Some of you out there may have heard about a black professor from Harvard being arrested at his own home in Cambridge, MA after a call was made to police about a suspected burglary in progress. You may have even heard the president reply to a question about the incident on his press conference a couple of nights ago.
Right off the bat I might as well tell you that my father-in-law is a retired career law enforcement guy and my overall experiences with the police have been very positive. With the one exception of a couple of dickheads from Reston, VA back when my crazy ex-girlfriend and I were having weekly knock down drag out fights back in the early 70s. But that's just a silly stage I went through.
As it happens, I have had a similar experience to Professor Gates with an entirely different outcome. Back in 1984 my then girlfriend and now wife and I bought our first home in Gilbert, AZ. I was employed as an outside salesman for a window company and came upon a house that was for sale. Little did I know that the next door neighbors had been evicted from this house and were now renting the adjacent property.
I wanted to see the inside of the place and used my considerable knowledge and skills concerning windows to gain entry and check it out. The neighbor's kid ( a teenage mutant, but no ninja turtle) called the cops and one showed up to question me. I explained I was interested in buying the place, was too lazy and too busy to wait for an agent and that yes, I knew that technically I was trespassing and maybe even breaking and entering. Though in fairness to me it should be noted I broke nothing, just used my skills to open a window.
The end result was that I left the house, locked up and secure, in the presence of the officer and we bought it a few weeks later. I wasn't arrested, hassled or handcuffed. How much does this have to do with me being white? A little. How much does this have to do with knowing I was in the wrong and being on good behavior and pleasant to the cop? A lot.
So here's my take on this latest incident and the comment made by our Pres.
Taking the last first. The president's comment is probably correct. The police did act stupidly. You don't arrest someone because they take offense at being accused of robbing their own home. You do calm them down and you do remind them that you're there doing your job. I'm sure the officer did a lot of the second and very little of the first.
From what I can tell of the events, the Professor was pissed at coming home from China only to be locked out of his house. Now to make things worse, after spending what time he needed to gain access to his abode, some cops showed up and wanted him to prove he lived there. From my cranky old man point of view I get where he's coming from. That being said, I don't doubt that he was just a little pissed that the cop didn't know who he was and was basically treating him like a perp or potential perp. (It the cop watched PBS news he would have seen the professor on more than one occasion)
So the Professor assumed that his treatment was due to his being a black man. And that just pissed him off even more. Now the guy is mad. He wants a badge number and a name to go with this persecutor, this frigging Nazi on his doorstep.
The cop assumes the Professor is jerk. Forget black, white, yellow, green. The cop goes into full "Hey, you want to see whose dick is bigger mode" and lets the guy berate him and get all riled up; just enough to make a case for disorderly.
See, if you're nice to cops, don't bullshit em and treat em like human beings, the majority of the time you'll get that back. But in this case BOTH parties went into this with closed minds and agendas that conflicted.
The Cop wants law and order, and Oh, by the way, you don't get to talk about my mother. The Professor wants life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and if you come in my house and hassle me I'll call you and your mother whatever I feel like.
See the basic conflict there?
So, yea the cops did act stupidly, but so did the professor. He is a really smart guy. I know this because I've seen him on the tube and heard him speak. But he comes with attitude, it's his gig. It was incumbent on both parties to act smartly, civilly and with some amount of humility. My bet is that neither party here did that.
Am I siding with the police, NO. Am I siding with the professor, a little, but I know he could have made it better. After all, black, white, pink, or purple; the man is always the man. He always has more guns, more bodies and more laws on his side than yours. That goes for everybody, regardless of race. Do the cops make mistakes? Sure they do. But when they do, it's a whole lot better if you can talk to them and fix it on the spot instead of getting arrested and making a national issue out of it.
I feel bad for Professor Gates because I don't doubt for a minute he sincerely feels this was about discrimination. I'm not a sure of that as he is. I think it's more about police power and some abuse of that power.
I'm not sure if I feel bad for the cop or not. He should have handled this differently. I think it somewhat cowardly to hide behind police procedures when he knows damned well he screwed up. Just because he didn't like taking crap off a hothead political professor is not really a good reason to arrest him. On the other hand I bet his fellow cops love it. As far as they're concerned, no one is above the law.
If this was about race, then the cops didn't just act stupidly; they are stupid, and ignorant to boot.
If this was about civility, police powers and two guys with egos, then the cops acted stupidly, but so did the professor.
We'll just have to wait and see what comes out. According to the reports, some of what was said by both parties was broadcast on police radio. It would be interesting to hear that conversation.