Friday, July 24, 2009

You're Both Right

Over at Sully's Blog, guest blogger Conor Friedersdorf points out how unfortunate it is that it took the Gates case for Obama to directly address the endemic racism in this country when so many poor and unknown blacks are unjustly harassed by the police every day:

"Isn't it notable that six months into his presidency, the most prominent advocacy President Obama has done on behalf of minorities mistreated by police is to stand up for his Ivy League buddy? Somehow I imagine that Professor Gates would've fared just fine absent help from Harvard's most prominent alumnus.

"Whereas if President Obama spoke up at a press conference on behalf of people wrongly imprisoned due to "testimony" by police dogs, or advocated for those sexually assaulted by an officer, or spoke against prosecutors who block access to DNA testing, or called out the officer who choked a paramedic, or objected to the practice of police killing family pets, or asked the Innocence Project for a clear cut case of injustice to publicize..."

On the other hand, Anita Bartholomew avers that it is precisely Gates' status that displays the bias of race over class:

"Gates forces white Americans to face the fact that race does play a role in how the police behave, no matter how much Sgt. Crowley protests to the contrary. A distinguished gentlemen with a cane? A Harvard professor? And he's reduced to this? Who can believe that he would have been hauled to jail if his skin were a different color?

"We see this and if we're honest, have to face the likelihood that this sort of injustice, if it could happen to him, could and probably does happen to many less distinguished looking, less well-spoken black men."

To me both are right. It is tragic that it took Gates, an Ivy-League, conservative black professor, to get the our national debate on race going again, when an even more tragic example of racism happened not more than two weeks ago. But when discussing this issue I think its important to keep your end goal in mind that being an open and honest dialogue in this country where this issue can be laid on the table and policy can be created to solve the racial injustice in our justice system. Thus, I don't really care which of these examples we're discussing as long as the discussion begins.

And as far as Obama is concerned, and the implicit charges of elitism that it took a fellow black intellectual to get the President to discuss this matter, I'd like to revisit a key point in Conor's post:

"I understand, of course, that Pres. Obama was asked about Henry Louis Gates, which is also part of the problem. Wrongly arrest a black men who happens to be a Harvard professor, release him without filing charges, and the national press corps asks the president to comment. Wrongly imprison for years on end a black man who happens to be working class and without celebrity, and the national press corps continues to utterly ignore a criminal justice system that routinely convicts innocent people. Apportioning blame for this sorry state of affairs isn't as important as recognizing that the news we get on these matters reflects a value system that is seriously flawed, and that news consumers bear blame for too."

Precisely. The media is horrible when it comes to these type of things because of its sensationalist nature. They don't wanna talk about race unless it can stir shit up, and in this case getting Obama to use the words "police" and "stupid" in the same sentence was probably a gold nugget. Not to say that I don't think the Cambridge police did act stupidly in this case, but of course the President's words will undoubtedly get twisted and the media will shape this into how Obama is against law enforcement rather than actually discuss some of the explicit racial elements of this case. This is why you can never depend of the media to get to the bottom of anything except a barrel of shit.

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