When Rep. Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) learned that President Obama was heading up to the Big Apple for a weekend visit, he took the opportunity to make a rather unfortunate wisecrack to a New York Daily News reporter.
"Make certain he doesn't run around East Harlem unidentified."The joke makes reference to the latest racially tinged incident to befall New York City, when a black off-duty police officer, Omar Edwards, was in Harlem and discovered someone attempting to steal his car. Dressed in street clothes, the officer drew his gun and gave chase to the would-be thief. Another officer, Andrew Dunton, who is white, happened upon the scene, mistook Edwards as the bad guy and shot his fellow officer dead. Rangel also said of the incident and Obama's New York trip,
"Whether it's me, whether it's the attorney general, or indeed, whether it's the
President of the United States, running for a bus can jeopardize you - just
because of your color - in a community like ours."
At a rally with the Rev. Al Sharpton, Rangel added,
"The President of the United States knows while he is in this town this weekend
[that] if he did not have Secret Service with him, they would not know he was
the President of the United States."
While there is a kernel of truth to what Rangel is on about, his over-the-top
way of putting his case is regrettable. Running down 125th Street brandishing a
pistol is not as innocent as running to catch a bus. And why add fuel to this
fire by creating a silly hypothetical about what would happen to President Obama
if, by some outlandish Hollywood plot turn, he suddenly found himself in East
Harlem without his Secret Service detail, running for a bus?
Mayor Bloomberg was not amused by Rangel's remarks.
"I have great respect for Charlie Rangel, but in this case, he's just plain
wrong. This was a tragedy. Our Police Department is diverse and they train.
Sometimes things happen and they're inexplicable.
The president's spokesmen rightfully refused to comment on a story he never
should have been brought into in the first place. The book of relations between
the NYPD and New York's black community is filled with terrible chapters of
tragedy and recrimination. Viewing it in its totality, one would be have to be
blind not to see a disturbing pattern of bigotry over the years. But one must
also be careful not to overinflate those incidents that may simply be
accidental. Was race a deciding factor Omar Edwards' death? Perhaps. Then again,
maybe it wasn't.