Thursday, July 23, 2009

Race relations slow to change

Two years ago, I touched on police and race relations. The stuff is still going on:

My friend, Bob Lee, was giving me a tour of Houston's Fifth Ward one evening after feeding me home-cooked Creole gumbo. It was late, nearly midnight. Few cars were on the street.

"My brother, El Franco (a county commissioner for more than 20 years) got that community center built." Bobby said. "And he was instrumental in that project across the street." All through night, his pride in the neighborhood was showing. It was an eye-opening drive for me, even in the dead of night.

All of a sudden, Bobby was on full alert. "Cops," he said, looking down a side street.

"Now, George, if that cop pulls us over you be real careful to do everything he says. Don't look him in the eye. If he says lay down on the hood of the car, you lay down on the hood of the car. Don't mention Texas Weekly. Don't mention El Franco. Don't say nothing unless he asks you."

It wasn't fear talking. This had the ring of solid advice.

"But Bobby, why would a policeman stop us? We haven't done anything wrong," I said.

"Look at us, man. White guy, black guy driving around the Fifth Ward at midnight. To the cops, we look like drug dealers," he said. "Be cool or they will beat the s**t out of us."

This was coming from a man who is well-known in his community as a social worker and political organizer. Bob is "Da Mayor of Da Fifth Ward."

Fortunately, the police were not interested in us that night. But I will never forget it. Now I understand what's behind the phrase: driving while black. Profiling.

White people don't live wary of the police because they aren't routinely curbed and searched. Black people should not have to live worried about cops.

Most white people don't know this stuff goes on in the streets. It does. Every day. Ask Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who was arrested in his own living room.


Escaped Waco Alive said...

I was talking to a group of high school seniors yesterday. They're coming to Houston Community College in the fall and I was part of an orientation. They were all Hispanic or African-American kids. And I told them about Henry Louis Gates and what happened to him this week. Something they'd understand. Most of them, in response to my query, said they'd been stopped for DWB...driving while black or brown. Told them it's important to understand government because it's a tool, and it can be either a shield or a sword. And the integrity of that tool depends who we put in government and the policies they impliment. Put good people in, you tend to get good government. Put bad people in, you get bad government. (They understood ... they lived thru the GWBush administration.) My friend and colleague, Paul Shanklin, added a salient comment. He'd been stopped for no reason by a constable on the way over to the college. Paul's black. He's also a lawyer. He asked the constable, "Sir, I'm just curious. What probably cause did you have to stop me." Constable said, "You think you're a lawyer or something?" Paul responded, politely, "I know I am a lawyer, sir." His eyes widened a bit and the constable said, "You're free to go." You see, constable knew there'd be another black or brown man or woman coming along in another minute that he could harrass without any such difficulty. And the kids in that room knew that they might be the next one stopped for no other reason than being black or brown in America.

The South Plainsman said...

Before everyone gets carried away, you might check out the police report:

Blog of Ages said...

We have all seen police reports that would be given an "A" in creative writing class.

Bad kitchen acoustics? Indeed.

The South Plainsman said...

Dunno about the acoutics business, but it would be proper procedure for the officer to get the guy back outside where he had backup if he were unruly.

The point of the post I made was that there are two stories.....and then there are several other witnesses that have not been heard from.

The officer gives classes on racial profiling at the academy:

"Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class on racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming."

JohnSBoles said...

The legs on this story are now
those of a Derby winner due to the President's response. I wish the President I voted for had shone the restraint and consideration that he has shown on other occasions.

It seems a good possibility the professor was tired after returning from a trip and reacted badly. The officer was put in a tough spot and perhaps adrenaline got the better of him.

Is race still an issue in this country? Yes. Is this a major racially motivated incident? Probably not.

Anonymous said...

To start off by saying "I don't know the facts" and then proceed to cry racism and call the cops' actions "stupid" is bad leadership. For a guy who is supposed to be so eloquent and "articulate" he sure wastes a lot of time explaining what he meant. I mean re-calibrating what he meant. Something like that. As long as we're all "perfectly clear."

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