Learning from Rangel's wrong
Jun 02, 2009 | 2871 views | 0 0 comments | 55 55 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When New York Congressman Charles Rangel quipped that President Barack Obama should watch his back around East Harlem following the shooting death of a black, off-duty police officer, apparently he opened up the wrong can of worms.

Rangel’s “off-the-cuff,” comment was blasted by Mayor Mike Bloomberg and others as inappropriate, and even inaccurate, though the congressman clarified it with the not-untrue statement that certain parts of the city remain dangerous for people of color.

The uproar finally forced Rangel to issue a formal apology for “dragging” the Obamas, who were in town on a date, into a renewed discussion on race stoked by the death of Police Officer Omar Edwards.

What was so wrong with Rangel’s decision to do so? Wasn’t President Obama’s historic election supposed to usher in, or at the very least signal the beginning of, a new era of race relations in this country? Just because the president almost never discuss issues of race doesn’t mean the rest of us must remain silent also. That might have been what Rangel was thinking (or not thinking) when he made his ill-timed joke to reporters.

This is not to condone what he said but only to point out that race relations in a city like New York can never improve if people continue tip-toeing around the issue of race as if discussing it were some taboo.

In criticizing Rangel, Bloomberg dismissed, out-of-hand, suggestions by many that the death of Edwards was racially motivated. Instead, despite several instances in the past several decades of white cops killing their off-duty black colleagues, the mayor said the shooting was not racially motivated whatsoever and blamed the event on tragic bad luck.

It could have been that, of course.

Even Edwards’ father, a veteran police officer himself, admitted terrible accidents like these can and do happen. Still, Bloomberg stifled any chance of a meaningful discussion by stamping Rangel’s comments into the ground in an effort to move past the death as quickly as possible.

By contrast, several other elected officials and community leaders, among them Governor David Paterson, made clear in speaking on the incident that violence in black communities is a matter of concern to blacks - and indeed should be to all New Yorkers.

Bloomberg might have followed their example and used his bully pulpit to take advantage of Rangel’s “gaffe” to facilitate the kind of important dialogue we deserve and need to understand Edwards’ death and make sure others like it don’t happen in the future.

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