Gatesgate – Part III
These are my last comments on the Gates incident and the title above expresses my most heart felt sentiments. Unlike my president who thinks that bringing the principals into a face to face discussion of what happened in Cambridge, MA, I no longer believe that there will be positive results from that conversation. The after incident brouhaha has illustrated even more divisions in our society than I would have wanted to believe. The racial split is too obvious, the class split is a little more sheltered from site and the cops versus "them" (whoever "them" may be), is the most disturbing and infuriating.
Some time ago, shortly after my husband and I had bought our first home, a neighborhood kid (a 13 year old with an extensive juvenile record) broke into the house with three other youngsters. When they were unable to steal the stereo system that my husband had so carefully put together over a period of years, the kids grabbed newspaper, placed it in the middle of the bed and started a fire. Unfortunately for the juvies, a veteran Toledo detective had spotted the kids breaking in the house. As he sat in his car, he checked out home ownership and figured out what was going on. He watched the juveniles come out of the house (carrying nothing because they couldn’t untangle the stereo system wires which were carefully taped together) and spotted smoke coming from the second floor. He radioed the fire department (which luckily was two blocks away) and because of his vigilance, the house was saved from total destruction. His professionalism saved our first house from total destruction. The next day, he and one other officer presented picture of several young men and simply asked if we knew any of them. I identified all four quite easily…they were neighborhood kids….who saw me almost every day. In spite of the fact that a detective had caught them in the act, not a single one of those kids ever came to trial because someone in the legal system identified them as "poor misguided, misunderstood miscreants." That officer did his job, the legal system did not. Do I identify hims as a bad cop or a racist? No, I do not. We thanked him for doing his job (much to his embarassment) but we had no complaints.
I was young and naive in those days. I actually believed police were supposed to "protect and serve" and that they were present to protect the boundaries of common decency in our neighborhoods. Of course, I knew about Bull Connors and his water hoses. What young adult of the civil rights era did now know about racist, bad cops? The turmoil of the 60’s in a sence led to a quieter time in the 70’s when we were trying to sort out the lessons we had learned from those teachable moments.It was ten years later when I ran into a cop that not only lied but was willing to write the lie in his report and go to court and swear to his lie. That time I was pulled over in a speed trap on US 52 in southern Ohio. When I went to court, I managed to proved my innocence. For appearing in court, I was fined seven dollars in court cost and the so-called speeding ticket was torn up. (I have always figured that the court costs were charged because I argued with the judge which had nothing to do with the cop.) That particular cop may or may not have been a racist but…he was definitely a liar. The speed trap incident bothered me for a long time because one of my best friends from childhood was the daughter of the police chief in the small West Virginia town where I grew up. I did not want to believe that a cop could be so unethical…it wasn’t supposed to happen.
Before my daughter was born, her father and I went to a friend’s house for dinner. He and his wife lived in an apartment near the University of Toledo and we had been friends for quite some time…in fact, we had gone to their wedding. As we putt-putted to our home inthe Old West End in our 70 VW beetle, two Toledo cops pulled us over. I am sure they both caught my schoolteacher glare as I asked why we had been stopped. They asked if we had come from the university area and when we answered yes, they indicated that there had been a robbery in that area a few minutes before and the thieves had absconded in a VW beetle. They then (politley) asked if they could search the car. I shrugged my shoulders and told them to go ahead. Our trunk was filled with miscellaneous stuff from my old apartment. I sat there and watched them pull everything out piece by piece. Let’s face it, thieves do not bother with area rugs and assorted books and dishes. After they were satisfied that we were not the thieves, they apologized and started to leave until I folded my arms and suggested that since they had taken everything out of my trunk, they should put everything back! They looked kind of sheepish but they did as I asked. Because they were white and I was black, should I call them racists? No…there was no reason to go that route…they were simply doing their job.
I relate these incidents to simply say…every contact a black person has with a police officer is not negative. After all our neighbor, who was then our local police chief, shared our grief when our son died. He could have cared less that he was white and we were black. He was simply our neighbor (and no this is not a small town, it is a small city). Would I call him a racist? NO, not unless I want to sound like a fool and that is what I would be.
However, on Martin Luther King day nearly six years ago, I ran into a cop who was not only a racist, he was definitely profiling and he was a liar. Without going into any details, his lies tripped him up. The more he tried to explain himself (after the fact) the more his inconsistencies tripped him up. (Does this sound familiar?)
I will not go into details except to say that when a person puts on that badge and picks up that gun, that person needs to understand not only himself/herself but the people he (or she) comes into contact with on a daily basis. The officer that truly understands his/her community and the people in that community, the better a police person he or she will be. That officer is to be respected. The officer who is ego-involved, who misrepresents the truth on a police report, who is on a power trip, who does not respect the cultures within the community, who lets his contempt for people of different (religion, race, culture, life-experience) show does not need to wear the badge…ever. I really don’t care if the cop is male, female, black, white, pink, purple or polkadotted, gay or straight. Defending the mistakes of a fellow cop when you know that a mistake was made..contributes to a negative view of all who wear the badge (and the black female cop with her vitriolic defense of an error in judgment as well as the black male cop who did the same needs to examine her/his relationship with the greater community of minorities). Do me and the rest of us old black folk…STAY OUT OF OUR NEIGHBORHOODS….you don’t have the life experience to understand what we see amd have seen in the last forty plus years of our adult lives.