The Arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gate: Lesson Unlearned

The arrest of the prominent scholar Henry Louis Gates has reignited the highly charged issue of police misconduct, known also as “racial profiling.” This issue may very well be the barometer for measuring racial progress. Surely, no one would deny that the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was historical and reflective of a serous change in electoral behavior by whites. Yet, the Gates arrest seems more reflective of white attitudes and behavior toward blacks in general. Recall that in September of 2008, an Associated Press-Yahoo! News poll, conducted with Stanford University, showed that a substantial portion of white Americans still harbored negative feelings toward blacks. It showed that blacks and whites disagree tremendously on how much racial prejudice exists, whose fault it is and how much influence blacks have in politics.

The AP-Yahoo poll also found one-third of white Democrats harbor negative views toward blacks — many calling them “lazy,” “violent,” responsible for their own troubles. A recent A New York Times/CBS News poll asked: “Have you ever felt you were stopped by the police just because of your race or ethnic background?” Sixty-six percent of black men said yes. Only 9 percent of white men said the same. Last year, a study conducted by the Center for Constitutional Rights on racial profiling by the New York Police Department found that more than 80 percent of those stopped and frisked were black or Hispanics. The report also said that when stopped 45 percent of blacks and Hispanics were frisked, compared to 29 percent of whites, even though white suspects were 70 percent more likely than black suspects to have a weapon.

Therefore again the election of Barack Obama as President of the United States was a watershed event in the history of America. But, it did not erase “racial profiling”, an expression and practice of racism. President Obama states that he wants the Gates incident to be a “teachable moment”. It may very well be a teachable moment. Can America, in particular whites, learn the lesson of history when it comes to police misconduct?-time will tell.

To be continued

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