Barack Obama · jews of color · news

From Harvard to Handcuffs

Did you hear the one about the black Harvard professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested for trying to break into his own home? No, this is not the beginning of a joke.

All over the country people were crying racism and President Barack Obama responded to the whole thing by saying the police officers had “acted stupidly.” (He apologized later.)

The whole thing had me thinking about Chris Rock’s “How not to get your ass kicked by the police” video which I had recently posted on this blog.

My aunt’s a cop so when it comes to police officers, I have a definite bias. I grew up hanging around them, visiting my aunt at the police station and even going to theme parks with groups of cops. But there is no question that cops are humans like everyone else, perhaps even more susceptible to racism because of the jobs they do and the racial factionalism on the job.

Do check out: “Professor’s Arrest Tests Beliefs on Racial Progress”

Incidentally, this whole incident sparked a nasty, nasty argument at the Shabbos table today. One the one side, one person was arguing that it was understandable how the professor responded because as a black man, he is probably sick of finding himself in these types of situations. Who hasn’t read a story about “driving while black” or “walking while black”?

On the other side, I heard comments about blacks “always trying to pull the race card” and Obama being “stupid” for his comments on this situation. Well, obviously, whether or not this situation was racist, it was racially charged enough to start a racially charged discussion that ended in tears.

I left the Shabbos table shaking, whether from anger or horror I’m not sure. In one fell swoop, I went from feeling like just another Jew to being the only person of color in a heated discussion about race that made me increasingly uncomfortable. I am not sure when, if ever, I will fully recover from it.

Honestly, the worst comment I heard was someone who said, “At least, Jews don’t try to use slavery as an excuse never to work the rest of our lives.” In response to a Tweet I wrote about this comment, @ChrisMacDen, a Jewish Twitterer, wrote back “No, some Jews just use Shoah as excuse to…oh, never mind.”

10 thoughts on “From Harvard to Handcuffs

  1. Oy. When someone originally posted this article on twitter, I was extremely tired and I figured I just read the article incorrectly and that it really must have said that a Harvard professor had his house burglarized, the police came and arrested the culprit.

    Stories like this just shouldn't be reality. To the point, that I didn't think the story was true and I obviously read incorrectly. Sigh.


  2. I'm so sorry this happened to you. I've been at so many shabbos tables where people assume that because I look like them, I'll go along with the racist, misogynistic, terrible things that they are saying. I can't even imagine what it must feel like to be the only person of color in that situation.


  3. To quote Carlos Mencia: Those two Boston cops were Dee dee dee. Dr. Gates is a pretty prominent man, and while I may understand cops giving Cornell West a hard time (or hell, Al Sharpton), you have a class act and a very reasonable man. I do wonder if the cops were from somewhere like Southie and resentful of Dr. Gates being in a higher social class.

    Now, if I'm Boston PD and I see a Kennedy driving, I will pull them over to take a breathalyzer test, especially Teddy 🙂

    Barrack Obama's election may not have been a sign of racial progress, as there is a type of racism where whites may deny their racism by voting for Obama, or they see him and say, “Oh wow, a black man is an eloquent speaker; it's so amazing!!”

    Larry Elder wrote a book with a chapter on patronizing white racism through use of a lowered bar.


  4. Mr Gates makes race relations his life and I think that is why he reacted the way he did. Gates thought he was being questioned because of his race when the officer was clearly not (as we learn later as the facts came out, yes FACTs NOT emotions or past prejudicial experiences hindering our ability to see the event clearly) . We first learned about this when Gates and his lawyer leaked the story to some of his friends in the press and on CNN where he continued by threatening the officer, stating he would make a documentary out of this and may even sue the officer for racially profiling him. This was right before the airing of CNN “Black in America 2” ( see youtube for Gates statements) a show entirely centered around race in America! It was this revelation to the public and president Obama by Gates that put the wheels in motion bringing us to where we are today; the reaction to this event by the president, the counter response by the police officers and sort of apology by president Obama etc…

    I wont go over the details of the case because I think anyone who has looked at the facts will conclude that Mr Gates was clearly in the wrong. I feel very sorry for mr Gates and I think his story can be a lesson for how we can become victims of our own making. There is a tendency whenever you are a lobbyist for a cause that all you see are the injustices. In time events which are not related to the cause (say for instance ending racial discrimination) are somehow interwoven into our psyche. As a Jew I have seen this happen many times. You get fired, or someone doesn’t like you, is it because of my race? That’s a question I ask myself but I try to think that it isn’t because I know far too well how easily race/religion become the reason for everything that’s bad ever happening to me.

