Friday, July 31, 2009

Historical Background to the Beer Summit: Race, Politics and Police Terrorism

Gates arrest: Part of Boston’s racism, then & now

By Frank Neisser
Published Jul 29, 2009 3:16 PM

The July 16 arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his own home in Cambridge, Mass., is but the latest glaring incident in the long history of racism permeating Boston, going back to the 1970s desegregation battles and before.

From the end of Black Reconstruction following the Civil War until the 1970s, there was never a single African American on either the Boston City Council or Boston School Committee.

These all-white committees ran a segregated, separate and unequal school system in Boston up through 1974, 20 years after the Supreme Court decision Brown v. Topeka Board of Education declared segregation unconstitutional.

Black parents had to go to federal court to obtain an order in 1974 mandating racial balance through busing to gain equal access to educational resources in Boston. That same year Boston became famous worldwide as a focus of racism. A right-wing white supremacist movement called “Restore our Alienated Rights,” led and organized by Boston City Councilors like Louise Day Hicks directly out of Boston City Hall, organized racist marches.

Buses carrying African-American children to schools in South Boston and other white neighborhoods were stoned. A picture was flashed round the world of a Haitian man being dragged off a porch in South Boston by a racist mob. Another picture showed African-American attorney Theodore Landsmark suffering a broken nose as he was assaulted with a U.S. flag by racists on Boston City Hall Plaza.

In 1974 progressive forces mobilized from all over the country to answer the racist forces. A 25,000-strong national march against racism took place in Boston on Dec. 14. Busloads of antiracists came from all over the country, including the Deep South. It was the largest civil rights demonstration to take place since the 1963 March on Washington, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. made his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. The 1974 march put a halt to the racist mobilization, encouraging the people of Boston to come out against racism.

In subsequent years, antiracist forces defended African-American homes from racist attacks. African Americans, Latinas/os and Asians have gained representation on the Boston City Council. But racists, championed by Mayor Thomas M. Menino, have continued to try to return to “neighborhood” unequal schools and eliminate school transportation.

After forming the Coalition for Equal Quality Education, community, labor and progressive forces beat back the attack again this year. The school committee was forced not to take action on a plan that would have drastically cut school transportation and limited access of the Black and Latina/o communities to quality educational opportunities. But the fight will continue in the fall, and racist right-wing forces will only be emboldened by the attack on Professor Gates and the right-wing chorus supporting this latest racist police conduct.
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Gates arrest exposes police racial profiling

By Phebe Eckfeldt
Cambridge, Mass.
Published Jul 29, 2009 3:25 PM

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.—a prominent African-American Harvard University professor—in his own home by Cambridge police on July 16 has shone a brilliant national and international spotlight on racial profiling in the U.S.

Professor Gates is the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African-American Research at Harvard, the first African American to receive the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation Fellowship, and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “genius” award. Sometimes called the nation’s most famous Black scholar, he has received numerous honorary degrees and awards for his teaching, research and development of academic institutions that study black culture.

Professor Gates was returning to his home near Harvard Square after a trip to China on July 16. He found his front door jammed and with the help of his limo driver was able to force the door open. According to the white female who called 911 about the “break-in,” the Cambridge police asked her repeatedly if the men where Black and then if they were “Hispanic.”

Charles J. Ogletree Jr., a Black Harvard law professor who is representing Gates, told the press that when a Cambridge police officer arrived at his home and asked for proof that he lived there, Professor Gates showed him both his Harvard University ID and his driver’s license. Gates requested the police officer’s badge and number. (National Post, July 21)

“I said, ‘Who are you? I want your name and badge number.’ I got angry,” Gates told the Post. Gates reported that the officer refused to show his badge and walked out of the house. When Gates followed him, he was “astonished” to see more police on his porch. Ogletree said that when Gates stepped onto the porch, Sergeant James Crowley placed him under arrest and handcuffed him.

The police report claims that Gates was “abusive” and “unruly.” They say race had nothing to do with the arrest. Crowley has been with the Cambridge Police Department for 11 years, and ironically instructs recruits at the Lowell Police Academy on how to avoid racial profiling.

Gates said of his arrest, “There are one million Black men in jail in this country, and last Thursday I was one of them. This is outrageous, and this is how poor Black men across the country are treated everyday in the criminal justice system. It’s one thing to write about it, but altogether another to experience it.” (Washington Post, July 22)

Gates’ arrest and racial profiling have caused a firestorm of reaction. Many believe he was arrested because he stood up to the police and became justifiably angry instead of being silent. Crowley told the media, “The professor at any time could have resolved the issue by quieting down and/or going back inside his home.” (Washington Post, July 24)

Ogletree stated that he has received emails from all over the country from people telling of their experiences with racial profiling. Gates plans to do a documentary on racial profiling.

Not an isolated incident

The most famous reaction to Gates’ arrest was that of President Barack Obama. At a press conference on health care reform on July 22, Obama was asked to comment on it: “Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played. ... But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”

The reaction was swift and strong to Obama’s statement, with the racist right-wing, big-business media and police unions and organizations across the country screaming that Obama had called them “stupid.”

