Thanks, Samantha, for pointing out a tendency by some white people to show, as you say, a “reflexive defense mechanism” whenever another white person, usually one in a position of power, is accused of showing racism. Coming from me, a black person, similiar sentiments are often dismissed as biased. But aren’t the white people defending Officer Crowley and criticizing Skip Gates also showing bias?
The difference in perception is predicated on a simple fact: Most white people have never experienced, and could never imagine, such a thing happening to them or their loved ones. But if you’re black, you’ve probably experienced an unpleasant, potentially dangerous, encounter with white police, or know some other black person who has. In my case there have been several such encounters.
I was once stopped on a Brooklyn street by two white officers while I was on my way to catch a train to my college campus on Long Island. They accused me of having robbed a clothing store owner. Even after they snatched my duffle bag from my shoulder and emptied its contents on the sidewalk-a pair of jeans and some other clothing, two textbooks, and my college ID-they forced me into the cruiser and took me to the store in question to ask the owner if I was the stick-up kid who’d robbed him. My brother was once severely beaten by white police officers in upstate New York who mistook him for bank robber. Never mind that he was withdrawing money from his own bank account at the time. My sister’s former stepson was accosted by several police officers after inquiring about CD rates at several South Florida banks. They mistook him for a potential bank robber. I could go on, but you get my drift. (And don’t get me started on the number of times I’ve been pulled over for Driving While Black.)
I was a girl when my brother was beaten and unable to do anything about it. But when the stepson was racially profiled, I was a reporter, and I certainly fought back. His story ran in the Miami Herald , where I worked at the time, and later on the front page of the New York Times . He went to court and sued the cops, and he won. It was sweet revenge. I can’t wait to see how Skip Gates gets his with Cambridge’s finest.
Photograph of police near a memorial for a black New York teen who was shot and killed by police by Spencer Platt/Getty Images.