Thursday, July 23, 2009

Racial profiling or not, the Cambridge police were wrong

It's probably safe to say President Obama could have been more tactful last night.
"The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody [Skip Gates] when there was already proof that they were in their own home."
Tactful or not, police officers are no different from the rest of us - some of them do a good job and some of them don't. (See here, here and here.) In this case, I agree with the president that the police acted stupidly (and unprofessionally).

It should have been handled differently according to this former policeman.
I was an auxiliary police officer for 20 years, 11 in Michigan where a wise chief told us never, under any circumstances, were we to arrest someone for disorderly conduct. He said that if we couldn't find a more serious charge it was up to us to calm the person down. Otherwise he told us that using this charge was just an easy way to end a situation with a disruptive citizen without using the skill we were supposed to have to de-escalate. ...

As far as I'm concerned the police should have used their skills to de-escalate. This is part of their training.
It's possible Skip Gates blew up and got confrontational, but that doesn't justify arresting the man for breaking into his own house. As the president also said, "I think it's fair to say...any of us would be pretty angry." That seems like a reasonable assumption.

I actually have experience with "profiling" and can identify with Gates. Not too many people know this, but I have a disability that limits my walking distance so I use a wheelchair in public. About 15 years ago, while shopping at Lechters Housewares with my then 14-year-old daughter, I noticed that a salesclerk kept following behind us as we moved through the store. (My daughter was pushing me.) I assumed she was waiting to see if we needed any help so I turned around, told her we'd be fine and that she didn't need to wait on us. Her answer? I have orders to follow customers in wheelchairs to make sure they don't shoplift. I was flabbergasted. Had I been standing up, I probably would have fallen over!

Was I angry? You betcha, but I'm the type of person who busts into tears when I get angry. The yelling comes later. Anyway, the clerk took one look at my face and felt compelled to defend management's policy. She explained that disabled people in wheelchairs are a higher security risk because we can hide kitchen gadgets down by our sides or sit on stuff in order to smuggle it out.

Needless to say, I wasn't too pleased that she treated me like a criminal. I left the store and took my business elsewhere. Lechters went out of business in 2001, proving there is cosmic karma!

I don't know if racial profiling was the motivation behind Gate's arrest or not, but I can understand how a black man might feel in a situation like that because of my experience. Trust me. It's not a good feeling.


(Cross-posted at Blogging for MI.)

1 comment:

victor said...
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