Why the Media and the "General Public" Bought Sgt. Crowley's Story
Let's All Have a Beer
By ISHMAEL REED
It’s not surprising that some whites, who monopolize the means of expression both electronically and in print, mainstream and progressive, would automatically take Sgt. James M. Crowley’s word against Henry Louis Gates, Jr.’s even though Crowley’s account of the Gates arrest has been disputed by both Gates and Lucia Whalen, the woman who called 911.
They also disapprove of President Obama calling the action Stupid. According to a CNN poll, 59% of blacks believe that Officer Crowley acted stupidly; 29% of whites.
Whalen said nothing about “two black men with back packs,” during her 911 call as noted by The New York Times, the day after two of its reporters embraced Crowley’s version of the incident. She never used the word black. Crowley’s invisible “two black men with back packs” came from the same part of the American imagination as Susan Smith’s black man wearing a knitted cap, Bonnie Smith’s invisible car-jacking black men and Charles Stuart’s invisible black male murderers. The same place as Barack Obama’s invisible Kenyan birth certificate, a hoax accepted by the gothic south where the uniform of its homegrown terrorist movement is that of Casper the Friendly Ghost.
Even 12 year old Christopher Pittman got into the act. After blowing his grandparents to Kingdom Come with a shotgun, young Pittman blamed the murders on an invisible over-six-feet-tall black man.
Now that there are fears of a black and brown uprisings, fears stoked by Rupert Murdoch and CNN’s Jonathan Klein, for ratings, the country is revisiting Cotton Mather, the real founding father, who wrote a book about his personal hallucinations called, “The Wonders of the Invisible World Being an Account of the Trials of Several Witches Lately Executed in New England.” His Salem woods were full of invisible black men. He was one of those nuts who sparked the Witch hysteria, which has become the Obama hysteria, inflamed by Klein and Murdoch who go after eyeballs like vampires go after an exposed neck.
Birthers, the creator of Obama as the Joker, tea baggers and assorted anti-Obama nuts are always welcomed at birther loving CNN, MSNBC and Fox. I don’t know what all of this is leading up to, but I hope that members of President Obama’s Secret Service detail have been rigorously screened. Abraham Bolden, author of “The Echo from Dealey Plaza,” writes about the racist attitudes of the men who “guarded” JFK. One of them said that he’d never take a bullet for a “nigger lover.” Yo.
One of those who is under the post-race spell is Stuart Taylor, senior columnist for National Journal. Appearing on the August the third edition of the Washington Journal, Taylor said that the Gates arrest had nothing to do with race. When a black caller from Michigan accused Crowley of lying, Taylor said that “there was no proof of a significant misstatement” by officer Crowley. He argued that we’ve entered a post-race period because of Obama’s election and that “there was not a single example of discrimination against Obama in his entire life,” even though Obama says that he experienced racial profiling while serving in the Illinois legislature. Taylor also denied the existence of racial profiling saying that “a lot of white people get treated worse by the police” than blacks.
Taylor also said that whites don’t do crack, when studies I’ve read indicate that whites consume most of the crack; they just don’t get sentenced for its possession and sale. “Crack penalties appear to hit minorities harder,” was the headline of a Los Angeles Times’ story published in May 1995.
“Despite evidence that large numbers of whites use and sell crack cocaine, federal law enforcement in Southern California has waged its war against crack almost exclusively in minority neighborhoods, exposing black and Latino offenders to the toughest drug penalties in the nation.
“Not a single white, records show, has been convicted of a crack cocaine offense in federal courts serving Los Angeles and six Southern California counties since Congress enacted stiff mandatory sentences for crack dealers in 1986.”
Yet Taylor attributed the obstacles facing black Americans to their personal behavior, which has been Skip Gates’ line up to now. Like “poor work habits,” which makes you wonder how over 80 percent of blacks manage to hold down jobs; given Stuart’s error filled interview, who is he to complain about poor work habits?
