You know me, never at a lost when it comes to having an opinion on the zeitgeist. The last few days, it has all been about race and race relations, sparked by ‘The Gates Affair’. For those who are unaware, here is the back story.
Harvard University Professor, Henry (Skip) Louis Gates Jr., returns home from a trip and finds that his door will not open. He and his black driver try to force the door which is witnessed by a resident in the neighborhood. The neighbor dutifully calls the police because it looks like two men are trying to break into a house.
Once the police arrive, Prof. Skip Gates has found his way into his home, and answers their knock on the door. From there it’s all downhill and a matter of whose story you choose to believe. You can read the newspaper accounts of the incident by visiting here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32077998...and_ethnicity/.
President Obama during his press conference commented on the situation with a reckless choice of words. It was almost as though the visceral reaction churning in the pit of his stomach found their way to his mouth before his brain could coordinate with his mouth to deliver his thoughts in polispeak. Instead he chose to say that the police “acted stupidly.” That you can read about by visiting here: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32122967...and_ethnicity/.
I am writing this though not to regurgitate facts or figure out fiction but to let you know what I think, so here it is.
I think that everyone started off right and ended up wrong. Prof. Gates was not wrong to try to enter his own home, the neighbor was not wrong in calling the police, the police were not wrong to investigate. Where everyone went wrong was with the events that led up to the arrest of Prof. Gates.
If the neighbor had not called to report a possible break in, and it was, then this would have been framed as a racist neighbor not caring because they knew it was the home of a Black Professor.
If the police had not shown up to investigate, and there was a break in, this would have been framed as the racist police department not caring that the home of a black intellectual was being broken into.
If the police had not insisted on making sure that there was no one else in the house because they had a credible report that there were two men trying to force open a door, then this would have been framed differently had there been people in the house that the professor was not aware of. The police had to make sure that the story fit all the facts in front of them.
The Prof. Gates could have been more cordial with the men and women in blue who were looking out for his best interest when they showed up to investigate a report of a break and enter at his home.
Now here is where it gets tricky, maybe he was. Maybe he was cordial and tried to explain the situation about the door being jammed, but the police needed to be sure he lived there…or did they? It is possible that they did ask him for the one thing that they would not have asked of anyone who was not black…absolute proof that he belonged in that house.
By “absolute” I don’t mean show me your driver’s license with your address on it, but show me that you are the legal owner of this house. I can see that happening and it would easily explain the Professor’s rage, if indeed that did occur. There is thorough, and then there is thorough! But I have no proof that did happen so it is a thought that I am just callously tossing out there.
What we do know is that Prof. Gates was arrested in his home. This is the real tricky part of the scenario. How do you get arrested in your own home without having committed any crime? And this is where the police were wrong in their actions and to what the President might have been referring to as acting stupidly.
Before I explain, let me just say that I believe the police officer, Sgt. James Crowley. I believe he is an honest man, a good man, a decent man. I believe he believes he had every right to arrest Prof. Gates, and the facts, of the case, prove that he did. The only problem, I have, is with the discretion used in making this particular arrest.
The police finally figured out that this middle aged, walking with a cane, 155 pound, unarmed man really was the owner and they arrested him for being verbally abusive? I mean, he didn’t threaten them, in his home, in any way except with his tongue. That you can be arrested in your home for being verbally abusive to strangers in your home- notwithstanding the badges- is outrageous! Where was the cause for this arrest? He was mean to me…so I arrested him?
All of this brings me back to the question, what do I think? I think this was not a black and white issue. This was a pure intellectual brute power struggle. This was Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley engaged in a battle to exert futile intellectual control, one over the other. It was UFC Battle of the Brains part 1.
Prof. Gates never believed he was being picked on for being black, he just felt he was being picked on and chose the tools/words which he felt were appropriate to defend himself. The Officer was never threatened but felt that his stature as an office of the law was being maligned and he used the tools and remedies at his disposal.
At the end of the day both were right in their actions and both were so very wrong. That these two good men could allow a clear misunderstanding to lead the President to make his unfortunate comments is inexcusable. They really all should just meet up in the White House, have that beer that the President offered and have a good laugh at how silly they all were.