Thursday, July 30, 2009
Had Henry Louis Gates Jr Acted Like a Gentleman, We Wouldn't be in this Mess
We're halfway through the summer of 2009 and thus far, the top news stories of the season have been the Iranian elections, Michael Jackson's death, and the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by a crooked, racist police force in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
That last story is an issue of national obsession - perfectly timed with the second installment of CNN's pandering "Black in America" series, as it seems the media is hell bent on reminding blacks and other people of color that we still have a noose around our necks. And that point couldn't be more perfectly illustrated than the visual of a slight, older and bespectacled African American male handcuffed at the entrance to his own home.
So here's the story: On July 16 Professor Gates was trying to enter his front door, had trouble with the lock, then asked the driver of his cab to help him, they pushed in the door, all while a neighbor close by saw the action and thought there was a robbery in progress.
Cops were dispatched, Gates refused to cooperate, responding to the authorities who asked to speak to him "I'll speak with your mama outside." And soon enough the man was in handcuffs.
In the meantime, the 911 caller has had to step into the fray to say that at no time did she insinuate that the men at Gates' home were black.
Today, Gates and the cop who arrested him will have beer with President Obama to talk candidly about race.
And that's where you lose me. I understand that law enforcement hasn't always been fair with people of color - I'll admit: I'm not a fan of cops and I generally distrust them - but in the few instances when I've been confronted by them, I tend to cooperate, as I think that if you have nothing to hide you might as well bite the bullet and let the cops do what they must (these instances have involved my alleged speeding through Cape Cod or the backroads of New Jersey). But Gates was apparently belligerent from the start - and yeah, it's annoying that the cops show up at your house for no reason, but a neighbor did see someone from afar busting in a door - this could all have been resolved in under ten minutes. But Gates, as we say in Spanish, "se puso guapo," which means he got cocky, and the cops had to show the man who was boss.
Really, this whole situation is Gates' fault. As a pre-eminent scholar on issues black, he ought to be ashamed of himself for causing all of this trouble - for not setting a proper example on how educated and accomplished people of color should deal with unwanted attention from the cops. Had he simply shown the cops his ID and explained his situation - had he been a gentleman about the whole thing - none of this would have happened. And I resent this weak and unnecessary debate on race because it propagates the thinking in disadvantaged communities of color that the cops and the white man are ultimately out to get them. People of color don't need to hear this, kids in the projects don't need any more ammunition against the cops - this whole issue only exacerbates tensions that exist between minorities and the police. We now find the debate on race muddled by the stubborn and impertinent actions of someone who, ok I'll say it - is probably an uppity negro. Gates gets to have beer with the President tonight while some cocky teenager is going to mouth off at the cops and will likely get tazed or shot. Nice going, Professor.