Taylor’s main point was that “racial preferences pervade American society” when a number of studies, including one from the Department of Labor, describe affirmative action as benefiting white women the most. Taylor was interviewed by a white woman, Libby Casey, who neglected to point this out.
He said that a disproportionate number of blacks are incarcerated because they commit most of the crimes, another lie. They just get arrested more often. Seventy-five percent of blacks and Hispanics wouldn’t be in jail if they were white, and lies coming from Taylor and his colleague at the National Journal, Ron Brownstein, contribute to the climate that sends them there. Brownstein and Taylor make a living by ratcheting up white resentment against blacks, a job so easy that you can do it from the beach. All that is required is a laptop.
Bill Cosby is providing these opportunists with ammunition through his poor command of the facts. I love the guy, and will never forgot the time when he flew me up to Harrah’s and provided me with accommodations that included a chef, and introduced me to Ray Charles, but his tough love lectures are shaky.
Instead of lecturing “thirty five year-old grandmothers living in the projects,” wealthy black Americans like Bill Cosby and Henry Louis Gates, Jr., who view the “underclass” from first class seats, should establish a black version of the Anti-Defamation League that would challenge the 24/7 false reporting about minorities, who don’t have the media power to fight back.
I’d make a contribution and I know a number of people who’d do the same. For its part, the ADL exposes Anti-Semites who are racists as well, some of them armed with deadly weapons.
Letters to the editor, like the one that NAACP president Julian Bond wrote to the New York Times, reminding them that affirmative action is preferential toward white women, don’t seem to have an impact. Bond disputed the paper’s recent right-wing hire, Op-Ed writer Ross Douthat, who, like a reporter for the Times, believes that affirmative action is primarily “race conscious.”
Stuart Taylor’s responses lacked the facts, yet he warned Gates that “ he should be careful about what he says.”
The fact that men of Taylor’s background and prejudices dominate the discussion of race in the United States is just another bill that blacks have to pay, and you’d think that the media—both mainstream and progressive--would host white writers who weren’t so much in denial about race. Writers like Leo Litwack, David Zirin, James Lowen, Russell Banks, Tim Wise and Dalton Conley, and Jack Foley, an Irish American who is not trying to impress WASPs by playing Handel on the harpsichord.
With his lies, Sgt. Crowley not only made fools of Stuart Taylor, Huffington Post commentators Robin Wells and Frank Serpico, who accepted his false report, but most depressing, Greg Palast, a leader in the fight against the caging of voters. Moreover, Crowley, who, after the beer summit, seemed grateful that things didn’t have to get “physical” with Gates, a fifty eight year-old man who walks with a cane.
The American media have sided with the police most of the time, even when the police led the invasions of black neighborhoods where the inhabitants were massacred, or when they simply stood by and watched--something that the Cambridge and Boston police didn’t learn in school, nor did the whites, the media’s “general public,” who, when polled, took Crowley’s word over Gates’. The News Museum in Washington, D.C. should have a hall of shame, which would display the headlines of newspapers whose inflammatory reporting led to race riots: Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1921, New Orleans, 1900, etc.
Showman Lou Dobbs praised Sgt. Leon Lashley, the black policeman who backed Crowley as some kind of martyr to political correctness, without mentioning that the officer said that he would have handled the situation differently. Can you blame the guy? He was to work with people like Justin Barrett, the Boston cop who called Gates “a banana eating jungle bunny” and threatened that if Gates had given him some “belligerent non-compliance” he would have “sprayed him in the face with OC [pepper spray]. “ Officer Barrett is suing the city of Boston because in the view of him and his lawyer, he was fired, unjustly, by Boston’s mayor. His suit lists the damage that the Mayor has caused him
“ …Pain and suffering; mental anguish; emotional distress; post-traumatic stress; sleeplessness; indignities and embarrassment; degradation; injury to reputation; and restriction on his personal freedom.”
