Joint position of the Black Press in response to Gates arrest
by National Newspaper Publishers Association, West Coast Black Publishers Association and California Black Media
Los Angeles – In the tradition of the Black Press working as an opponent of racial injustice, we as chairmen of the California Black Media, West Coast Black Publishers Association and National Newspaper Publishers Association stand with President Obama in his original assessment of the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates.
Gates, a Harvard professor, was arrested in his home on July 16 for disorderly conduct. Our position is based on the history of Black men suffering at the hands of white male stupidity and racism since African Americans arrived in this country in shackles.
The president commented about the officer on this occasion and, as he said, his comment was based on his limited information and based primarily on his experience as a Black man in America.
Virtually all African American males in America are familiar with the law being applied to them in ways that are not only stupid but in ways that are discriminatory and that deny them their dignity. Deposited in the memory banks of African American males is the treatment of Rodney King being beaten by Los Angeles police officers while lying on the ground. They have memories of the July 2002 image of teenager Donovan Jackson being thrown onto the hood of a car in Inglewood, California, and Tyisha Miller being shot 49 times while sitting in a car in Riverside, California. The New Year’s execution of Oscar Grant, an unarmed young father, by BART police in Oakland as he lay face down with one officer’s knee on his neck while another stood over him and shot him in the back is a recent and very painful memory.
President Barack Obama has stated that he was surprised by the controversy arising out of his comments about the Gates incident. After all, here was a police officer arresting a man at his own home for expressing his contempt for a system that arrests a Black man for disorderly conduct in his own home. The crime, evidently, is “contempt of cop” or was it “talking trash while Black”?
“Virtually all African American males in America are familiar with the law being applied to them in ways that are not only stupid but in ways that are discriminatory and that deny them their dignity.”
When the president said that the officer, Sgt. James Crowley, acted stupidly, he was speaking from his experience as a Black man in America. As a constitutional law professor and from a vantage point different from any of his white critics who have lived a privileged life because of the color of their skin, the president is aware of the historical unequal treatment and profiling of Blacks and their being singled out for more serious treatment by authorities under similar circumstances.
There was no legal basis for arresting Professor Gates in his own home once he had provided identification proving that he was at his home. His indignation was apparently based on a new reality that even though it is widely understood that “a man’s home is his castle,” a different standard applies to African American men.
The actions of Sgt. Crowley were consistent with, as Dr. Gates said, how vulnerable all Blacks are to white authority. Many white men will never understand the continuing effect of a Black man’s experience in America, including the recent stupid efforts to require the president to prove that he is an American citizen.
We believe, as the president stated, that this is indeed a teachable moment. As long as everybody keeps their eyes and minds open and applies the law to the facts, they will be taught that this is indeed another deposit in the bank of Black-White relations in America. Like so many of the previous acts, it was a stupid act that should not be repeated.
Danny Bakewell, chairman of the National Newspaper Publishers Association and publisher of the Los Angeles Sentinel
Attorney Joe C. Hopkins, president of the West Coast Black Publishers Association and publisher of the Pasadena/San Gabriel Valley Journal News
Hardy Brown, president of the California Black Media and publisher of the Riverside Black Voice News