The Unexamined Life is Not Worth Living

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Spin Doctor

Spin Doctor
Atlanta, Georgia, USA
August 18
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JULY 30, 2009 11:14AM

Cambridge officer engages in “Monkey Business”

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Cambridge police officer Justin Barrett has been suspended for sending an anonymous letter to the Boston Globe in response to an editorial that condoned the behavior of Dr. Henry Louis Gates that led to his arrest on a disorderly conduct charge.  The rambling rant contained a racial slur (“Jungle Monkey”), which he used several times.  A copy of the letter was also sent to several members of the National Guard (Barrett is also an active guardsman).


The officer has since apologized for his comments, indicating that his intention was to characterize Dr. Gates’ behavior, and not his ethnicity.  By crafting and sending this incendiary e-mail, Justin Barrett has once again ripped the scab from our collective consciousness as it relates to racism.  It’s the wound that refuses to be healed.


Do we dismiss this incident as an aberration, the personal anger of a lone public servant gone awry; or does his behavior tell us something more?  To what extent do this man’s personal feelings impact how he goes about doing his job?  There must be some overlap between Officer Barrett’s words and his actions.  Additionally, there must be other officers on the Cambridge police force who have shown their selves to be biased in their thoughts, words or deeds when dealing with people of color. Otherwise, the Cambridge PD would not have found it necessary to have a class on racial profiling.


Police officers are given a fair amount of latitude in dealing with situations, to enable them to protect the community and to minimize personal injury in the course of doing their job.  In the wrong hands, discretionary power can be abusive.  In the hands of individuals who harbor personal bias it leads to disparate treatment and, in some cases, violations of civil rights.  For people of color, this is our history.  This is our nightmare.  This is also our reality.


Twenty-five states have some type of legislation in place that bans profiling as a means to deter criminal behavior.  These laws would not be necessary if profiling were not an issue.  One need only look at the demographics within our legal system to get a sense of the disproportionate impact on African Americans.  Despite comprising only 10% of the US population, they far outnumber whites in arrests, convictions, incarcerations and the number of individuals on death row.


During my days in retail, we sometimes encountered “salt & pepper” shoplifting teams.  They were very effective in getting our attention focused in one area, while systematically reducing our inventory.  I learned two valuable lessons from this experience.  First, criminals come in all sizes, shapes and colors.   Secondly, the color of your skin has a major impact on your ability to evade detection and prosecution.


Was Dr. Gates profiled, or treated differently because of his race?  I don’t know.  Do we still have racism in America in 2009?  You’re damn right we do.  Anyone who thinks we don’t is a jungle monkey.


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Amaze the amazement!
Your Title:`Manager of a Vending (Machine) Services.
Sunday I met a jolly blank man with a hip that was sore.
He held hands with his two beautiful dressed young girls.
His wife was dressed in purple and She a carried an infant.
He wore a purple shirt. My point? He was formerly in theatre.
He fell through a stage prop and broke his hip. He amazed me.
He imitated many Disney characters. Animated Mickey Mouse,
Donald Duck, and we laughed about Cheetah, Popeye, Olive Oil.
Sometimes it's seems like:`Life's A Dream and We are the Player. too.
I forgot to mention.
H manages Vending Machine.
He now lives in West Virginia.
I was Not wearing a pink mink.
His daughter teased:`Ya Santa?
I said No. I am sorta:`Sinner Nick?
My grandchild wants my beard grown.
I'll don white jewell turbans? Pink earmuff!
Good post Spin.

--Arthur James
Spin manages vendors, not vending machines. Those get serviced by repairmen and outside vendors. It would be nice if vending machine guys were jolly blank men. Hey maybe someday.
Arthur –

To quote one of my favorite writers (Willie Shakes):

Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage
and then is heard no more; it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Zen –

Thanks for stopping by.
I myself have been saddened by the whole incident. I think the officer used words that were carefully selected and intended to cause pain. I cannot see any motivation behind the email except to stir things up and inject himself in the middle of the media attention-- which he managed to do quite ably. Whether or not it is indicative of a deeper systemic issue remains to be seen. I think it seems at least plausible if not even obvious that he believed he was communicating with like-minded individuals.

It seems like a lot of people fear change and personal engagement and would instead prefer to stay in the darkness and hurl stones. And over the last week or so I think we can say that we've seen evidence of racist attitudes and opinions from all quarters. Further, this seems like an incident that points out my belief that many black people seem to have an expectation of discrimination, which may in part be self-fulfilling. TeenDoc and I had been having a discussion on that topic prior to this event.