His lawyer Peter Marano said that Barrett didn’t mean to characterize Gates as a “banana eating jungle monkey,” but only meant to characterize Gates’ behavior.
Appearing on the “Larry King Show,” however, Barrett said that he didn’t know what made him say that, a statement which just about pleads for a new branch of psychiatry, or at least of an exorcism. His pathetic attempt at wit is the kind of thing that black policemen have had to deal with for decades: racist graffiti posted on bulletin boards, on emails, overheard on police radios, pasted on their lockers.
Lou Dobbs wasn’t the only commentator cherry picking the information from the Gates-Crowley encounter. Ed Shultz, a progressive, didn’t even mention Ms. Whalen’s disputing of Officer Crowley’s report. He supported the media line that both Gates and Crowley overreacted, with Gates doing the most overreacting.
The typical response by the talking heads--even the token progressives--took Sgt. Crowley’s word over that of a black professor and a white woman. In a show of ethnic solidarity with Crowley, Morning Joe’s Mike Barnicle said that the next time Gates needed a policeman, he should call the Harvard lounge, a remark that drew round-the-clock thigh slapping and yuks from his colleagues. In other words, blacks, Hispanics and Native Amercans should accept any action from the police even when it violates their rights, because they, the taxpayers who pay their salaries, might need them in the future.
Chris Matthews another member of MSNBC’s Irish American mafia nominated Crowley for Governor of Massachusetts after Crowley’s arrogant and unremarkable press conference. (If a poll were conduced in Ireland, Gates’ version of events would probably prevail over Crowley’s.)
An on-camera a left-wing Irish American is as rare as a left wing African American or Hispanic. Salon’s Joan Walsh won’t do. She agreed with the Albany jury that acquitted the police who murdered Amadou Diallo, who didn’t have a PhD. Like Maureen Dowd, Walsh has cops in her family. If CNN and MSNBC were interested in recruiting some left wing Irish commentators they might contact the newspaper “Irish Echo,” which they ought to read. Of course if Celtic-African-American President Obama showed signs of solidarity with the brothers and sisters, like that shown toward Crowley by Scarborough, Matthews, Barnicle and Joe Queenan, appearing on Bill Mahar’s Show, he’d be dismissed as an angry black chauvinist. And by the way, why haven’t Scarborough, Matthews, Barnicle, Buchanan and Joe Queenan saluted Stanley Ann Dunham, Barack’s Irish American mother, their homegirl made good? Isn’t raising a president of the United States deserving of an honor?
Black and brown cable faces are also drawn from the political right. The lone progressive CNN Hispanic contributor is often outnumbered three-to-one. The leader of CNN’s Hispanic right, is Cuban American Rick Sanchez, who ran down a homeless man named Jeffrey Smuzinick after imbibing “a few cocktails” at Dolphins' game. One of the few Hispanic syndicated columnists is Ruben Navarrete, Jr. whose assignment, like the three at CNN, is to take it to the brothers and sisters from time to time. For example, Navarrete, accepting Crowley’s account, blamed the whole incident on Gates’ not being deferential to the cop. Maybe Gates should have said something like “Bossman police, Iz sorry for bein’ in my own house,” followed by an offer to shine his shoes .I reminded Navarrete that Crowley lied. He answered with a sarcastic note. Navarrete is the writer who said that he was O.K. with The New York Post cartoon in which President Obama was depicted as a dead chimp slain by the police. Even Rupert Murdoch, the closest media owner we’re likely to get to Goebbels apologized for that one.
Gates might have raised his voice, he might have yelled, but there was no evidence that he was “belligerent” in the words of blogger and yoga instructor Robin Wells or “cantankerous” the word used by sports caster Stephen A. Smith, who also blamed the incident on Gates. Why would Ms. Wells take the word of officer Crowley over that of her colleague in the sisterhood, Lucia Whalen? Does Arianna Huffington agree with Ms. Wells?
