I know, I know, it is (hopefully) about to be old news…”It” being the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Harvard professor, by a Cambridge police officer for disorderly conduct on his own front porch. If you don’t know the details of this incident, you have a) been in a coma, or b) are presently in a coma. If you’re awake now, you’ll have to catch up on your own, because I’m going straight to commentary.
I’ve read opinion pieces about it from all sorts of people and sources I respect. That includes Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald. Probably one of the best things I read is the NY Times blog called The Opinionator–which gives you samples of what’s happening in the blogosphere from both sides of any particular issue. The entry for July 27th is called How To Talk To A Cop.
But by far the person who totally got it right was Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post, in his July 28th column entitled Pique and the Professor. It was about power.
So here is the Fakename take on it. Gates was having a really bad day. He was sick, he had bronchitis. He was returning from a trip to China, and was probably jet-lagged to death, and jet-lag does seriously bad things to your brain. It must have seemed like the last straw to him that when he got home, his front door was jammed. Little did he know that that was just the next to last straw. So when the police officer asked him to step outside and produce ID, implying of course that he might be a burglar, he snapped. Not to put too fine a point on it, he became an asshole, but under the circumstances, it’s understandable. The real problem is that being an asshole is not against the law.
He did produce ID. And from the second the police officer knew he was who he said he was, and that it was his house, that should have been the end of it, regardless of how much verbal abuse Gates may have been heaping on him. As the guy with the gun, it’s his job to defuse the situation. Instead, in my opinion, he arrested Gates because he was pissed off, and because he could. “Disorderly conduct” is a totally…excuse my language…bullshit charge. So sure, they were both “wrong”, but the police officer was most wrong. He had the greater burden to defuse the situation and he failed, because he let his personal feelings become involved. Much has been made of the fact that the officer has taught courses in racial sensitivity or racial profiling or something. I think they need to find a new instructor. (Plus, look at him…he looks mad…and mean.)
So last night, I visited a friend and her sister and this was one of the topics of our conversation. I will charitably describe all of us as middle-aged white women. We all agreed….the police officer was wrong. However, we also all agreed that we were glad it happened, because it gave us a break from reporting about Sarah Palin.