Obama’s reaction to this was, “I have to say I am surprised by the controversy surrounding my statement, because I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don’t need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who’s in his own home.” (ABC News, July 23)

Deval Patrick, the first African-American governor of Massachusetts, when learning of Gates’ arrest told the press that he had experienced racial profiling while attending Milton Academy, a private boarding school outside of Boston. Patrick called the arrest “every Black man’s nightmare.” He said, “You ought to be able to raise your voice in your own house without risk of arrest.” (Boston Herald, July 24)

On July 21 the charge of disorderly conduct was dropped against Professor Gates. He has demanded that Crowley apologize to him. Crowley has refused. In fact, in an arrogant show of force the Cambridge Police Department held a press conference on July 24 demanding that both Obama and Patrick apologize to them!

Cambridge, Harvard University and Boston are seen around the world as bastions of liberalism, hotbeds of progressive ideas and prestigious places from which cutting-edge research emanates. But the racial profiling and arrest of Professor Gates have re-raised the question of how much has changed since the 1970s when, in the wake of court-ordered busing for desegregation, white racist mobs were stoning buses carrying Black school children and attacking Black people on the streets and in their homes.

The location of Professor Gates’ home in Harvard Square—a rich, mainly white area—recalls the period in Boston where Black people could not go into certain areas of the city without literally fearing for their lives.

As a result of a jury trial in 2008, the City of Cambridge was forced to pay a multi-million-dollar award to a former city worker, Malvina Monteiro, who accused city officials of racial discrimination. Attorney Ellen Zucker, who represented Monteiro, told the July 24 Boston Globe, when referring to Cambridge, “The patina of progressive values that cover the city too often hides discrimination and retaliation.” Monteiro is Cape Verdean.

Theodore Landsmark, a young African-American attorney whose nose was broken when he was attacked in the middle of Boston’s City Hall plaza in 1976 by racist white youth with a U.S. flag on a pole, told the July 24 Boston Globe that three years ago in Boston he was pulled over in his new Mercedes by police who said they were checking to see that he owned the car.

Eckfeldt is a member of the Harvard Union of Clerical and Technical Workers, AFSCME Local 3650.
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What if Henry Louis Gates Were Not an Acclaimed Professor?

New America Media, Commentary, Raj Jayadev
Jul 29, 2009

SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Professor Henry Louis Gates, recently arrested, gets to share a beer with the man who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, at the White House with the President of the United States. It is a highly uncommon ending to an unfortunately very common occurrence – a man of color citing racial profiling after an arrest.

If this incident is really to be the “teachable moment” President Obama hopes for, the real question to explore is this: What would have happened to Dr. Gates if he were not an acclaimed scholar and author, friend to the President, and someone whose stardom could greatly embarrass a city and county justice system?

First things first, charges for his disorderly conduct would not be dropped shortly after his arrest, and Dr. Gates, a few weeks after the incident, would just be starting his journey in the criminal justice system, rather then reflecting on it in hindsight, while throwing back a beer with the leader of the free world. Let’s start from there.

Since every city in the country is different in arresting practice, the way to approach this is not to examine Cambridge, but to ask what would happen if the arrest happened in your own town. Let me roll out what would have happened if Dr. Gates, were he not a noted scholar, was arrested in my city, San Jose, California with the same fact pattern, even as described by the police report.

Starting from arrest, Dr. Gates would have been charged with more then disturbing the peace, (penal code 415 in California). From the narrative of what happened at his home, Mr. Gates would have also picked up a 148 resisting arrest, a misdemeanor.

California Department of Justice numbers show San Jose has much higher arrest rates for these charges than cities of comparable size, in a racially disproportionate fashion. For resisting arrest in 2007, for example, 54.2 percent were Latino, although Latinos only represent roughly 30 percent of the city’s population. Blacks, who represent only 3.5 percent of San Jose residents, accounted for 15.4 percent of these arrests. Communities of color in San Jose claim the discrepancy is due to a practice some call “attitude arresting,” where police are using these particular charges that rely heavily on officer discretion to arrest someone when they don’t like their attitude, rather than for an actual criminal act.

As for the comment, “You don’t know who you are messing with,” Dr. Gates would have also likely picked up a penal code 69 (felony in this case), for making a criminal threat to a police officer. Dr. Gates would not know of all these charges until he was arraigned at court. It is here that police abuse can take a more subtle, yet problematic direction – the well known practice of over-charging. Sometimes, it is not the gun or taser, which is the weapon of concern: it is the pen used for a police report.

In all likelihood, someone less well known and well connected than Mr. Gates would be represented by the Public Defender’s office, which represents over 90 percent of all defendants in California. His attorney, over-worked, with an over-whelming caseload, would read the police report and speak with Dr. Gates, likely onthe day of his first court appearance. He or she would tell Dr. Gates of his maximum exposure – what he would receive if convicted on all charges – which may be a year, given the felony. The attorney would tell Dr. Gates “it doesn’t look good” since it is his word versus the police officer, and juries trust police officers. The Public Defender and the District Attorney would be anxious to resolve the case, since they are seeing their average case loads steadily increasing, as their offices budgets are shrinking. Across the country, plea bargains resolve roughly 95 percent of all felony cases.