The fact that black commentators also accepted the officer’s testimony shows the compromises that some blacks have to make in order to keep their jobs in an industry owned by the white right. Oh, sure, the reporters might be liberal, but they don’t run Clear Channel, Fox, CNN, MSNBC and McClatchy.
Before integration, black newspapers were so powerful and independent that J.Edgar Hoover wanted to charge them with sedition according to “A Question of Sedition” by Patrick Washburn. He was overruled by Franklin Roosevelt’s Attorney General Francis Biddle. Black journalism was weakened when some of the more talented journalists got jobs with mainstream newspapers where they have no power. While Pat Buchanan and Joe Scarborough can go apoplectic any time they feel like it, the few blacks on camera have to keep their cool so as not to appear angry.
Even so, Eugene Washington, who speaks in almost a whisper just about called Crowley a liar when he said that he didn’t believe that Gates made a slur about the officer’s mother.
Knowing Gates, I don’t either, but then Washington caught himself by adding that he doesn’t know whether a white Harvard Professor would have received the same treatment. He called that hypothetical. Hypothetical? Like the theory of gravity? Even tough lover Bob Herbert, who, like some other token black writers, got angry over the way Gates was treated (Herbert had received a Talented Tenth award from Gates). Herbert blames society’s failings on rap music and says awful things about Michael Jackson, whose contributions to charities were in the millions, but his opinion isn’t shared by the Time’s sales department which devotes whole sections to Jackson and the rappers in an effort to woo younger readers. He should go to the Time’s advertising department and threaten to quit if they don’t cut it out.
MSNBC’s Jonathan Capehart, a real mousey fellow, said that Gates had grown up in a Jim Crow era and that accounted for his losing his cool, again swallowing Crowley’s account of the encounter. Capehart said that he’s never had an unpleasant experience with the police. He said that Gates’ response was generational, a rumor started by a white New York Times Magazine writer who wrote about a divide between Jesse Jackson and Barack Obama’s generation on racial issues, even though Obama has been a victim of racial profiling. The writer knows as much about black history and culture as one of the scrub jays in my backyard. Well, a lot of people from Capehart’s generation have had ugly encounters with the police, some of them lethal.
On the phone the other day, Toni Morrison’s son, Harold, a Princeton architect, who was responding to my CounterPunch piece, told me about his encounter. The police, in the front yard of his home, beat up Adam Kennedy, son of the great playwright, Adrienne Kennedy. His mother and he wrote a play about the beating called “Sleep Deprivation Chamber.”
I was struck by a cop and called a nigger--in the presence of black cops--after he overheard me telling a friend that he was taking a bribe. He charged me with disorderly conduct and came to my cell that night at the Tombs. Unlike the maniac I’d encountered earlier that day he said in a very calm voice that if I pled guilty, I’d only have to spend the weekend at Riker’s Island, a New York prison. I told him no deal, and got a lawyer and wondered how poor and Hispanic and black men without resources respond to such great bargains. The judge dismissed the charges.
Like Sgt. Crowley, the officer lied on his police report and most black men would agree with journalist Jack White that the police lie all the time.
There is no evidence that Gates “over-reacted,” in the words of President Obama, and Colin Powell, a man who was part of an administration guilty of perhaps one of the most colossal over-reactions in history. To his credit, Tim Wise, author of "White Like Me: Reflections on Race from a Privileged Son" was one of the first commentators to comment on the discrepancies in Crowley’s report.
The dynamic young black intellectual, Joseph Anderson, actually looked up the criteria for disorderly conduct under Massachusetts law. He wrote to me, ”… merely verbally disputing, protesting, even being rude to and/or yelling at a cop is NOT ‘Disorderly Conduct, and that's specifically why those charges were later dropped (not merely because of bad PR by the Cambridge PD). I'm no supporter of Gates (he used to deny that racial profiling or targeting happened to other Blacks), but once Gates provided information (his Harvard ID and his driver's license) that he indeed lived at that address, the cop should have left!” Moreover, there is no ranting or raving by Gates on the police tape. Not only did Crowley lie, but he flouted the law; yet the majority of whites who were polled, support Crowley over Gates and Obama.
