I grew up in a third floor apartment in East Flatbush.
Not the worst place in America, by any stretch of the imagination, but there was a crack house across the street and the one time I disobeyed my mom and went to ride my bike before she got home from work, four teens tried to jack it. (Yeah, it’s going to be one of those posts where the Ivy League educated corporate lawyer Dawn uses words like “jack” a lot.)
In a land of purse snatching, dope dealing and bike jacking, you’d think the police would be your bestest friend. That you’d see the blue uniform, the hat and shiny black shoes and think “oh, thank God, officer!”
You saw a cop, your heart beat faster.
I still remember being in the school cafeteria, where the teachers had gathered me and my fellow 11 and 12 year old classmates, all of us “gifted” children who had scored well on standardized tests and who were, by all measures “nerds.” The topic wasn’t sex ed or details about our upcoming class trip.
It was what to do if you are stopped by the cops.
Rule number 1: Don’t get smart. (Which, ironically, is pretty much the same as “don’t be stupid.”)
We were told in no uncertain terms to do as we were told. Keep your hands where they can be seen.
Be polite. Tell them your name. Tell them what school you go to. Give them your ID. Ask to be allowed to call your parents or a (teacher from the school, if this happens nearby.) Do not make any sudden movements.
Yeah, you pretty much handle the cops in the ghetto the way you’d handle bears in the suburbs.
I will never forget Mr. So and so saying in no uncertain terms: “Cops have guns, ladies and gentlemen, you may be right. You may not have done anything wrong, but they have guns. Keep yourselves safe, everything else will be taken care of later.”
It’s a lesson that has followed me through my whole life. I’ve maybe had about three or four involuntary encounters with police since then and every time, if you would have been passing by, you’d have thought I had won the lottery, instead of being pulled over for some traffic violation or another.
I smile. I move slowly, I do as I am told.
One cop even barked at me that “nothing was funny.”
Oh, afterwards I called that jerk’s supervisor and filed a citizen’s complaint against his stupid ass, sure.
Which of course, brings me to the Professor Gates incident.
As I was talking about this story with my mom and my cousin and his girlfriend, to a person they all said “what was he thinking? Talking to a cop that way? Is he trying to get killed?”
We all know the deal.
You don’t get smart.
I’ve listened to the cop’s “side of the story” a few times since this all happened and by his own admission he arrested Professor Gates because Gates violated this code of obedience that we have with the police. Gates got, as @elonjames so cleverly phrased it, “lippy.”
â€œI asked him if he would step outside and speak with me, and he said, â€˜No, I will not,â€™ and again words to the effect of â€˜What’s this about?â€™ â€ Crowley said. â€œAnd I said, â€˜Iâ€™m Sergeant Crowley from the Cambridge Police Department. Iâ€™m investigating a break-in in progress.â€™ And he responded, â€˜Why? Because Iâ€™m a black man in America?â€™ in a very agitated tone, and again I thought that was a little strange.â€
Gates is 5-foot-7 and navigates with the aid of a cane, and Crowley said he did not fit the profile of a burglar. â€œHis appearance did lead me to believe maybe this wasn’t your typical breaking-and-entering type person experience, however, that response from him was a little strange; uncommon in my experience,â€ Crowley said.
Watching the actual interview, you can actually see the officer getting agitated at the memory of the man talking back! How dare he?! Did Gates *touch* the officer, did he spit at the officer, did he break something or throw something?
He talked back. And that was “very uncommon” in the officer’s experience.
Ah, except that here -in America – in Barack Obama’s America, you should be able to say any damn thing you please (with the usual “shouting fire in a crowded movie theater” exceptions) to any one you please. Especially in your own house.
Cops have guns, ladies and gentlemen.
Cops also have handcuffs.
Cops can also mugshot you and release it in the press. And hey, if you don’t count the President of the United States as one of your friends, you will likely be pleading guilty and doing community service for your trouble.
If your lippy ass hasn’t already been shot.
I was stunned that President Obama said the police acted stupidly. Out loud. Where people could hear him. (Of course, he was absolutely right. Hello, mister officer Crowley, do you think a *guilty* 67-year-old black man with a cane would be getting all up in your grill? NO WAY. A *guilty* 67-year-old black man would have been yes sirring and no sirring your ass with excuses about how he was “confused” and “getting on in years” and “you know how it is.” A *guilty* 67-year-old black man knows what’s up. That Crowley doesn’t even know what an innocent black man looks like, well, that’s just sad.)
But I was doubly shocked when President Obama claimed that he was “surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement, because I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably donâ€™t need to handcuff a guy â€” a middle-aged man who uses a cane who was in his own home.â€
Seriously? Did you not see what happened when Gates got lippy, Mister President, Sir?
Yes, the police acted stupidly, but YOU AREN’T SUPPOSED TO SAY SO!
And in the last few days, we’ve seen someone, probably Michelle, smack some sense into his head and now he’s all “everybody acted stupidly and by stupidly I mean not stupidly, some other word, like “no commently”. Oh, and by the way, why don’t you all come over to my house for drinks?”
President Obama Michelle Obama is no fool. And the cop is happy for the opportunity to go to the White House, get his fifteen minutes. Why not?
But I just about vomited in my mouth though when I saw that Professor Gates agree to have “a beer” with this officer.
Are you shitting me?
You couldn’t swallow your pride for five minutes to answer this man’s question a week ago, but now you’re patting him on the back and chatting with him over cocktails.
I don’t know how this all turns out or what effects it will have on President Obama or black/cop relations — though, I suspect “none” is the answer.
But I do know that I am glad that my 27 year old cousin knows better than to act stupid when confronted by the cops.
By which I mean, getting smart. Or lippy.