The Public Defender would tell Dr. Gates that he or she met with the District Attorney’s office, and that the prosecutor is offering a deal if he pleads guilty just to the two misdemeanor charges. He would do only ten days in county jail, and have a three-year probation, but the heavier charge would be dismissed.

Dr. Gates would feel conflicted. Every fiber in him would say that he is innocent of any crime, but he would also feel he could not risk loosing a jury trial and going to jail for an extended period of time. He would know he would be facing a mainly white jury, who he fears would carry their own bias into the courtroom when they hear of an erratic acting black man.

Demoralized and worn down from the process, Dr. Gates would plead guilty to the 415 and 148 charge, and do a week in jail, after time served is subtracted.

After his release, and back into the normal motions of his life, he would feel haunted by the injustice. He will be stigmatized by every interaction he has with a law enforcement officer when they run his name, even in innocuous driving stops. Motivated to right a wrong, he might approach a civil rights attorney to file a claim against the police department for false arrest and racial profiling. Although sympathetic and believing, the attorney would tell Dr. Gates that he has no case because he took a plea deal.

As a last resort, if only to prevent such an episode from happening to another person down the road, Dr. Gates could file a claim against the arresting officer with the police department’s internal affairs unit. He would meet with an internal affairs investigator, who would listen to Dr. Gates’ story of the officer abusing his authority, and tell him he will report back on his findings. Months later, Dr. Gates would receive a form letter from the Internal Affairs office informing him that they reviewed his case and found no wrong doing by the involved officers.

Throughout the course of his process, which started with a jammed door to his own home, Dr. Gates would have interacted with all these many aspects of the criminal justice system, and would have felt betrayed by all of them. The less well-known Dr. Gates would not be making a documentary after all this, would not be sipping cold beers with the president of the United States and the man who arrested him. No, he would simply be trying to restore normalcy back to his permanently altered life.

Raj Jayadev is the director of Silicon Valley De-Bug.


Professor Gates is right

Published Jul 29, 2009 3:13 PM

Racial profiling is another expression of institutionalized racism rooted in a white supremacist ideology under capitalism. In the U.S., racial profiling has tragically become a way of life, like eating, sleeping and breathing. Being targeted based on the color of your skin or your nationality is a terrible burden to bear for any person of color, whether you live in the inner city, barrio, a reservation or in an upper-middle-class suburb.

In a 2004 report entitled “Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, Domestic Security, and Human Rights in the United States,” Amnesty International documented that in a year-long investigation, an estimated 32 million people (the equivalent of the entire population of Canada at the time) had been racially profiled—the vast majority of them from nationally oppressed groups. ( One can only imagine how much these numbers have increased over the last five years, not only for those born in the U.S. but also for immigrants.

The police have been, by far, the most feared perpetuators of racial profiling, and understandably so. Police harassment and brutality is so epidemic that pamphlets have been written by activists and progressive lawyers on how one should behave if ever stopped by the police to help avoid arrest, physical assault or even losing one’s life.

This is the broader context in which to understand the July 16 arrest of one of the most respected Black scholars, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., who teaches at Harvard University. Gates was arrested by a Cambridge police officer after showing two forms of identification as he, along with a Black limo driver, were trying to unjam the lock to the front door of Gates’ house in a predominantly white, upscale neighborhood known as “Harvard Square.”

This incident may have gone unreported, like the millions of other racial profiling cases, if it weren’t for two facts: first, because of Gates’ recognition as one of the most influential African Americans; and, second and most important, because he didn’t back down from the cop. In fact, he challenged the authority of the white officer, who eventually arrested him. In his own style, Gates, who is slightly built and walks with a cane, resisted being racially profiled by an entire police department that has a reputation for its brutality.

Gates was arrested, not because he committed any crime, but because he made a courageous stand against racism when the relationship of forces was not in his favor. Just think of what would have happened if Gates had taken a similar stand in the segregated South. He surely would have been lynched. Black people were strongly encouraged to “stay in their place,” meaning to be submissive and keep their eyes to the ground when interacting with any white person, especially the police.

Black people have been lynched in the South for any excuse; a glaring example is the 1955 lynching of 14 year-old Emmett Till in Money, Miss., for supposedly whistling at a white woman.

The Cambridge police report stated that Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct due to “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior.” In other words, Gates refused to bow down before the repressive state.

The fact that the Cambridge police demanded that President Obama apologize to them for publicly calling their actions “stupid” proves once again that the election of the first Black president has not signaled the end of racism and national oppression, nor does it reflect a “post-racial society”; far from it.

While the police, the mainstream media and the bourgeois pundits want to isolate and downplay every instance of racial profiling, Gates’ resistance has helped to generalize the issue on national and international levels. No matter how this particular development plays out, activists must seize this opportunity to show the need to build a movement based on anti-racist, class-wide solidarity—as workers of all nationalities are losing their jobs, homes, health care and pensions in rapid numbers; and as the economic crisis becomes even more acute.
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