Saturday, July 25, 2009

Dr. Gates and What Is Not Being Reported

When so much has been written about the Gates incident I wonder whether additional comments or points of view are going to make any difference. But consider that no news articles that I have read have done any analysis of trash talking the police. Courts have addressed this question and have almost unanimously ruled that we have a free speech right to trash talk the police. Gates committed no crime by mouthing off. Of course, in the real world we might prudently choose not to assert rights we know we have. As a white man who has had encounters with the police I will add to this debate that even if trash talking them is our right it is stupid to escalate a confrontation with an armed man acting under the color of law. The cop was wrong no doubt; Gates was imprudent.

Sad to say, the real issue is a simple and incontestable truth. Most people who pass through the criminal system are black, latino, or asians with whites being a distant minority. The reason for this can be debated but the perception it creates is suspicion of people of color and fear of them not only by the police but by anyone deemed "white" in the US. The criminal system reflects our own racism. The Gates incident stands out because of his position in society. Meanwhile voiceless, powerless people of color are hauled off to jails and prisons for marginal crimes, many of which arise out of their impoverished conditions and no one says a word.

Beyond that the police are brutal, authoritarian and downright rough in many cities and communities. Try trash talking one as a white person and experience the result. You'll be arrested and not treated too nicely and then be charged with resisting arrest, obstruction or disorderly conduct. After that it is their word vs your's. Who do you think juries believe?