Social critic and comedian Dave Chapelle hilariously described the tense relationship between Black men and police in his landmark stand-up performance, Killing ’em Softly.
I’m not saying I don’t like police. I’m not saying that. I’m saying, I’m just scared of them. Nothing wrong with that. Sometimes, we want to call them too. Somebody broke into my house once, that’s a good time to call them, but mmm mmm, mmm mmm. The house is too nice. It ain’t a real nice house, but they’d never believe I lived in it. They’d be like, (gasp) “He’s still here! [whacks the microphone on the stand]… Oh my God! Open and shut case, Johnson. I saw this once before when I was a rookie. Apparently this nigger broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere. Well… let’s sprinkle some crack on him and get out of here.” Click here to listen to clip.
Chapelle’s witty commentary on racial profiling, discrimination and brutality played out last Thursday afternoon at Harvard University professor, Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s Cambridge home. Gates was arrested while police were investigating a possible break-in. The police report states that when two officers arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home at 12:44 p.m. to question him, he began “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” which led to an arrest (read entire police report here). Despite the fact that Dr. Gates showed the officers his driver’s license and Harvard faculty ID, he was handcuffed and taken into custody for several hours.
Are we surprised? Absolutely not. This incident is a sobering reminder that even our Black professionals who have reached the upper echelon of America’s white institutions, are still subject to the wretched grasp of racism. This is an important reminder for those of us who mistakenly believe that assimilation will lead to acceptance within mainstream society. At the end of the day Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a Black man in America – which means, among other things, he is constantly victim of some form of racial profiling. We all are. The only difference is that Gates has the luxury of being represented in court by his Harvard colleague, law professor Charles Ogletree. If only we could get Ogletree on the case of the 2 million plus, brothers and sisters who have been locked up as a result of the same racist system that inconvenienced professor Gates.
Oh the prison industrial complex… a post for another day.