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By Abraham Cooper
associate dean, Simon Wiesenthal Center
We at the Simon Wiesenthal Center have a unique take on the Sgt. Crowley-Professor Gates episode. We may be the only folks in America who knew them both before that fateful 911 call that cast them both in a national debate about racism and racial profiling that eventually led to the White House.
Back in 1992, our efforts to debunk Louis Farrakhan’s “academic” screed accusing Jews of a central role in the African Slave Trade received a major boost from Harvard’s Director of African American Studies, Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.
That also was the year we began our TOOLS FOR TOLERANCE® training program, which over the years has involved more than 100,000 law enforcement officers, including Officer James Crowley of the Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department.
The officers who came to our training sessions kept telling us of their concern about and confusion over racial profiling, which led us in 2001 to create an interactive course called Perspectives on Profiling™.
Enter Sgt. Crowley, who in 2007 was sent by his department to the Museum of Tolerance to become a trainer on the issue of racial profiling. Crowley was an outstanding student, and he was invited back last year for an advanced course. “He stands out to me. He was one of those people who really engaged in sessions, who really showed a high level of understanding of the issue,” said Sunny Lee, director of Tools for Tolerance® for Law Enforcement.
In his coursework, Crowley and hundreds of other officers were confronted with the complexities surrounding the debate on racial profiling, including:
1. The confusion surrounding three terms:
• Criminal Profiling
• Raciali Profiling
2. The myth that statistics prove that an individual member of a specific racial group is more likely to commit a given crime.
3. The danger of police officers abandoning their intuitive skills out of fear of being accused of bias and racial profiling.
4. The dangerous trend of police disengagement from potentially sensitive suspects to avoid accusations of racial profiling or selective engagement to satisfy quotas.
After the Slave Trade debate in 1992, Professor Gates gave the Wiesenthal Center’s annual State of Anti-Semitism Lecture: “We must acknowledge our diversity even while we identify with each other…In short, place a priority in our shared humanity andAFt identify not as a nigger…nor kike but as man, permitted to be man,” he said.
Visitors to our New York Tolerance Center will find this quote from Professor Gates embedded between quotes from Gandhi and Einstein: “There is no Tolerance without Respect; there’s no Respect without Knowledge”.
Events in Cambridge involving Gates and Crowley have shown us how far we still have to go on these issues. We believe these matters are too important to leave to politicians and too explosives to place in the hands of demagogues.
So we are inviting Prof. Gates and Sgt Crowley back to the Museum of Tolerance to help us create the next real “teaching moment” for our nation. Stay tuned.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance.