by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
President Obama is so averse to calling racism by its name, he sometimes makes himself sound less than intelligent – such as when he called a policeman “stupid” for doing what cops do to Black men every day of the week. Obama's Harvard buddy “Skip” Gates comes across as not too damn bright either, seemingly “shocked” that white policemen would fail to change the habits of a lifetime in deference to Gate's superior breeding and high culture.
Eshu’s blues: Gates Busted by Officer Jim Crowlaw, uh, James Crowley
by BAR columnist michael hureaux perez
“I think he ought to count his lucky stars that he did not encounter death or maiming.”
Distinguished Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates got busted trying to break into his own house last week in Cambridge. It could have happened to black anybody, and more often than not does. But the nation’s most esteemed African American scholar actually seems to be shocked at his circumstance, and at the political carnival that has been rolling along since his release on personal recognizance. Judging from my own limited experience, I think he ought to count his lucky stars that he did not encounter death or maiming in his encounter with Officer Jim Crowlaw, uh, James Crowley, whose behavior, despite the protestations of the Cambridge Superior Officers Association, is as familiar as the black of our hands. Gates himself might call it a tropism. Talk about medieval liturgies, na?
What’s new is that Barack Obama was somewhat in tune with reality, at least in his initial response to the matter, wherein he rather diplomatically called the behavior of the Cambridge police officers “stupid” instead of outright calling it the random profiling bullshit it was. Unfortunately, even this little display of spine couldn’t hold. A few laps through a media firestorm and a few days later, Obama called Officer Crowlaw, uh, Crowley, to apologize for his poor choice of language and invite him and the Prof to have a beer at the White House with him, presumably to discuss semantics, and to straighten out the “racial flap” which the white supremacists who drive much of the ruling class press are suggesting Obama generated. If you were making this stuff up, it couldn’t get more absurd.
“If you have firepower, you never have to be accountable anymore.”
Oh well, the “democratic” party handlers won again. The sad truth is that the ruling class parties of the United States at this point in their decay do not even have democratic standard enough to hold either the military or law enforcement branches of government accountable to the same standards of public civility that almost anyone else in the workforce has to observe. If you have firepower, you never have to be accountable anymore. Or, in a pithy phrase from Karl Marx in his essay The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte, which summarized the political sensibilities of the ruling classes of mid-19th century France who marched themselves into a similar period of banking and military speculator corruption:
“The shadow of the coup d’etat had become so familiar as a specter that they were not willing to believe in it when it finally appeared in the flesh.”
There is no need on this site to detail incidents which prove the 4th Amendment of the Constitution of the United States - which allegedly protects citizens from unnecessary search and seizure - has been abrogated in the lives of most U.S. black people. The problem, as always, is that most white people in this country still don’t have to know as much, no, not really. Dave Lindorff commented on Counterpunch a few days ago that there is nothing threatening in a citizen demanding badge numbers and names of an offending police officer. True enough, Dave, but just for the record: Asking a police officer for such information when you’re black is threatening because Officer Crowlaw and Mr. Law and Order White Citizen say it is, that’s all the reason Officer Crowlaw and Mr. Law and Order White Citizen need.
Still, the learning curve of many white people around this constitutional rights business can be amusing sometimes. About 30 years ago, before I got tired of seeing how much pain the people who run this society can inflict, I used to be hauled into jail on fairly frequent occasions; some of it was my fault, some of it wasn’t. On one cool afternoon in an overcrowded holding tank, I shared floor space with a burly young white man who had been beaten until many parts of him were eggplant- colored.
I asked him, “Man, what happened to you?”
And the man said, “I’m here in violation of my constitutional rights.”
“Neither his 'public defender' nor the judge were going to listen to any of that stuff if he didn’t have deep pockets.”
I didn’t laugh out loud when he said this, but I had to warn him that neither his “public defender” nor the judge were going to listen to any of that stuff if he didn’t have deep pockets, or at least some connections somewhere. I shouldn’t have wasted my breath. Typical of all too many white working class people, he thought his eloquence and his skin privilege were going to help him out during his arraignment the next day, in which instance he was given another two weeks to cool his heels for arguing constitutional process with a judge. It wasn’t funny but it was.
The boojwah state and its (law?) enforcement arm have long been seriously out of civil control, and occasionally there occurs a high profile situation which lights up the reality of random profiling of black people in Amurrika. The absurdity of the Gates case is typical, a racial bust which screams its character out in the point that Dr. Gates’ next door neighbor didn’t even know him well enough to recognize him, cane and all. Gates’ neighbor Lucia Whalen called in to report what she says she thought was an attempted burglary when she saw Gates and his chauffeur trying to open the jammed door of his own home. No inquiry on her own, no neighborly concern, just a radar on high “negro alert.” Ms. Whalen has not wanted to respond to the media’s request for comment, and that rings true to form. Hell, she may even get a “reality-based” television series out of the experience.
In the meantime, Dr. Gates maybe has learned, or re-learned something which he apparently chose to forget, and at his direct peril, which is: black people in the United States still don’t have any rights that all too many white people in the United States feel bound to respect. So drink that cold beer at the White House slow, Professor, and get off the south lawn before sunset.
BAR columnist michael hureaux perez is a writer, musician and teacher who lives in southwest Seattle, Washington. He is a longtime contributor to small and alternative presses around the country and performs his work frequently. Email to: [email protected].