Bias, Racism, Being a Jerk, and Abuse of Power

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"Bias, Racism, Being a Jerk, and Abuse of Power"

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (wikimedia)

Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. (wikimedia)

One of the biggest reasons why it’s extremely difficult to have a real conversation about race in the United States is that every imputation of a racial dynamic immediately becomes a defensive spat in which the white person in question starts denying that he “is” a “racist.” Now we see the Officer Crowley edition of the saga, as he explains that he once tried to save the life of a black man, so he must not be a racist. And of course the great thing about the contemporary United States is that the number of people who are so racist that they would willfully let a black man die rather than lift a finger to save him is extremely small. But that’s not at all the same as saying that African-Americans don’t suffer from negative implicit biases or explicit “profiling.”

Race, in other words, exists as a negative factor in people’s lives without there needing to be tons of cartoonish racists running around.

Meanwhile, note that racial motivations or there absence have really nothing to do with the nature of Officer Crowley’s misconduct. What happened basically is that Crowley accused Gates, whether for good reason or not, of breaking into his own home. Gates, pissed off, offended Crowley. At which point Crowley, even though he was now perfectly aware that Gates was not guilty of anything, decided to exact revenge by manipulating the situation to create a trumped-up disorderly conduct charge. That’s not professional policing, and it’s not a good use of the City of Cambridge’s law enforcement resources. That’s why the charges were dropped, and that’s why it’s fair to say that Crowley was acting stupidly racial issues aside.*

Meanwhile, we see here yet another instance of one of my favorite themes on this blog. The conservative movement, which never ever ever dedicates any time or energy to the problem of racial discrimination suffered by non-whites, thinks it’s very important to draw attention to the social crisis of white people burdened by accusations of racism.

* To consider a race-free instance, I was actually treated extremely rudely by an MPDC officer yesterday. I, wisely, just decided to not worry about it and move on. But suppose I’d decided to respond to him being rude by overreacting and blowing up at him. And then he decided to respond to me being rude by finding some pretext on which to arrest me. Neither the fact that the cop’s not a racist nor the fact that I had overreacted would make retaliating with a trumped-up charge the right way for the cop to respond.

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