In 1792, Captain Kimber, of the slave ship Recovery, was charged with murdering two African women after subjecting them to horrendous torture and sexual humiliation. The judge’s charge to the jury led to his acquittal. The account appears in “Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along The Atlantic Slave Route” by Saidiya Hartman. “(The Judge) advised the jury, when deciding the matter of the captain’s guilt, to take in consideration the particular circumstances of the high seas, where all life is violence. This consideration makes a very great difference between the actions done upon sea and actions upon land…You have to judge of ferocious men, who have few but strong ideas, peculiar to their own employment, hardened by danger, fearless by habit. The preservation of ships and lives depends often upon some act of severity, to command instant obedience to discipline and supreme command. These scenes of violence present a picture of human nature not very amiable, but are frequently justifiable, and absolutely requisite; as without which no commerce, no navigation, no defence of the kingdom can be maintained or exist.”
The “high seas” have become “the urban jungle” full of “high risk” inhabitants or as many of Sgt. Lashley’s colleagues would put it “banana eating jungle bunnies” who require control no matter how severe are the measures used to accomplish this. This was the reasoning of the suburban jury that acquitted “The Riders,” a group of Oakland police who were accused of routinely beating and framing poor black drug dealers in West Oakland. They were acquitted by a suburban jury. According to The San Francisco Chronicle, “in four months of heated deliberations, they hurled insults at each other and even discussed ‘Dirty Harry’ -- the rogue cop who believed the ends justify the means.” And sounding like the judge whose charge to the jury led to the acquittal of the slave ship captain, the mostly white jury “got bogged down in a series of long -- and often contentious -- debates over the law and the ethical conflicts of front-line cops in tough neighborhoods.” The black juror, an alternate for a jury that except for an Asian American was white, was shocked.
“‘This blows me away,’ said alternate No. 1, an Oakland resident. ‘I can't believe this. They are so guilty. The evidence was overwhelming.’
“She said that the jury could not empathize with the alleged victims or believe that police would abuse their authority.
"‘Most black people know that police can lie to make an arrest,’ she said, fighting back tears. ‘But I think the people on this jury don't believe it's possible for police to lie. They just don't get it.’”
One of the policemen involved in the Riders case fled to Mexico and the city of Oakland had to pay ten million dollars to their victims, enough to provide Oakland schools with much needed equipment. Like the slave captain’s judge, most whites believe that such is the state of the inner city that the laws governing police conduct that apply elsewhere don’t apply here. This attitude is supported by television cop shows, a format that has been adopted by both CNN and MSNBC. Notice the number of Hollywood movies in which the hero is a cop whose use of force is so excessive that he’s ordered to turn in his badge by a superior, who is usually played by a black actor.
After the three beers at the white house, Officer Crowley appeared at a triumphant new conference like he owned the place and was immediately adopted as a new media star by cable. Move over Mark Furman and Lt. Col. North! Maybe they’ll make Crowley Sarah Palin’s running mate. Crowley, thanking white men with guns throughout the nation for their support, had humiliated a young black president, which is how it’s done in other countries where the civilian leader has to yield to the gun totters; the kind of governments that Obama criticized on his trip to Africa and Hillary Clinton is now accusing of corruption. Hillary Clinton!
The black professor has been carrying on like Ronald Reagan’s speech writer for a number of years. He acted as the leader of a band of exceptional black people, a “dream team.” Then Skip Gates found out during his encounter with a lying policeman that it’s not a matter of class it’s your black ass that gets you in trouble with the police. When Gates taught at Duke he got some racial profiling insurance by going to the police station and identifying himself as a Duke professor so that he wouldn’t be subjected to the kind of police treatment accorded those less fortunate blacks. He was further humiliated when, after the beer-fest meeting, he had to come up with a statement which, though very eloquent and fancy, was similar to Rodney King’s “Can’t we all get along?”
