by Conor Friedersdorf
Interesting as it is to speculate about Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge Police Department, the attention the case is generating reflects an unfortunate feature of American public discourse: you've got someone like Radley Balko who spends the bulk of his career documenting the most grave instances of police misconduct imaginable -- including cases that involve the incarceration of innocent people for years on end -- and most of even the egregious cases he writes about never break into mainstream conversation, whereas a minor altercation involving a Harvard professor who isn't even being charged with a crime spawns wall-to-wall media coverage.
Isn't it notable that six months into his presidency, the most prominent advocacy President Obama has done on behalf of minorities mistreated by police is to stand up for his Ivy League buddy? Somehow I imagine that Professor Gates would've fared just fine absent help from Harvard's most prominent alumnus.
Whereas if President Obama spoke up at a press conference on behalf of people wrongly imprisoned due to "testimony" by police dogs, or advocated for those sexually assaulted by an officer, or spoke against prosecutors who block access to DNA testing, or called out the officer who choked a paramedic, or objected to the practice of police killing family pets, or asked the Innocence Project for a clear cut case of injustice to publicize...
I understand, of course, that Pres. Obama was asked about Henry Louis Gates, which is also part of the problem. Wrongly arrest a black men who happens to be a Harvard professor, release him without filing charges, and the national press corps asks the president to comment. Wrongly imprison for years on end a black man who happens to be working class and without celebrity, and the national press corps continues to utterly ignore a criminal justice system that routinely convicts innocent people. Apportioning blame for this sorry state of affairs isn't as important as recognizing that the news we get on these matters reflects a value system that is seriously flawed, and that news consumers bear blame for too.