by Conor Friedersdorf
Anita Bartholomew disagrees with me:
I wanted to point out something regarding your latest post that asks whether Gates's arrest is the one we should obsess about.
Here's why I think it matters more than is immediately apparent:
White Americans don't necessarily relate to the young men who are arrested for driving while black, walking while black, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time while black. You can't convince white Americans that the law is biased against blacks because whites believe (without necessarily admitting it to themselves) that young black men get arrested so disproportionately and go to prison more often because they deserve to.
And by whites, I don't mean just Neanderthals. I mean most of the people you will ever run into. They assume that black men are more disposed to crime and so they don't have to pay attention when you or Radley Balko or someone else points out how many have been railroaded.
But anyone can see that Gates isn't one of "them," the black men so many whites are afraid of. And yet, there he is, shown in his mug shot after being arrested in his own home, humiliated like any youngster dragged into any police station for the crime of being black.
Gates forces white Americans to face the fact that race does play a role in how the police behave, no matter how much Sgt. Crowley protests to the contrary. A distinguished gentlemen with a cane? A Harvard professor? And he's reduced to this? Who can believe that he would have been hauled to jail if his skin were a different color?
We see this and if we're honest, have to face the likelihood that this sort of injustice, if it could happen to him, could and probably does happen to many less distinguished looking, less well-spoken black men.
It's important that we look at this and not make excuses for the cop or claim that we need to learn more of the facts or that we shouldn't care because the charges were minor and were dismissed. We know we would recognize this cop's behavior as injustice if he treated one of us as he did Professor Gates. Gates was loudly complaining about being treated outrageously? No shit. Wouldn't any of us in that situation?
And that's how you get people to pay attention and realize that maybe those black men they are so afraid of aren't any more guilty than Gates.