Standing on the Side of Love with those who Stand for their Rights
Cambridge MA and the Henry Louis Gates Case
Susan Leslie is the Director for the Office for Congregational Advocacy & Witness at the Unitarian Universalist Association and a member of First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist Church.
As a long-time Cambridge resident and member of First Parish Cambridge Unitarian Universalist Church, it has been painful to see the debate over whether racial profiling occurred when Officer Crowley arrested Prof. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. No one questions the police for responding to the 911 call, however, the charges being dropped suggests wrongful arrest. Does wrongful arrest constitute racial profiling? Many here feel that if a white professor displayed ‘attitude’ upon being questioned about being in his own home, he would not have been arrested. In May, Gates memoir, Colored People, was selected as the ‘Cambridge Reads’ book for this year. Now, Professor Gates is receiving death threats, illustrating just how dangerous such ‘debates’ can be for people of color who stand up for their rights.
While Cambridge and our City Council enjoy a progressive reputation, the day-to-day power of running the city falls to the City Manager. Manager Healy recently lost a discrimination suit brought by a Cape Verdean woman he fired, who was serving as executive director of the police review board. She was hired after the affirmative action officer issued a strongly critical report calling for the need to hire minorities throughout city departments. The police department is one of the least diverse, with only four police supervisors of color. The police review board is now being by-passed by Healy’s inquiry into the Gates arrest as he establishes a hand-picked commission.
Last week’s Cambridge Chronicle (July 30th), devoted almost the entire issue to the situation, with several stories about African American Harvard students and professors being randomly stopped on campus and around the city for ID. Police were called to check on a group of African American students who were playing ‘capture the flag’ on the Radcliffe Quad.
I can’t quote statistics on African American youth routinely stopped by police, yet the middle school youth center that my son attends, started a “know your rights” workshop last year, responding to teens of color reporting unwarranted stops.
What is the way forward? Only truth, love, reconciliation and reparation can heal the deeps wounds that break our communities. This past Sunday an interfaith service was held in Cambridge for unity. Mayor Denise Simmons has called for a forum on race and class in Cambridge this fall.
If we can provide a space where the truth can be told and heard about the experiences low-income and middle class residents of color have had with racial profiling, we will be moving closer to the day when this no longer happens. But first we need to hear it and believe that it is happening.
I pledge to educate myself to learn more from the people at the youth center and others who know about what is going on my city’s streets. I pledge to help bring and support these voices at the forum. I pledge to stand on the side of love with those who stand up for their rights.