And my point in our discussions has not been whether or not people are discriminated against. I think there is strong evidence and testimony that it does indeed happen. But my question to TeenDoc was essentially wondering how often black people "expect to be discriminated against"? and whether or not that contaminates the situation.

Her last pm to me was pointing out the story of the black kids that were chased out of the club pool-- there's not much I can say to that. I don't know what all was said, what the supposed "rules" of the club were, or the arrangement with the children's center, whom I gathered were not officially members of the club but had been allowed to swim and recreate there on some basis.

It did seem somewhat discriminatory on the surface. But what if the supplied justification was accurate? That it wasn't their race but their number (crowding) and demeaner (being kids) in close proximity to paying members who complained? Was race a factor? Overtly? Covertly? Who can say? But it did seem plausible that there was a discriminatory element.

On the other hand, there certainly were a lot of people jumping up and making the knee-jerk assertion that it was discriminatory and racially motivated and that was the only possible interpretation. Obviously, it would seem, at least in their eyes, the fact that the person from the club that chased them out was Caucasian, and perhaps used ill-chosen words, that there could be no mis-interpretation regarding the racially-disciminatory nature of the incident.

And I didn't respond to her at that time-- I didn't see how I could really dispute anything since I certainly don't have all the facts (or indeed, not even many of the facts). But neither does she.

So maybe that says something about an individual's (me, her, someone else, anybody) willingness to perceive a situation as having a racial component. I guess I can understand it too, it if is true. If you live a life where racial discrimination and bias can occur, and if it occurs often enough or in the right ways, I reckon it can simply be chalked-up to human nature if someone's outlook is colored by those experiences.

Then when the Gates thing came out-- regardless of the racial bias of the police who responded-- I won't and can't dispute those aspects-- but I couldn't help but notice that it seemed like even in that sheltered academic environment-- when confronted with a possibly embarrasing or seemingly accusatory situation with the police, one of the first tactics employed by Gates was to refer to his race.

Maybe the situation was already racially-charged at that point and all he was doing was adding his component. Maybe not. The police report says one thing. Gates says another. Maybe they're even both right when viewed from their own respective lenses.

I can say that I have been in a similar circumstance. In my case it wasn't my house but my business. At 12 midnight or thereabouts a day after we changed the alarm code. I came in to work after hours, was focused on the work I needed to do, completely forgot about punching in my code, and shortly thereafter the alarm went off. That set off the alarm monitoring company who phoned me and even though they were convinced I was who I said I was, they had already dispatched the police.

I punched in my new code and turned off the alarm. And while I was standing there at the alarm panel beside the door, the police arrived. They knocked heavily on the door with their nightsticks. I opened the door to a cautious and guarded officer. Out of the corner of my eye I noticed two officers behind him, guns drawn and ready to engage in case there was an issue.

It was definitely a tense situation. One part of me was annoyed that just talking to the alarm company couldn't have defused the situation. Another part of me was chagrined that I had forgotten to punch in the alarm. Another aspect involved the fact that I was pretty well known and "everybody knew it was my business", even the police whom I'd often interacted with and even invited in after hours for coffee on occasion.

But on this occasion they were there on business and they were no nonsense. They asked me to identify myself. Which I did by showing them my (out-of-state) driver's license and pointing to my car. They asked me for the challenge-response that was required by the alarm company which I gave them. They asked me if there was any problem, if anybody was in the building that shouldn't be. If I was in trouble or any danger. They asked if they could come in and see for themselves, which I allowed. And that was the end of it. They were satisfied and went away. I was embarrassed and annoyed I'd lost an hour or so of work time. But that was it.

Admittedly everybody was "white" in this situation. But had I opened the door and been at all belligerent, visibly reluctant to comply with their reasonable and obvious to-be-expected requests for identification and justification, don't you think they would have been in their rights to have viewed my behavior suspiciously? Even though I would have been completely within my rights to have refused to identify myelf-- it was my business, my property. Doing so would have odd in the situation. I can easily see how, if I had copped any sort of attitude, the police could have determined there was something strange afoot-- and police being police, tend to straighten that sort of thing out "down at the station".

I am not attempting to make light of the situation, or to ignore any possible racial aspects of the incident. But again, I wasn't there so I don't have all the facts. And neither were all the talking heads who were absolutely convinced that the white policemen were automatically wrong and racist, and the black guy was obviously a victim.

There were no voices (or not many) who were simply saying it was an unfortunate event that took on a dark tone that perhaps wasn't necessary which escalated into something "stupid", to use President Obama's word. But, I'd like to point out, there was plenty of stupidity to go around, and even more cooked-up for all the talking heads. There are a lot of people with racially-charged attitudes and beliefs. It turns out that a lot of them are black.

