Jul 29, 2009

Former Secretary of State Colin Powell said Tuesday that he has been the victim of racial profiling but believes Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. could have been more patient with the police officer who arrested him. 

At the same time, Powell also faulted the Cambridge (Massachusetts) Police Department for escalating the situation beyond a reasonable level.

"I think Skip [Gates], perhaps in this instance, might have waited a while, come outside, talked to the officer and that might have been the end of it," Powell said in an interview with CNN's Larry King.

"I think he should have reflected on whether or not this was the time to make that big a deal.

"I think in this case the situation was made much more difficult on the part of the Cambridge Police Department," Powell said. "Once they felt they had to bring Dr. Gates out of the house and to handcuff him, I would've thought at that point, some adult supervision would have stepped in and said 'OK look, it is his house. Let's not take this any further, take the handcuffs off, good night Dr. Gates.' "

Gates, a top African-American scholar, was arrested July 16 for disorderly conduct outside his Cambridge, Massachusetts, home after police responded to a report of a possible burglary. The charge was later dropped.

Powell said that under the circumstances, Gates may not have been in the appropriate frame of mind to best handle the situation.

"He was just home from China, just home from New York. All he wanted to do was get to bed. His door was jammed and so he was in a mood where he said something," Powell said.

He recalled a lesson he was taught as a child: "When you're faced with an officer who is trying to do his job and get to the bottom of something, this is not the time to get in an argument with him.

"There is no African-American in this county who has not been exposed to this kind of situation," Powell said. "Do you get angry? Yes. Do you manifest that anger? Do you protest? Do you try to get things fixed? But it's the better course of action to try and take it easy and don't let your anger make the current situation worse."

The former secretary of state said he has been racially profiled "many times," including an incident that took place while he was the national security adviser to President Reagan.

"Nobody thought I could possibly be the national security adviser to the president. I was just a black guy at Reagan National Airport," Powell said. "And it was only when I went to the counter and said, 'Is my guest here waiting for me?' that someone said, 'Oh, you're Gen. Powell.' It was inconceivable to him that a black guy could be the national security adviser."

When asked how he dealt with the situation, Powell said, "You just suck it up -- what are you going to do? It was a teaching point for him. 'Yes, I'm the national security adviser, I'm black, and watch, I can do the job.' "  (Source)

I think Gen. Powell is absolutely correct in his assessment of the Gates situation.  I don't know of an African American who has not been affected by the issue of racial profiling, but what I would like more people to talk about is the fact that a lot of black cops are just as guilty as their white counterparts when it comes to racial profiling.  I know it's supposed to be a secret, but hey I don't care.  Let's put it out there.  Most of my bad experiences with cops have come at the hands of people who look just like me. 
I wish more people would discuss this issue, but don't worry it will most come up on Savvy Talk Radio this upcoming Sunday at 6 pm EST when I discuss the issue of Racial Profiling.  If you wish to participate on the panel concerning this subject matter please send me an email.  If you or someone you know works in law enforcement I would love to have you as a member of the panel.  I think i'ts time we had an honest discussion about this topic and how we can start bridging the gap between the cops and the people they are paid to protect and serve.


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