the question the apologists for Crowley never want to address:

What crime did Gates commit?

And Nick, that's a really sophisticated argument you're making there, the old "go back where you came from" schtick. I'd suggest something comparable for you, but they've probably dislodged that rock by now.

lincolnperry said...

Please defend and explain the actions of Justin Barrett?

Anonymous said...

The crime he was charged with was disorderly conduct and it seems he was definitely guilty but the charged were dropped to placate him.

Wonder how the beer thing at the WH is going?

White Cop said...

Note: this comment is too long, so I am submitting it in parts.

I honestly can't believe I am going to post a comment here, but for the first time I feel I might have something to contribute. Before I comment, here's some background on me. I am a police officer in a major urban city in the South, and I am white. I was born in an all white family, raised in a pre-dominantly white neighborhood, and grew up with almost all white friends through high school and college. I am fairly well-educated, and considered pursuing post-graduate studies, but found myself drawn to police work, in particular, criminal investigation. Thoughout my life, I never once considered I might have any underlying racial biases. However, it wasn't until I became a cop that I found my own cultural biases tested. It was then that I realized, like every other flawed human being on this earth, I, because of my cultural upbringing, have prejudices. I was always taught that racism is bad, but I also never had any real, meaningful exposure to cultures outside my own. Working alongside white, black, hispanic, and vietnamese cops, in a profoundly multi-cultural city, I quickly realized I knew next to nothing about the daily lives and struggles of other ethnic communities. Disturbed by this, I started seeking out forums where these topics are discussed. One day I heard a round-table discussion on National Public Radio featuring several African American bloggers, once of whom was Mr Collier. I was intrigued by his perspective, since the mainstream media prefers to feature the rhetoric of screaming protestors instead of thoughtful, honest discussion. I began following this blog, "Acting White," to hear Mr Collier's opinion on racial news topics. I have found Mr Collier to be exceptionally even-handed and honest on topics of racial discrimination in America. I don't want to sound like a kiss-up here... it's simply true, that when the mainstrea media is your only source for commentary on racial issues in America, one typically hears only extremist opinions.

White Cop said...

(continued from previous comment)

That's enough about me though. I'm not perfect by any stretch, but I try to be honest and just in my life and law enforcement career.

I have read the online version of Crowley's arrest narrative of Gates; however, I wasn't there, so I know about as much as anyone else. Speaking as a cop, I can say that Crowley is completey justified in his actions, up until the moment he chose to make the arrest. When dispatched to a possible burglary at a habitation, the first thing you do is read the notes given to you by dispatch. You don't know who has called 9-1-1and you don't have time to question the caller about the details. You have to move fast to try and catch a burglar, if in fact there is an actual burglary taking place. As soon as you arrive, you start looking for suspects as described by the caller who might be leaving the area already. If no one is located outside, you then go to the residence to look for signs of a burglary. It is my understanding that Crowley arrived and saw an open front door. If that is the case, you then approach and look to see if there is anyone inside. Upon seeing someone inside, you contact them, and, depending on the situation, detain them either verbally or physically. You then request identification to determine who the person is. You have no way of knowing if that person is the homeowner until you have somehow verified their identification. Once you verify that the person is the homeowner, and that there appears to be no offense, you explain the 9-1-1 call, leave, and clear out the call. It's a pretty simple forumla, and I have conducted such cursory investigations numerous times. 99 times out of 100, the home owner is completely cooperative of the investigation, regardless of their race. Usually, on the way out the door, they thank you for doing your job and for trying to catch a possible burglar at their residence.

However, there is the odd case where the person you encounter, the homeowner, for whatever reason, is completely unreasonable. From the moment of first contact, the person simply flies off the handle. In cases of inter-racial contacts, it is not uncommon for the word "racist" to be thrown around. I can personally attest, that for a white cop who is simply trying to do a good job, there is nothing more insulting and aggravating, than to be suddenly and publically accused of racism where clearly none is present. In the past, I have been able to diffuse these situations by stopping and explaining the details of the 9-1-1 call (in cases where I beleived this was an appropriate step). However, believe it or not, there are people out there who don't care what your reasons may be. Possibly because of some past mistreatment by someone else, or because of unexplained paranoia, they don't let you explain, they simply yell in anger.

Now, I don't know Mr Gates personally, so I cannot speak for his character. But I can sympathize with Crowley's indignation at Mr Gates' public humiliation of him. It is absolutely humiliating as a police officer to be openly disrespected in front of other citizens, especially when the accusations are of racism.


White Cop said...

(continued from above)

However, you can't make an arrest if you don't have a valid charge. And this is the crux of the whole incident. If Crowley had sucked it up and walked away, not only would the President not have commented on this, but it would be hard for Gates to make any sort of valid claim of mistreatment. In my state, the charge of disorderly conduct simply isn't applicable here. I have spoken with some of my lawyer friends about the Mass. version of the Disorderly Conduct law, and this arrest is very much on the fringe. Disorderly Conduct laws are open to wide interpretation, but in Mr Gates' case, interpreting his conduct as "tumultuous" on his front porch is a pretty wide stretch of the law. I assume that this is why the charge was summarily dropped. Gates' behavior, no matter how inappropriate it may have appeared, does not qualify as Disorderly Conduct.

I don't mean to throw a fellow police officer under the bus, especially when I wasn't actually there to witness the incident, but I just can't see myself arresting an old man with a cane. As I have done before in the past, I would have just told him he was "out of his mind," driven away, and laughed about his outrageous behavior in the locker room later.

I have to agree with Mr Collier's first post on this subject. This really seems to me to be about ego's, not racial profiling. This isn't about race at all, this is about "P.O.P." (Pissing Off Police). A person's demeanor goes a long way in swaying the outcome of an encounter with police. I myself have never made an unlawful arrest. But, in those cases where I do have a valid arrestable charge, I am more than happy to slap cuffs on anyone who shows blatant contempt for the law. But this just doesn't look like the case with Gates... and sometimes you just have to shrug off some undeserved disrespect.

James C. Collier said...

White Cop: Thanks for taking the time to give the birdseye view from the other side of the badge. And be careful out there.

Diogenes said...

Thanks, White Cop. It's good to hear the perspective of someone who is "there" on a daily basis. You guys have a very tough job, and you have to put up with a bunch of crap on top of it all.

Thanks for doing your job.

Anonymous said...

It is very possible Crowley made a mistake by making the arrest but it is certain Gates made the mistake of acting the way he did.

If Gates had been as appreciative of the work cops do as some here the whole thing would be a non-issue.

Gate's mistake trumps Crowley's without a single doubt. His attitude was the catalyst for the entire episode but few care to admit that. Two of the hardest things for a person to do is be self-critical and admitting mistakes but that is the surest way to grow as an individual.

Mr. Gates you still need to do some growing in spite of all your achievements.

Hopefully Crowley has learned something too and as he said after the "beer summit", they can look forward instead of back.