Tuesday, 28 July 2009

gatesgate? anyone used that yet?

ok, so i've got to comment on the furore caused by president obama's response to the gates arrest. a very quick background, in case you missed it. harvard professor henry louis gates is trying to get into his own house and having trouble with the key. a concerned neighbour rings the police, who arrive to investigate. mr gates provides them with proof that this is his own home, but they refuse to leave.

mr gates loses his temper and gives them a piece of his mind, during which rant he tells them that they don't know who they're dealing with & that he knows the president. so the police arrest him for "exhibiting loud & tumultous behaviour". i kid you not. the charges have since been dropped. it so happens that mr gates is black, and the question of racism naturally arises. i say naturally, because one has to wonder whether the police would have refused to leave after proof of residence had been provided, had mr gates been white.

mr obama is questioned about this incident at the end of an hour-long press conference that was all about healthcare. and here is his response in full:

Well, I -- I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.

I don't know all the facts. What's been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.

So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into -- well, I guess this is my house now, so -- (laughter) -- it probably wouldn't happen.

(Chuckling.) But let's say my old house in Chicago -- (laughter) -- here I'd get shot. (Laughter.) But so far, so good. They're -- they're -- they're reporting. The police are doing what they should. There's a call. They go investigate. What happens?

My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is -- is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

Now, I've -- I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportionately. That's just a fact.

As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody's going to be.

it's a simple, straightforward and extremely honest answer. i'd say it was a damn good answer, and it's about time someone at the top started telling it like it is (sorry, that's me talking american, couldn't help it!). i can see nothing particularly controversial there at all.

but not so in america. to the extent that john stewart, of whom i am a great fan, calls his answer stupid. mr stewart's main contention is that mr obama shouldn't have answered in this fashion because mr obama should have damn well known that it would take attention away from all the healthcare issues he had spent a painstaking hour in discussing.

well, mr stewart, i say you completely got it wrong on this one. as someone who appears to understand marginalisation, as someone who appears to understand the way that minorities are silenced by the majority time and again using a variety of techniques, mr stewart, i would have thought you would be the last person to effectively tell mr obama to shut up about racism in the police force.

as if minorities aren't told to shut up all. the. time. don't get angry. don't rock the boat. be patient. if you only did x, if you only proceeded in y manner, your concerns would easily have been addressed. that protest? you're doing it wrong!! that's from the people who actually recognise there's a problem. the one's who don't recognise the problem will be all "what are you talking about, there's no discrimination at all". even when you've worked in the field, even when you have first hand experience, even when you have the research data to prove you're point. they refuse to listen, to comprehend that there might even be a problem. but they go further, they then criticise the speaker for being bigot, simply for having raised the glaringly obvious issue.

so now you hear all sorts of people claiming that mr obama is racist for stating the obvious. shades of orwell all right. and that someone like john stewart would add to all of this with his "couldn't you just stay on message?", well it really disappoints me.

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