I once was wending my way home after a midnight flight when I saw the blue lights of a cop car telling me to pull over.
Now, I was tired (coming back from a weekend ER shift in another state) and cranky. And, I was alone on a stretch of lonely rural road where two women had been raped after being pulled over by a fake cop. So when I saw the blue lights of a cop car behind me, I wasÂ anxious. Pulling over beneath a street light, I got out of the car, got out my purse which contained both my license and my pepper spray, and after arming myself, turned around to him and asked what he wanted, using an aggressive voice.
If it had been the mugger, I figure I would have scared him off. Nothing like a pissed off menopausal broad suffering from air rage to make a mugger or rapist think twice.
At this point, if I was a black male, undoubtedly the cop would have told me to drop everything and put my hands up, and arrested me. But, being a chubby well dressed middle aged woman, he merely kept his distance and showed me his ID before giving me a speeding ticket.
So actually, I feel sorry for Professor Gates, who came home tired and cranky from an overseas flight. As most travelers know, air travel nowadays is equivalent to a season in hell, and most of us want nothing but a stiff drink and a warm bed to try to recover from the experience.
So poor Professor Gates, he finally gets home, can’t find his key so breaks a window to get in, and then to top it off, an aggressive cop breaks in and asks for your identification, as if you are a 16 year old thug and not a world famous college professor. It was the last straw, and he lost his temper.
But look at it from the Cop’s point of view.
The cop is expecting a robber. That area undoubtedly has had quite a few break ins, and the cop is probably nervous, wondering if these guys are going to pull out a gun and shoot him. The fact that one of the guys is middle aged (which suggests a non criminal) has to be weighed against the fact he is probably disheveled, and verbally aggressive.
If a cop did this to a white resident, the white resident would be startled but probably not be so angry. He would probably laugh and be thankful that the cops were watching his house while he was away.
But a black man has his own racial prejudice, and a lot of these go against cops of any colour, because a lot of non white men have had bad experiences with the police. And Professor Gates was undoubtedlyÂ still suffering from what is euphemistically called “air rage” after a long dehumanizing experience of long distance air travel, with it’s small seats, its “security checks”, etc. which resulted in his mood not to take any more nonsense from anyone, especially in his own living room.
There is a lot of nonsense written about racial profiling, which does exist no matter what one says. But what a lot of critics overlook is that for a good cop, race/ethnicity is only one part of the profile. How the person dresses, his or her body language, and the way they respond to the policeman are other parts of the profile.
So to echo Rodney King: Can’t we both apologize andÂ get on with it?
One more thing: There was indeed “racial profiling” going on here, but it wasn’t on the part of the police, who were merely responding to a call.
The “racial profiling” was done by the neighbor, who called the cops.
Wasn’t that neighbor aware that a Black professor lived in that house? Didn’t he or she recognize the car/airport limo, didn’t they recognize the Professor, or see the backpacks/suitcases were full? Couldn’t the neighbor tell from their body language that it was an educated person annoyed at having to noisily break into their own house, not a burglar who would be quietly sneaking through the back window? Or did he/she merely see a “black” face and think the worse?
Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the rural Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket.