A couple of days ago, President Barack Obama whacked a beehive of public opinion on which Black and white voters often disagree by twenty points or more: the degree to which skin color of suspects determines the behavior of police in the United Staes of America. As I said over at The Francis L. Holland Blog,
In my opinion, the officer in Cambridge would not have arrested Professor Gates under the circumstances unless he was Black. If Professor Gates were white, the neighbors would have recognized him and would not have called the police, the police would not have assumed that two people trying to open a door were thieves, and once they realized that they were not thieves the police would have apologized profusely, knowing that such a powerful and well-known citizen had it within his power to ruin the policeman's career.
However, Professor Gates is a Black man and each moment of his arrest involved color-aroused thinking by others and perhaps even by Professor Gates himself. Perhaps Professor Gates' anger came from a lifetime of being treated this way in smaller acts of micro-agression, or perhaps his anger came from his unrealistic belief that being "important" would protect him from being treated as Black men are generally treated by police officers.
What many Blacks apparently have been saying in comments at blogs is that Professor Gates should have followed the unwritten law that Blacks are not allowed to ask police officers for the their names or badge numbers, because Blacks have no rights that America's police officers are bound to respect.
If you ask for a police officer's name and badge number you are effectively asserting that you have rights that you intend to vindicate. Since police officers consider that idea unrealistic, unreasonable and absurd when it comes from Black people, police arrest Blacks who make that ridiculous request. Yes, America's police departments are the largest last refuge of Dred Scott, that heinous US ante-bellum Supreme Court decision that said, a "negro has no rights that a white man is bound to respect."
Of course, most people whose skin is white have no personal experience of this because the police don't treat white people the way they treat Black people. But many whites who have Black friends can recount an experience where a police officer stopped a white driver and asked for the identification not of the white driver but of the Black person sitting in the back seat.
As I said at the Francis L.Holland Blog,
If Professor Gates had closed his front door and not asked the police officer for his name and badge number (something Gates had a perfect legal (but not realistic) right to request), than Gates might not have been arrested. But everyone knows that Blacks are supposed to shuck and jive and say "Yes, sir, no sir" to police when whites wouldn't do anything of the sort. The old saying (adapted) goes:
"What do you call a nigra who is an internationally known professor at the world's most emminent university and who is also founder of a blog called The Root at one of the country's foremost newspapers, the Washington Post, and which nigra's lawyer (Harvard Professor Charles Ogletree) is a mentor and close friend of the President of the United States? Why, you call that man a "nigra", of course.There is nothing that a Black person can achieve, do, own or possess that can change his status as a "nigra" in the eyes of America's police. What this Gates case shows is that no matter how much money a Black person has no matter how many degrees he has from emminent universities, and even if you are a friend of a friend of the President of the United States, nonetheless when the police come to your house they're going to treat you like any other "nigra." And if you expect to be treated differently for any reason whatsoever, then you are just being "uppity" and that's even more reason to give you the "nigra" treatment.
To the degree that middle and upper middle class Blacks are treated differently, it is not because the police show them more respect out of regard for our achievements. It is because we are more willing to behave like obedient nigras in the presence of police than are our "bad nigra" brothers and sisters whose have never attended majority white universities, never worked alongside whites, and have never learned or been willing to treat whites with deference. Some of us are willing to step off of the sidewalk to let white policemen pass and others of us are not.
Barack Obama was wrong to say this policeman acted "stupidly". He should have said, "This police officer seems to have behaved in a manner that was aroused by the skin color of Professor Gates, and that's something that no one should accept in the United States of America or anywhere else."