An article I wrote for The Daily Beast regarding the brouhaha surrounding the arrest of Harvard Professor Skip Gates snagged me an appearance on the Today show last week—most likely my first and last appearance on that program. It wasn’t that I flubbed any lines or busted any verbs—I’m a pretty fair speaker and know the King’s English—it was what I said that will most likely preclude me from having another 15 seconds of fame.
The offer was originally extended because I’d somewhat taken Gates to task for mouthing off to an armed intruder in his home. Sure, the guy also had a badge and a uniform, but he indeed was armed, and he certainly wasn’t invited—which makes him an intruder. To me, and most other blacks with any street smarts, the wise thing to do in this situation is get this dude out of your house with as little drama as possible. You don’t talk about his momma; guns can somehow go off in those kinds of tense confrontations, and guess whose version of the event will be believed in court? Even if a tinge of racism is detected in the officer’s tone or demeanor, that’s an issue that should be taken up with his superiors in the relative safety of the police station—not mano a mano inside a house with no witnesses.
I can only imagine the producers’ surprise when I stated that with America being far and away the world leader in per capita incarceration of its own citizens, we are living in a police state.
So, evidently the producers of the Today show thought—mistakenly—that I was one of those conservative black writers, akin to Thomas Sowell (a man I roundly despise), who earn their daily bread by exculpating whites from any responsibility for the racial tensions extant in America. So I can only imagine their surprise when I stated that there is a history in this country of negative and sometimes explosive interactions between minorities and police officers, and, with America being far and away the world leader in per capita incarceration of its own citizens, by that measure and definition we are living in a police state. Somehow I got the feeling that statements of that kind were not what I was brought on the show to give voice to. Oh well, there goes my shot at TV stardom.
Now I should have perhaps narrowed my focus a bit and said that black and brown Americans (not all Americans) live in a police state, because, in spite of the fact that members of the majority culture don’t care to admit it, there are still two Americas and there always has been. This fact needs to be part of the national dialogue we should be engaging in on the subject of race, or there always will remain two Americas.
Nonetheless, a video clip of my “police state” comments are now posted on some conservative Web sites and I am being castigated by the “America, love it or leave it” crowd as somehow unpatriotic. Sorry, but I’m from the “America, love it and change it” school of politics and journalism and I’m not about to go anyplace… why should I? This is my country too, it was built largely on free black—slave—labor.
The old-guard reactionaries can keep the hate-filled emails and phone calls coming, I’m not changing my number, I’m still listed in the phone book in Cleveland, and I’m going to continue to speak truth to power.
Mansfield Frazier is a native Clevelander and former newspaper editor. His regular column can be seen on CoolCleveland.com. An avid gardener, he resides in the Hough neighborhood of Cleveland with his wife Brenda and their two dogs, Gypsy and Ginger.