Sunday, August 2, 2009

The arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. has reminded us that we do not live in a post-racial society and time. But more important we do not live in a post-politically correct society and time.

This is a not a race issue, it is a class issue. Historically, there has been a rift, real and perceived, between the history of those from the house and those from the field. This rift goes back to before cotton was king.

Mr. Gates has reason to be upset about his arrest. The governor of Massachusetts remarked that Mr. Gates has experienced “every black man’s nightmare.” Much of what has been publicly discussed pushed a stereotyped narrative to a public with a sense of collective “white guilt.”

Mr. Gates’ assertion that the arresting officer in question is a rogue cop or racist is rooted in his simplistic worldview that all blacks will be treated equally badly by all white cops at all times.

In the field, there are good cops and there are bad cops. We all know and hear about bad cops. The media let us know, rightfully so, when bad cops use excessive force and unlawful behavior — the brutality inflicted upon elementary school boys and girls in the South during the Civil Rights era and most famously the Los Angeles police officers beating of Rodney King, the aftermath of which eventually precipitated mass rioting, are two prime examples.

Today, on the streets of the less-privileged America, if you challenge a cop there is a strong likelihood that officer will challenge you back. If you run your mouth to a rogue cop, he or she will make your mouth run with blood. In non-elite communities, rogue cops are able to operate with greater impunity. These communities have far fewer legal, political and financial resources to protest such unfair treatment.

Mr. Gates is an elder elite. Insulting a blue-collar police officer, who was following standard procedure to determine if, indeed, there were intruders in Mr. Gates’ house, was not justified. But it was Mr. Gates’ choice. The arresting officers only put their hands on Mr. Gates to handcuff him when he refused, after several warnings, to cooperate with police efforts to sort out the situation and secure his own property.

In adopting an adversarial attitude based on an assumption of racial bias, Mr. Gates rejected an opportunity to exercise the hard-won right to have his property protected. Stupid, yes — but on Mr. Gates’ part.

President Obama, absent the facts, claimed the arresting cops acted “stupidly,” without using proper judgment and without relying on their years of service and training.

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. once called his countrymen cowards on issues of race. But he is a coward. Mr. Gates and Mr. Obama are at fault too, because they won’t address the fact that the largest predatory agent acting upon law-abiding blacks are black lawbreakers. Greater strides are needed in law enforcement against black-on-black crime in non-elite communities.

If Mr. Gates wanted to advance America’s dialogue on race, he would drop his wannabe persona and overly quick assumption of racial profiling, and focus attention on the true perils that those in the field of America still encounter every day.

John Muller lives in Brookeville, Md., is a former public charter school teacher and is a volunteer in the District’s adult literacy program. In 2004, he co-founded DreamCity Theatre Group.

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