In his statement, Gates bonded with a man, who tried to justify his arrest with a false police report, which damaged both Gates and L ucia Whalen’s reputations. Gates called him a nice guy in the New York Times and said that the two might attend sports events together and have dinner. He even offered to get the officer’s kids into Harvard. Maybe the officer who killed a black man in Oakland the other night should send in her children’s application to Gates. Is Gates a candidate for the Stockholm Syndrome?
But Obama and Gates aren’t the only ones who are the targets of contempt from armed men. Such is the power that the white majority has granted the police that the California Corrections industry even turned Governor Schwarzenegger into a “girlie man.” After contract negotiations, they bragged that for every nickel offered by the state, they got a dime.
An editorial in The San Francisco Chronicle shows how costly it is for those who choose revenge over rehabilitation: “For decades, the corrections budget as swallowed more and more of the state’s general fund, starving priorities like higher education. But the political ramifications of looking ‘soft on crime’ cowed legislators and governors alike. So we built prison after prison and stuffed them all to overcapacity.”
Now Arnold is going along with a plan to build a showcase state-of-the-art Death Row that will cost the taxpayers 356 million dollars with a 35 million dollar cost overrun.
These California suburbanites are the people who gave us the 3 Strikes Law after the tragic murder of a suburban white girl Polly Klaas, a law that is one of the reason’s for California becoming a failed state. As The Wall Street Journal put it, writing about white suburbanites, “those who have the least to fear from crime, are driving the issue.” The WSJ attributed their fear to watching images of blacks on TV. Maybe CNN’s “Black In America.”
Three beers aren’t going to do it. The only result will be a reality show about the event that will accrue more profits to Gates, the intellectual entrepreneur, perhaps co-hosted by his new pal, Sgt. Crowley, cable’s latest matinee idol. Already they’ve gotten an invitation from Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, to do a tag team lecture. This is a road show that certain to entertain the media, one of whose best-selling products is the “racial divide.” I’ve heard through the grapevine that PBS is offering Gates millions of dollars to do a racial profiling special. Given PBS’s politics maybe a musical comedy which would end with blacks and police locking arms in a chorus line singing the show’s hit song, “We Both Over Reacted.”
Racial profiling will continue and the attitude of most whites will continue to be: we don’t care what you do with blacks and Hispanics and Native Americans; just keep them out of our hair.
A better solution would be the one practiced by citizens of my north Oakland district, black, white, Asian and Hispanic. For over years 20 years we’ve met with the police on a regular basis, without suds being consumed. Maybe some cake and potato chips. Sometimes we raise our voices at them, without being hauled out of Oakland’s Santa Fe School, where we meet, handcuffed and charged with disorderly conduct. But recently, when the police cracked down on a criminal operation that endangered the lives of residents of my block, I led the applause.
One of those who didn’t share in our victory was Sgt. Daniel Sakai. He was trying to help us with our main problem: a recalcitrant absentee landlord (from a two family household, Bill) who has put our neighbors lives in jeopardy by allowing her abandoned property to be used by criminals, criminals who engaged in a full-scale shoot-out on our block one morning. She refuses to even put up a No Trespassing sign.
Sgt. Sakai was white. Some of our neighbors went to city hall and signed the book to mourn his death. He was among four policemen who were murdered during an incident when the mean-spirited fear-inspired policies of three strikes, traffic profiling and the NRA collided.
Black Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and Congressperson Barbara Lee showed up to join in the mourning during a televised funeral. As part of a calculated public insult, which offended Oakland’s black leaders, Mayor Dellums was not permitted to speak.
Let’s all have a beer.