Saturday, July 25, 2009

Welcome to the "Club"

He spoke yesterday with Chris Matthews on Hardball, and I found him impressive. BTW, Matthews seems a changed man: he is allowing others to talk at length without interruptions.

A New York Times/CBS News poll conducted last July asked: “Have you ever felt you were stopped by the police just because of your race or ethnic background?” Sixty-six percent of black men said yes. Only 9 percent of white men said the same.

These views are not without merit. A series of racial-profiling studies across the country have found that blacks and Hispanics are more likely to be stopped and searched than whites.

In fact, last year the Center for Constitutional Rights, a New York law firm specializing in human rights, released a damning study of the racial-profiling practices of the New York Police Department. It found that more than 80 percent of those stopped and frisked were black or Hispanic. The report also said that when stopped, 45 percent of blacks and Hispanics were frisked, compared with 29 percent of whites, even though white suspects were 70 percent more likely than black suspects to have a weapon.

It’s such a sensitive issue for black men that even the Black Man in Chief dove into the fray on Wednesday, reiterating that the issue of racial profiling “still haunts us.” So passionate was his empathy that it caused him to err. His comment that the police behaved “stupidly” was not very smart. On Friday, he acknowledged as much.

He describes his own racial profiling incident, when he was in college.

I committed myself to breaking this cycle when I had my own kids. That became impossible the day after Thanksgiving a couple of years ago. A white police officer stopped me when I was in the car with my children. He said that I was using my cellphone while driving. In fact, I had answered a call at a stoplight. When the light turned green, I put the phone away. I thought this was a case that could be debated, so I debated it. That didn’t sit well with the officer. He went back to his car to write up a ticket. When he returned, he had two tickets. The second one, he told me, was for not wearing a seat belt, that he believed I had only put it on as I was being pulled over. That was not true. My kids were flabbergasted. They knew the officer was wrong, so they began to protest. I quieted them. When the officer drove off, I had a frank talk with them.

I told them that although most officers are brave and honorable men and women doing their best to protect and serve, there were, unfortunately, some bad seeds. Although I could not be sure that race had had any bearing on what the officer had done, I felt the need to tell my boys that as black men, we may sometimes take more of the brunt of those bad officers’ actions. As I spoke, my heart sank. Despite my best efforts to prevent it, the cycle of suspicion and mutual mistrust was tumbling forward into yet another generation. My children were one step closer to joining the “club.”

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