Janesville79.2°

Gates in cuffs: Scenes from "post-racial" America

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Rick Horowitz
July 23, 2009

Two guys I don't recognize trying to force the front door of the neighbor's house? You bet I'd be suspicious.


Would I call the cops? If I were a good neighbor myself, a conscientious neighbor, I probably would. At least I'd like to think I would. After all, somebody's breaking into that house -- I can't just sit there and do nothing, can I?


And I'd like to think I'd make the call no matter how dark or light the intruders' skin tone happens to be. But I don't know that. I can't be sure that's how I'd react.


Especially when I don't happen to know that one of the two dark-skinned guys trying to force the front door of my neighbor's house is: my neighbor!


"Everybody should know his neighbors" -- that's nice, as a theory. As a goal. In the real world, everybody doesn't know his neighbors. I've lived in the same house, on the same block, for nearly two decades; I can recognize exactly three of my neighbors. One of them died last winter. I didn't find out about it until this spring.

So much for knowing.


So the call to the Cambridge cops? No problem.


* * *


Call comes in to the Cambridge cops -- break-in in progress? You bet I'd send out a squad. Maybe two, just to be on the safe side.


You can't have people forcing their way into other people's houses, can you?


And I'd like to think that the dispatcher makes exactly the same decision regardless of what he or she might have been told about the intruders' skin color. Your job is to protect the community; the last thing you're thinking -- at this point, anyway -- is that one of these guys trying to force the front door actually lives in the house.


So the cops going out to investigate? No problem.


* * *


Just back from an out-of-town trip -- an out-of-country trip, in fact -- and I'm tired from all the traveling and happy to be home but my front door doesn't work and I try to force it and it still doesn't work, so I go around to the back door and finally get into the house and now there are cops at the front door and they want to know who I am and what I'm doing there. Am I ticked off? You bet I'm ticked off.


And I'd like to think that in the middle of my being ticked off, I might stop for just a moment and consider the possibility that the Cambridge cops are merely doing their job, and that the sight of two unknown men -- two unknown men of any color -- trying to force a front door might have seemed worth investigating.
Even as I'd like to think that in the middle of doing their jobs, the Cambridge cops might have stopped for just a moment to consider the possibility that this guy is exactly who he says he is, exactly who his I.D. cards say he is, and that he's entitled to be exactly where he is --

-- and what's more, that this might not be the first time in the guy's life that he's had to explain who he is and why he is where he is, simply because of the color of his skin --


-- and that maybe you cut him some slack.


You apologize for the misunderstanding. You give the guy your name and your badge number, even if the guy isn't asking politely anymore. Then you apologize again, and then you leave. End of story.


You don't put him in cuffs and arrest him for disorderly conduct.


Big problem.


* * *


And you know it in your gut, don't you? You just know that, if all the players -- the neighbors, the "intruders," the cops -- had been white, or if they'd all been black, the whole story would have played out differently.


Instead of "stupidly."



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