Friday, July 24, 2009

"Racial Profiling" and the President

In 1987, I had recently moved into a run-down apartment building in Freeport, NY. I was starting a new job, which was walking distance from my apt. On my first day of work, I walked home during my lunch hour. On my way back to work, less than half a block from my building, three police cars converged on me. An officer got out of his car, drew his gun, an yelled "freeze!"

Of course, I froze. The other officers came up to me, asked for my ID, and frisked me. Apparently, my building was a known drug spot, and these officers thought I went there to buy drugs. After explaining my situation, and proving that I didn't have any drugs, they let me go. I was rattled, but went back to work for the rest of the day. I mention this now because of the current debate about "racial profiling."

Was I "racially profiled," because I was a White guy walking in a largely minority area? Or was it, as the police said, because I was leaving a "known drug location?" I'll never know, and I don't really care. I'm certain that such "profiling" exists, and indeed it is often justified, when race is one component of a larger profile.

Here are two more recent examples: Twice, police have stopped me while riding my bicycle, for no apparent reason. The first time was in the middle of winter, and I was wearing a ski mask, riding through tony North Woodmere after midnight. I lived in N. Woodmere, and had my ID to prove it. The second time was right here in Lynbrook, on the route I take to work every day. This cop knew me, from my job, and explained that they were looking for "a guy on a bicycle with a backpack," which fit me exactly. As I was getting ready to show him the contents of my backpack, he got a call, saying they had caught the suspect, literally around the corner.

The suspect in the second incident was a dark-skinned Latino, who also was riding a bicycle with a backpack. This is an example of race being one factor in a "profile," and how police use that information. Sometimes profiles are inaccurate, and a good officer knows this. Witnesses get details wrong, and clothing can be changed, or backpacks discarded. Skin color is not so easy to change, or conceal, which means it is will continue to be used when making a description of a suspect, or a "profile" of a potential suspect. Unfortunately, this also means that some will continue to use race as a means to divide us, when it comes to law enforcement.

Police are human. There are good cops, and bad cops. I have no brief for officers that break the law, or actually violate people's civil rights. I find those who falsely accuse police of this behavior just as contemptible. This brings me to mention President Obama, who brought up "racial profiling" in response to a question about Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates' encounter with Sgt. James Crowley, of the Cambridge P.D. While the president didn't directly accuse Sgt. Crowley of it, he strongly implied it. Why even bring it up?

Does the President of the United States want to stoke the flames of racial animus? I don't think so. I think it was more a a "reflex" for him, because this is part of the liberal "profile" in law enforcement situations like this. Liberals' "knee-jerk" reaction to these situations is that somehow the person was "targeted" because of their race. As the facts have come out, it is apparent that was not the case, regarding Sgt. Crowley's actions. The President owes Sgt. Crowley, and the Cambridge P.D. an apology.


BobG said...

It seems Bob Dylan had a little police run in during a visit to NJ. All ended amicably because Dylan cooperated, wasn't insulted because people didn't know who he was and didn't invite anyone's mama to meet him somewhere. I call this a teaching moment for Gates and Obama. Bob won't get a beer at the White House, but he's not missing much.

CHRIS LEAV said...

That's a great example, Bob. Thanks for stopping by!