Black People Still Easy Prey: There Is an African-American President in the White House All Right, but His Presence There Has Not Stopped New York Police Officers Harassing Black People at the Least Opportunity. Henry Louis Gates, an Icon of Black America, Has Been the Latest Victim, Reports Ifa Kamau Cush

Article excerpt

EARLY IN THE 20TH CENTURY, Hubert Harrison, an African-American political writer who is considered by many as one of America's leading public intellectuals of his day, made this trenchant observation: "Politically, the Negro is the touchstone of the modern democratic idea. The presence of the Negro puts our democracy to the test and reveals the falsity of it."

Substituting African-American for "Negro", one cannot help but be impressed by the profundity and prescience of his comments. Hubert Harrison died in 1927 but his words ring true in today's America where, as writer Mae Jackson said, "every 6 to 9 months a black man is shot down by the police."

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Last May, a 25-year-old African-American police officer in civilian clothes, Omar Edwards, was shot in the back and killed white chasing a suspected car burglar in Harlem, New York. The gunman was a white policeman, Andrew Dunton.

The outrage that followed prompted the Harlem congressman and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, Charles Rangel, to quip that even President Barack Obama must be careful when walking through Harlem for he could be mistaken for a criminal and shot, given the racism that prevails among some of New York City's police oficers.

The congressman apologised later saying "it was entirely inappropriate to bring the president ... into this discussion". But he called on America's first African-American attorney general, Eric Holder, "to review the problems in the New York City Police Department when black officers are killed by whites".

However "inappropriate" Rangel felt his remarks were, his comments exposed a harsh reality for blacks in America: the American media have, over the years, crafted a narrative of black men as criminals. Thus, any black man running, with or without a gun, whether chasing a suspect or catching a bus, is in danger of being shot by a cop.

"My greatest fear is being shot by a fellow cop, not by a suspect," said a black New York City undercover detective, requesting anonymity to avoid retribution from the police department.

On 16 July 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr, an icon of Black America and Harvard law professor whose academic and other achievements obviates the need for any introductions for him anywhere in the USA, was arrested and handcuffed for attempting to "break" into his own home on his return from a trip to China. The Cambridge Police Department in Massachusetts claimed that two police officers who responded to a call regarding "a possible break-in" at Gates' home, arrested him for disorderly conduct after he yelled at them.

The official police report said: "On Thursday July 16, 2009, Henry Gates Jr of Ware Street, Cambridge, MA, was placed under arrest at Ware Street, after being observed exhibiting loud and tumultuous behaviour, in a public place, directed at a uniformed police officer who was present investigating a report of a crime in progress. These actions on the behalf of Gates served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed."

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The reporting officer, Carlos Figueroa, had told his bosses in his report: "On July 16, 2009, at approximately 12.44pm, I, Officer Figuero, responded to an ECC broadcast for a possible break-in at Ware St. When I arrived, I stepped into the residence and Sgt Crowley had already entered and was speaking to a black male. As I stepped in, I heard Sgt Crowley ask for the gentleman's information [to] which he stated 'No, I will not!' [sic]. The gentleman was shouting out to the Sgt that the Sgt was a racist and yelled that 'This is what happens to black men in America'.

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"I stepped out to gather the information from the reporting person. [She] stated to me that she saw a man wedging his shoulder into the front door as to pry the door open. …