Friday, July 24, 2009

Get over it...

A prominent Harvard professor was arrested for disorderly conduct this week. Apparently he was returning from an overseas trip and could not get his key to work in his door. His vigilant neighbors called the police to report what they thought was a break in in progress. A police officer responded in a a timely manner. The professor became angry that a police officer was at his house. He had no idea that his neighbors had called the police. Words were exchanged between the officer and the professor. The exchange grew heated, and the professor was taken to jail for disorderly conduct. This happened in Cambridge Mass earlier this week. What I have neglected to mention is that the officer is white, and the professor is black. As this week draws to a close the incident has made national headlines, drawn an apology from the mayor or Cambridge, and a comment by our president. The president of the United States commented on the actions of a police officer in Cambridge Mass. I cant figure out what qualifies the president to comment on an incident that he has zero first hand knowledge of.

The professor immediately went to the press complaining that he was the victim of a racist police officer who was profiling. The police officer spoke to the press this week saying that he regretted the incident escalated to the level that it did. He further stated that the professor was combative from the very beginning. I can speculate that Mr. Gates (the professor) has probably had run ins with law enforcement in the past. I can also speculate that the police officer has had run ins with black men during his tenure as a law enforcement officer in Cambridge Mass. So now we are looking at the possibility of both parties having a chip on their shoulder. I may be way off base, but I think that is a reasonable theory.

If I look back at our countries history I can understand how the professor would be angry and defensive when a white police officer showed up at his house. And, I can understand the frustration of the officer when confronted with a combative black person in the early morning hours. Could the situation have been handled differently by both parties? Probably...But I was not there so I dont feel like I can make that call. I dont recall seeing that President Obama was there either. So my question is why is it any of his business?

Racisim has been a problem in the past no doubt. Great strides have been made, but it continues to be a problem. I think one of the biggest problems faced by society as a whole is that nobody wants to get over it. I cant imagine the pain suffered by previous must be intense. Mr. Gates, being a part of those previous generations, must have a great deal of fear based anger when confronted by a white police officer. The police officer must have a great deal of fear based anger when confronting a black man in the early morning hours. Look at that dynamic carefully though. That is not one sided profiling.

The problem of racism is not one sided. Stereotypes are perpetuated by people on both sides of the issue. Ths will continue to be a problem as long we ,as a society, continue to see color. It will also continue to be a problem if we keep looking to the atrocities of the past. GET OVER IT! Dwelling on the atrocities of our past dishonors the memories of the leaders that have sacrificed so much to get us to where we are today. Automatically assuming that an incident is racially motivated is a huge part of the problem. Change will never happen as long as those attitudes prevail. I hate to quote Rodney King but he really said it best..."Cant we all just get along?". The answer is yes. We can all just get along. It may take redefining our comfort zones. It may take shedding some misguided notions. It may even take letting go of long held beliefs based on negative experience. In short it takes GETTING OVER IT.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Marion Barry...Again...

In 1979 I lived on Huntington St. in NW DC. I remember that people were waiting in line for gas,there was a place called Iran where American people were being held against their will, and a man named Khomeni was supposed to be scarier than the foot monster that lived in the space between the end of my bed and the wall. The foot monsters only job was to attack, and remove, my toes while I slept. A scary creature indeed. I remember one other event in 1979 very well. A man named Marion was sworn in as the mayor of Washington. I remember this well for a couple of reasons. I was not positive what a mayor was supposed to do, and he had the same name as the mom in Happy Days. I thought that was about the weirdest name ever. But, my parents assured me that Marion was a boys name too.

Being born and raised in Washington DC, I suppose I became politically aware earlier than kids who are not from DC. Now by politically aware, I had a general knowledge that there were people called politicians who were elected to run the country. I became aware of political parties, and what they stood for, shortly before my 12th birthday. Because DC is the capitol of our great nation, our local politics are often followed by the rest of world. When I say “local politics”, I actually mean local political scandals. Embarrassing moments are widely reported when it comes to local Washington politicians. I am pretty sure there has never been a DC politician who has had more “embarrassing moments” followed by the rest of the world than Marion Barry.

Barry was the epitome of a self made man. A black man born in Mississippi in 1936 had the deck stacked against him from the start. Talk about humble beginnings, he actually picked cotton as a child for money. He worked hard, went to college during a tumultuous time in our nations history, and became a student activist working to end bus segregation. His work as an activist is what brought him to Washington DC. His rise to power in the 70’s was meteoric. In a span of five years he went from serving as the elected school board president, to holding the highest office in the nations capitol. That is impressive by anyones standards.

I have often said that anything the DC government gets involved in goes bad. I believe wholeheartedly that Marion Barry is the reason for this. During the 80’s my fair city had the dubious honor of being the murder capitol of the world. I remember watching the news, and the lead off story would always be the running tally of murders. For several years the annual total was well over 300 homicides. The overwhelming majority of murders were drug related. If crack was the equivalent of a train careening out of control towards a congested rail road crossing, then DC was the equivalent of a child with his foot caught in the tracks. The carnage that crack brought with it was epic. Looking back it is easy to see how it happened. The man that we entrusted to take the needs of our city over his own was part of (and possibly the cause of) the problem.

I remember the day I knew the mayor was smoking crack. I was visiting my parents, watching the news with my mom. Marion Barry was heading a very bizarre anti drug rally in one of the many projects that Southeast DC was infamous for. He kept chanting “DOWN WITH DOPE UP WITH HOPE” and would not respond to reporters questions. I turned to my mom and stated ,matter of factly, that the mayor was smoking crack. My mom questioned it initially, but I was steadfast in my belief that the mayor was using cocaine. A few months later my mom called me and told me I was right. The mayor had just been arrested with a prostitute in a DC hotel smoking crack. I will never forget the image of this man, who possessed incredible potential, yelling “BITCH SET ME UP” as the FBI entered the room. Thus turning my hometown into the butt of jokes for years to come.

Barry was convicted, and served 6 months in prison. After his release from prison, and what amounts to urinating on the very concept of common sense, he was elected again. He served for a few more years as mayor, and was finally defeated by Anthony Williams in 1999. Incredibly, he is still an elected official in DC. I cant honestly say I was surprised to see Mr. Barry in the news again. Nor can I can I say that his arrest for stalking was a surprise. It must be getting hard to find a park police officer that has not arrested Marion Barry. Yet, incredibly he is still in office. This is a man who has betrayed the public trust repeatedly. He was using the very drug that caused thousands of deaths, and brought unimaginable pain to the residents of Washington. That alone is unforgivable. If I were him I would never be able to look at my constituents again. He may as well slap the widows of the police officers killed during the crack “wars” of the 80’s and early 90’s. Or, kick the mothers who lost sons to the violence that crack brought with it.

Now don’t get me wrong, I believe in redemption. I believe that a person should be forgiven for his wrongdoings, and be allowed to change. Change is the operable word there though. And, I believe with every fiber of my being that not forgetting the reason that forgiveness was needed is incredibly important. DC residents have been putting up with his antics for years…it is well passed time for Marion Barry to leave office and just go away. It seems the residents of DC are good at the forgiveness part, but severely lacking in the part about not forgetting. Marion Barry is an embarrassment, there is no other way to say it. The voting residents of Washington DC should have said enough is enough several years ago. I can only hope that someone in Ward 8 finally sees the light, and steps up to tackle a job that has not been well done.