Police and Race Relations in America

Recently the media have been dominated with reports of the incident which occurred between Dr. Henry Gates Jr. and members of the Cambridge Mass. Police Department. I am troubled by the way in which the argument has degenerated into such a divisive issue. No doubt, the issue of race and race relations in the U.S. has again resurfaced, and has been made more relevant due to an African-American commander-in-chief.

In an ideal world, one would presume that educated individuals could discuss such delicate issues without personalizing the subject. It is disheartening to see people labeled as racist if they try to legitimize the actions of the police, or vice versa. I try as best as possible to look objectively at a situation, ascertain as much facts as possible, and attempt to arrive at a conclusion regarding my views on the subject matter.

Based on reports I have read, Dr. Gates after being confronted by the police, subsequently produced identification which indicated that it was indeed his place of residence. The police then requested Dr. Gates to step outside, an order which he refused. It is then alleged that words were exchanged between Dr. Gates and the corresponding officers on the scene. After the brief exchange Dr. Gates was taken into custody.

Police officers are tasked with the duty to serve and protect the people, and the nature of their job must be understood. On countless occasions officers confront situations where they have to make quick, but rational decisions (as rational as possible). These snap decisions have the potential to be life altering, as one mistake could lead to the loss of life. I have never worked as a police officer, and therefore cannot fully comprehend the nature of the demands they confront on a daily basis.

With regards to the Dr. Gates case, it may be safe to presume that had he followed the commands of the officers, then maybe, just maybe, the situation may not have escalated as it did. Two wrongs don’t make a right. The argument now centers on what occasion did the duty of the police officers end, and the alleged extra judicial persecution began. I beg to question whether or not their duties ever ended. Depending on the nature of the identification Dr. Gates produced, his ownership of the premises may still have been questionable (again these are broad presumptions).

As recipients of the media coverage regarding the incidence, we do not have first hand knowledge of what took place. Considering the broad presumptions we must all draw on to come to conclusions about what happened or could have happened, we must be careful to not let our reasoning disintegrate into racial discord.

My argument here is not to deny the existence of racial bias in the police force, or the continued racial disharmony in the United States. Everyone can admit that racial discrimination exists in the U.S. and goes beyond just black and whites. In my opinion, most times there is not necessarily an outright hatred for a race, but rather a stereotype which causes miscalculated conclusions to be drawn. Here are truths which we may all agree on:

1. Stereotypes exist across all racial boundaries (everyone stereotypes!).

2. Stereotypes are generalizations formed based on direct or indirect experiences we have with individuals or groups of people outside of our social circle.

3. Human nature essentially causes us to find reasons to differentiate and somehow elevate ourselves in the process.

We must force ourselves to challenge stereotypes by becoming informed about groups of people we may not understand. Likewise we must be careful to not legitimize stereotypes by our own actions. The world is made up of different people who have different experiences. No two persons are alike. Let us all take the time to know people independent of socially ingrained generalizations.

That being said, I encourage everyone to engage in discussions regarding race/race relations in a civil manner.

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