Barack Obama maintains the incident between Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates might be a “teachable” moment. But instead it has been used to promote political agendas and get negative news for traffic for the proud. So what are the real teachable moments?
First of all, many of those in the media have created flaps for fun, for increased readership, when the issue could be managed in quiet negotiation with information cited by the press to be helpful. Instead many writers rushed in to give opinions before all the relevant information was provided. In other words the media didn’t follow Thomas Jefferson’s reflections on the media’s responsibility, “to educate, inform and hold power to account.”
Citizen journalists and bloggers along with traditional media wrote about the Gates – Crowley incident. One of the best initial narratives of the incident itself was done in the community where it took place by the Harvard Crimson. This newspaper wrote how Henry Louis “Skip Gates, Jr., age 58 and a Harvard professor, was arrested at his home for disorderly conduct. He had been seen trying to get into his home, when the door was stuck. A woman called police and reported someone breaking into the home. Police, later called, arrested Gates when he protested he was being victimized. A Sergeant Crowley had been in the Gates home asking the professor questions and identification. Gates became outraged about the incident, and the descriptions set off a storm of controversy in the press.
Was the issue a teachable moment? Some commentators say it was not and could have been.
One citizen journalist found the case a special prize indeed for traffic, comments and an opportunity to present conservative opinion on the President as well as Gates.
The journalist, a citizen reporter of Digital Journal, was quick to add his observations on the Gates – Crowley incident with an article entitled, “Opinion: Did a Harvard Professor Create a Racial Incident? ” Simpson declared, ” It appears the neighbor acted in good faith, the cops did their jobs, and Professor Gates was being arrogant, hostile and irascible, if not racist himself.” All of this opinion was given very soon after reports of the Gates-Crowley incident was reported in the mainstream media when facts were limited in detail.
After writing the article, and receiving some criticism in the comments section of it, Simpson responded, “I believed Gates was lying and playing the race card, and I let him hear it. Loudly. Just so happened that the Chicago Tribune and CNN wanted to hear what I had to say too. Gotta go now, OK. See ya!” After that he went on to write nine more stories in six days about the incident, each personal opinion and each with an attention-grabbing headline oriented toward Gates being someone playing the race card to his advantage with the aid of the President. This comes from a writer who brags he would never vote for a Democrat.
Simpson ends several of his opinion pieces, with “Goodbye and Good Luck” in the tradition of Edward R. Murrow. But Citizen Journalist Simpson isn’t alone. He is joined by others for whom traffic and attention is more important than presenting objective information.
Rush Limbaugh immediately weighed in on the matter as the rest of the conservative press. But were these folks providing constructive teachable moments?
Scholars on the subject of racial profiling give information that can be useful. What research has found, as has been observed since the Gates – Crowley incident, are competing definitions of racial profiling held by black and white individuals. These same definitions are also held by members of the citizen media, more reflective of citizens than traditional media.
So what is racial profiling, and is it a problem in the United States? In its narrowest definition racial profiling is involved when a subject is arrested by a policeman and questioned solely on the basis of race or ethnicity. This narrow definition of racial profiling can be equated, according to legal professionals, to racial discrimination itself, something that is unconstitutional.
The broader definition of racial profiling is when police routinely use race as the criteria to arrest or respond with suspicion on any given event.
Before 2001, racial profiling was found to be significant, with one example from New Jersey that found that whereas black and Hispanic motorists constituted 13.5% of highway drivers there, they were 73.1 of those stopped and searched by the police in that state.
Amnesty International finds racial profiling to be a significant problem Racial profiling, according to Amnesty International, is a serious problem and has increased in frequency following the 9/11 attacks to include 32 million Americans who have been victims of racial profiling, a number estimated to be equivalent to the population of Canada. They found victims experienced this problem in daily life, whether walking, driving, or shopping.
Most people don’t know whether the incident with Professor Gates was racial profiling. The courts could decide that, along with the persons involved. But can the media decide and give opinions right after the incident itself, without the full set of facts, or should it cover the news of the incident as it unfolds. What harm takes place when opinions, passed off as news, is given and the truth becomes hard to define later, as Goebbels once declared, because people will first believe in the myth, then find it hard to change their minds about it. Media recognize that, and their need for traffic and accolades, as reflected by those writing about Gates – Crowley, to the detriment of the country.
The “teachable moment” has much to teach. One is that media should hesitate with opinions, particularly when all the facts aren’t known and the details and background not provided. Secondly, the media should represent objective material and stress the details as they unfold without judgment. Only then can the media teach about such an incident.
Finally the rest of us have, in this incident, some information to reflect upon ourselves. That information is: have we personally rid ourselves of racism and prejudice? If not, the really best teaching allows us to expand our awareness of who we are and what we have yet to learn.
1. Digital Journal
Opinion: Did a Harvard Professor Create a Racial Profiling Incident
2. Empty Wheel – Firedog Lake
Media Failure: Gates and Crowley Need to Personally Lead
3. Amnesty International
Threat and Humiliation: Racial Profiling, National Security, and Human Rights in the United States
4. Information Brief
Racial Profiling Studies in Law Enforcement: Issues and Methodology
Racial Profiling Studies in Law Enforcement: Issues and Methodology