To the Cambridge police: Look at my photo. Do you see the color of my skin? Now, I’m telling you. You might be able to bullshit the President of the United States, but you can’t bullshit me.
Because I know the issue isn’t any inflammatory words that your cop might have uttered or any inflammatory words that Gates might have uttered. This issue is about exactly what you charged him with–disorderly conduct. “Disorderly conduct” is code for not doing what the “nice officer” wants you to do. This issue is about control, and the need that cops have for it. You want to control everyone, everything, everywhere. You call that “law and order.”
I’ve already talked about “law and order.” Law is passed overwhelmingly by wealthy, white males who are rarely concerned with their own actions but with the conduct of “others.” And order is about social order, the hierarchy that keeps the rich above everybody else. It is expressed in the Federalist Papers, perhaps most succinctly in No. 10, attributed to James Madison. Madison makes clear that he’s interested in protecting minority rights, not the civil rights of any stigmatized or disadvantaged group, but the property rights of the wealthy, the people he most trusts to govern. Everyone else is the rabble, a threat to order.
You have tried to dismiss the history of relations between police and Blacks as history. But just this New Years, a man was shot while he lay face down on a BART platform. This is a history that continues to the present.
Which is why I also have a message for the middle and upper class Blacks who have written that they are raised to understand that no matter how much they think the police are wrong, they dare not resist, dare not protest: A former BART police officer would almost certainly not be on trial right now were it not for protest, were it not for resistance. Your attitude amounts to a warning not to upset the Master.
And if you don’t know what I mean by “the Master,” you have lived too comfortable lives, too separated from the brutal experiences of your forebears, not just in slavery, not just in lynchings, not just in the death penalty. You too easily blame the poor for their own misfortune; you have too quickly forgotten what you have only partly overcome. Gates’ arrest should be a wake up call that your class does not immunize you from bigotry; and yes, I really do believe that many of you have forgotten that.
Because when you say to de-escalate, what you are really saying is to enable. And even one life is too high a price to pay for bigotry.