Go figure.

I just think its sad.I wish we could just get past all the race crap and celebrate each other the way we are.
Just to clear up what happened, maybe you should listen to the professor -
Mr. E

I appreciate your insight. You stated, “this seems like an incident that points out my belief that many black people seem to have an expectation of discrimination, which may in part be self-fulfilling.”

Expectations are based upon personal experience. For many black people, the possibility that they are being treated differently because of their skin color is a factor that threatens to impact how they handle even the most innocuous interaction. Similar to a dog that has become hand-shy after being subjected to repeated abuse; an accumulation of negative experiences creates an expectation of predictive results

In some instances, reading, seeing or hearing about situations can breed the same or even greater levels of mistrust. In addition to our ugly history of police brutality against black people in this country, today’s technology keeps us abreast of current incidents where black people suffer at the hands of those hired to serve and protect us. Robbie Tolan and Oscar Grant are two recent incidents that come to mind, where officers used deadly force to subdue black suspects. Robbie (son of a former MLB player) was tailed to his house in a wealthy Houston suburb and shot on his doorstep in front of his parents. Oscar was shot in the back while lying face down on a subway platform in San Francisco.

Many view fear and distrust of the police by blacks as irrational; but all behavior, regardless of race, gender etc. is usually based upon some amount of knowledge and/or experience.

In my lifetime, I have been tailed through department stores on numerous occasions. I’ve had sales people ignore other customers in order to repeatedly offer me assistance I did not ask for. I’ve had people lock their car doors while observing my close proximity at a traffic light. I’ve watched women clutch their purses and pull their children close by in grocery stores. I have had police officers tail me and shine spot lights in my face in my own neighborhood. My son has been asked to produce ID on more than one occasion, while standing in front of our home. Some of these incidents may have been justifiable (I stopped trying to keep count a long time ago). However, the accumulation of similar experiences, combined with my knowledge of past and present events, tug at me whenever I am faced with a similar set of circumstances. Jumping to a potentially erroneous conclusion is but a small leap.

For those who have suffered real harm, indignity and/or humiliation, overcoming the urge to prejudge can be challenging. This is not a problem unique to the black experience; rather a natural inclination of human nature that conspires to create your “self-fulfilling prophesy”.
Fortunately, there are many people of all backgrounds who are not held hostage by their belief systems, have overcome past emotional trauma, and are able to judge people and situations at face value until given sufficient a reason to do otherwise. Most everyone has suffered somewhere, somehow. That is why I say we are all in perpetual recovery from our prejudices.

Another psychological point to consider is that of selective amnesia. Once our basic belief system is formed we systematically seek out reinforcement, while discounting events that do not conform to our world view as exceptions or aberrations. When you think about where people have lined up with regards to Gates-Gate, you can see how their belief system influences their perspective. Each side attempts to focus on the factual information which supports their belief system, to the exclusion of contrary information. If I believe unequal treatment based upon race is pervasive; I conclude that Dr. Gates was arrested for being an uppity black man. If I believe unequal treatment based upon race is, for the most part, a thing of the past, I conclude that Dr. Gates was arrested because he pissed off Sgt. Crowley by being loud and uncooperative.

The same perspective can be applied globally. Are the periodic “racial” incidents we hear about isolated occurrences, overblown by the media and hyped by demagogues with personal agendas; or are they symptoms of an on-going problem that we’ve yet to fully and openly address as a nation?

FTR, I have taken a measured approach in my responses on OS to the numerous blogs about Gates-Gate. Sgt. Crowley says his actions were not racially motivated. His position offers him a lot of latitude in dealing with suspects. Law-abiding citizens should not be arrested, simply because they are upset. If you had become upset at the officers who came to your business in response to an alarm call, you should not have had to concern yourself with being arrested for having an emotional outburst. We need to change the system to deter what I consider to be an abuse of power. Doing so will make things better for everyone, and help to remove the subject of race from the equation. Hopefully, that is something we can both agree upon.
That boston cop Justin Barrett is just a raging out of control asshole cop. It's too bad that his type is actually the norm among law enforcement types.

It’s kind of scary that Officer Barrett would send an “anonymous” letter with his initials on it to the local paper and the National Guard. There is probably a very short list of individuals employed by the Cambridge PD and the National Guard, with the initials “JB”. It’s almost as if he wanted to be found out.

What’s troubling is that one never knows when they are going to encounter an officer of the law with Officer Barrett’s mentality.