    I believe our past experiences affect our reasoning and judgment which is hard for us to forget. These experiences we carry with us for the rest of our lives. Heck, I have had people discriminate against me but I have to leave that discrimination behind. I have to say to myself just because my previous boss was an anti-Semite doesn’t mean that the next boss I have is and if he fires me it isn’t due to anti-Semitism. But clearly Gates didn’t do this… Saying ” I will see your momma on the porch ” and ” you don’t know who you are messing with” are clear signs he was a victim of his own past experiences. He lashed out because he has innate prejudices to white police officers, again most likely through personal experiences. I think mr Gate needs to ride around in white police officers cars to see what they deal with on a daily basis. But what’s sad about this entire incident is that it brought a lot of division between the races. I know many blacks agree with Mr Gates and say racial profiling took place. And many whites think this is a racial shakedown. Both sides react emotionally not looking at both sides of the story. Its sad really! But remember none of this would have happened in MR Gates had controlled his initial urges that this was racial profiling and that he was a victim… In conclusion, he (and many of us) need to learn to leave it behind and not carry with him the prejudices he has created through past experiences!


  5. I think in this situation, it sounds like both parties overreacted. The police officer who arrested Gates in the end. Gates who freaked out and yes, probably because of past experiences between blacks and law enforcement. While these may be “past experiences,” they are EVERY DAY experiences for African-American and Hispanic men.

    I think what bothered me most is that people want to take this as an isolated incident but it's not. It's connected to all the other racially charged incidents we've read about in the media lately. Was this a case of racial profiling? That's up for debate. Was this a racially charged incident? Yes, that's why we're hearing about, reading about it.

    I have heard it said that if Gates had been white, he would not have ended up getting arrested in his own home and being dragged out to the station even if he had called the police officers racist. I have also heard it said by police officers that this whole case is an embarrassment to police officers everywhere.


  6. Discrimination occurs in ALL neighborhoods regardless of race. Take Williamsburg, Boro Park Flatbush and Crown Heights where there are MAJOR problems between Jewish and Black/Hispanic communities. At least once a month my family is greeted with a Heil Hitla (yemach shemo) and subsequently many yids respond with curses in return. There is an unspoken rule, we know not to enter their neighborhood and they know not to enter ours. There have been many incidents where blacks/hispanics have been beaten by Shomrim Patrol and many times where bochurim (especially those visiting who don’t know the neighborhood) have been beaten. It’s sad really but it just goes to show you that discrimination is in all communities. The question is who is doing the discrimination?

    Just a Jew


  7. I have researched more and I take back my dee dee dee crack.

    The neighbor who called 911 should know her neighbor better, and asking if the culprit was black or hispanic was a leading question and a bad one.

    Dr. Gates's response seems akin to a guy who gets pulled over and responds: I pay your salary. Granted, arresting a guy for entering his house through the back door is a bad move, but if two guys broke into Dr. Gates's house and no one reported it or worse if the neighbor assumed it was Dr. Gates and it wasn't, his life would be a lot worse off.

    As for President Obama, and the Michigan Congressman who is now trying to champion SGT Crowley, the feds should keep a certain distance in a local issue. “Acting stupidly” is not a good word to use, but he can just he's been hanging around Joe Biden too much.

    I don't know your opinion of Dr. McWhorter, but he always has an interesting perspective


  8. Well, as it turns out, she wasn't a neighbor. And over and over again in the 911 call, she says she's not sure if there's a robbery in progress. She says they have suitcases. She doesn't at all discuss the race of the man she saw until the police officer asks point-black: “Are they black or Hispanic?” Why were those the only two options.


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