Find and follow us
Get our most popular stories once a week!
Racial Profiling In A Post-Racial America
(This article originally appeared on Tony Muhammad's Hip-Hop Educator website)
The past few months have indeed been strange for the conscientious hip-hop community regarding encounters with police.
On Friday, May 8, I was arrested for the first time in my life. I wasn't taken to jail, but I was fingerprinted and fined, charged with soliciting in the city of Miami Gardens, Florida. What was I actually doing? I was passing out invitations for a special Mother's Day program at my mosque.
I and other FOI (Fruit of Islam) were passing out the invitations in traffic throughout Miami-Dade County. I was stopped by a police officer and asked if I was selling anything. I said "No." He asked me if the Final Call newspapers that were in a bag I was carrying were for sale. I told him that they were not for sale, but that we accept donations for them if offered. It was at this point that the officer asked for my ID and the "arrest" took place.
After he was done filling out forms and handed me the fine, the officer mumbled some words that sounded like I was permitted to leave but had to meet him on that same corner in an hour. I said to him, "Officer, I have a mosque meeting that I have to conduct in an hour. Why is it necessary that I meet with you in an hour?" The officer then explained himself in a louder and clearer voice. He said, "No! I will let you go ahead and sell your newspaper for another hour. You can go ahead. I won't stop you."
I found this to be odd -- almost like a set up. If I got pulled over and ticketed for speeding, would it make sense for the police officer that pulled me over to tell me its okay to continue speeding since he already caught me? I shook my head and said, "No." I walked away, got in my car and drove off.
A week and a half later the officer finally submitted the arrest paperwork and a judge dropped the charges before I had the opportunity to make an appeal. The arrest is still on my record and I have to pay to get it expunged. So, even though I am not guilty of any wrong doing, I still need to pay as if I was.
Whoop! Whoop! That's The Sound of the Police
Fellow youth advocates Wise Intelligent of Poor Righteous Teachers and Paradise Gray (a.k.a.The Arkitect from X-Clan) have also experienced ridiculous arrests recently. Wise was falsely accused of drug dealing, literally in front of his home in Trenton, New Jersey. In the end, he was charged with "obstructing an investigation" since they couldn't charge him with anything else. Paradise was falsely charged with blocking a door entrance while video recording a public demonstration in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Incidents like these continue to be an every day experience in the United States for Blacks and Latinos despite having a President of color. According to CNN, a 2004 Gallop Poll revealed that 67 percent of African Americans and 63 percent of Latinos believe they have experienced police discrimination. Amnesty International estimates that in the United States 32 million people (approximately the same amount of people that live Canada) have been subjected to racial profiling.
In truth these statistics are more than likely conservative because they're only based on documented cases. When taking class into account, we would more than likely find that there is a sea of undocumented cases. It has been shown that poor people of color are least likely to know what their rights are in relation to treatment by police. This is especially the case of immigrant populations where language barriers may exist.
Official statistics also do not indicate the percentage of false arrests or the amount of people there are that have accepted false charges in plea agreements in exchange for no jail time. More than likely, poor people of color, who also tend to be least aware of their legal rights, disproportionately make up a great percentage within this category. Poor folks are also the least likely able to afford adequate legal defense and are pressured to deal with court appointed lawyers who usually try to work on ending court cases as quickly as possible.
Gates Arrest Sparks Discussion
When Harvard Professor Dr. Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested in front of his Cambridge, Massachusetts home on Thursday, July 16, it reignited a nation-wide discussion on the realities of racial profiling. Following a trip to China, Dr. Gates (along with a driver from a local car company) tried to enter Gates' house through a "jammed" front door . A white woman reported a burglary in progress and alerted police that a Black man and a "Hispanic looking" man were trying to break into the house. When the police showed up Sgt. James Crowley asked Gates for ID to prove that he lived at the residence, which he provided.
However, in the midst of it all, Dr. Gates demanded that Sgt. Crowley give him his badge number and, according to police, angrily accused the police of being "racist." After ignoring the request for the badge number several times, the officer stepped outside. When Dr. Gates followed the officer outside, he was arrested for "disorderly conduct" and was detained for several hours. Less than a week later, after much media attention, the charge was dropped.
Several journalists have recently written articles criticizing the fact that so much attention has been given to Dr. Gate's police encounter, labeling it a mere distraction. President Obama attempted to defuse the hype behind it all last week by having a "beer summit" at the White House with Dr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley.
Overall, I would argue that on a surface level the incident is a mere reflection of what happens to people of color on a daily basis when dealing with the police and, on a larger scale, with white supremacy. However, if we analyze it in light of Dr. Gates' attempt to promote a "post-race" academic movement following Obama's election, it serves as a major reminder that we are far from the just society Gates envisioned.
If the police report is correct that Dr. Gates became emotional and accused the police of racism (and there is a good chance that it did happen) then surely it largely negates the basis of his work over the past half year. On The Tom Joyner Morning Show Gates also announced plans to do a documentary on racial profiling in response to his experience. In truth, it reveals how dangerously naïve Gates' "post-racial" ideology is in these times.
On New Year's Day 2009, "post-racial" thinking did not prevent BART Officer Johannes Mehserle from irrationally holding a gun to the back of Oscar Grant and pulling the trigger. On June 10, "post-racial" thinking didn't stop James Von Brunn from shooting and killing Stephen Tyrone Jones, a Black security guard at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in D.C. And post-racial" thinking did not keep Broward Sheriff's deputy Al Lamberti from sexually abusing undocumented Latin American immigrants in Fort Lauderdale, Florida because he thought he could get away with it due to language barriers. Further, "post-racial" thinking isn't preventing colleges and universities nationwide from downgrading or literally shutting down Black, Latino and other cultural studies programs due to budgetary constraints.
Dr. Gates should be mindful of all of this while making his racial profiling documentary and make sure that it is not just simply a way to capitalize on his experience. Because of his position of influence as an academic, his documentary should in fact provide a service! He should also be mindful when it comes to selecting the right film crew for such an assignment, preferably people of color that have extensively studied racism and racial profiling in the United States; likewise featuring people of color from different genres that have experienced being racially profiled.
Noting Dr. Gates' track record, the project should be unlike his work in 2000 developing the Encarta Africana Encyclopedia, an encyclopedia about peoples of African descent in Africa and the Diaspora. Only three Blacks were hired for the project out of 40 full time writers. It's no coincidence that the only hip-hop entry in the Encyclopedia was Sir Mix-A-Lot. I guess, as Mix's song states "Baby Got Back". But if Dr. Gates wants to show and prove that he has authentically learned from the experience he's going to have to get the right backing for his documentary.
Tony Muhammad teaches American, African American and African History at an inner-city high school in Miami and is currently involved in efforts to reform The African American Voices Curriculum for Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Tony is most noted for his work as publisher of Urban America Newspaper (2003 - 2007) and co-organizer of the Organic Hip-hop Conference (2004 - 2008).