John on July 23, 2009 at 10:56 am
Here’s the story. Prestigious academic Henry Louis Gates comes home from a trip overseas and realizes he doesn’t have a key to his house. He and his driver (both black) force open the front door. A female neighbor (white), upon seeing two men with backpacks trying to force open Gates front door, calls the cops. Here’s what happened next from the police report:
As I turned and faced the door I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of ___ Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied “no I will not.” He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was “Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge police” and that I was “investigating a report of a break in in progress” at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was none of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer.
I assured Gates that I was responding to citizens call to the Cambridge police and that the caller was outside as we spoke. Gates seemed to ignore me and picked up a cordless telephone and dialed an unknown telephone number. As he did so, I radioed on Channel 1 that I was off in the residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative. I then overheard Gates asking the person on the other end of his telephone call to “get the chief” and “What’s the chief’s name?” Gates was telling the person on the other end of the call that he was dealing with a racist police officer in his home. Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was “messing” with and that I had not heard the last of it.
You can read the rest at the link above. After providing a photo ID, the officer leaves and Gates follows him out, calling him a racist several more times. When the officer asks to speak to him outside, Gates replies “ya, I’ll speak with your mama outside.” After two requests that Gates calm down, the officer handcuffed him and placed him under arrest.
Last night, during his televised health care pitch, the President was asked about the Gates incident and said the police acted “stupidly.” As I read through the account (assuming it’s accurate) I don’t see that. It sounds to me as if the police acted appropriately under the circumstances. They asked to speak to the person in the house. The asked if he was alone (remember the call had indicated there were two persons on the porch). Once they learned Gates identity, they exit the house and try to wrap up the encounter. Gates is the one bringing race into it and threatening a cop who probably earns far less than half his salary. Gates is the one playing the “Do you know who I am?” card. And yet the President of the United States says the police are stupid.
Remember another racially tinged arrest involving a celebrity? I’m talking about Mel Gibson’s arrest in July 2006, almost exactly three years ago. Gibson was pulled over for driving erratically on PCH. His blood alcohol level was tested above the legal limit and he was arrested.
Officer James Mee said Gibson was cooperative until he was arrested. Then he says Gibson made some offensive remarks about Jews (Mee was Jewish) and it later came out that Gibson referred to a female officer in the police station as “sugar t**s.”
The next day, Gibson issued an apology and announced that he was entering rehab. A month later, he made a second, more abject apology to Jewish groups stating:
I’m not just asking for forgiveness. I would like to take it one step further, and meet with leaders in the Jewish community, with whom I can have a one-on-one discussion to discern the appropriate path for healing.
Of course the media was all over the story. There was much repetition of the “in vino veritas” line, suggesting that Gibson’s real personality had merely been unleashed by the alcohol.
The question I’m asking myself at this point is “What’s the difference between Gates and Gibson?” Both became belligerent and racist when confronted by police and arrested. Both tried to play the “Do you know who I am?” card. Both, in short, acted like complete creeps.
There are two obvious differences. First, Gibson was drunk and afterward repented for his folly while Gates was stone sober and has the President of the United States taking his side publicly. Second, it’s impossible to miss the fact that there is a vast difference in the public treatment accorded minorities and Caucasians in this country when it comes to issues of race. [Addendum: In deference to MG who is making a spirited defense of Gates in the comments, I'll add a third important difference: Gibson was ultimately guilty of a crime, and Gates was not. That's true, but remember the cops didn't know that when they arrived. For all they knew, the man inside was an intruder, not the homeowner. Asking for ID was the right thing to do. Gates racial reply "why, because I'm a black man in America" injected race into a situation where it wasn't warranted.] We saw it recently with the Sotomayor “wise Latina” episode. If you’re a minority and say something racialist, you get a pass and a promotion to the highest court in the land (or in Gates case, a pat on the back from the President). If you’re white and you say something similarly obnoxious, it’s a career-ender.
Now, I realize this issue has a long painful history. I’m not arguing that there might not have been a time when that sort of differential treatment was in some sense appropriate. I’m all for coming down hard on racists. But I think at some point, we need to take note of the fact that the balance of power on these issues has shifted pretty far from where it was in 1969. To be blunt, we have a black President now. The claim that black men (in particular) can’t get a fair shake doesn’t really hold up anymore. Things have changed. It’s time for our attitudes as a culture to catch up to that.
In a more just society, Henry Gates would be offering the police of Cambridge an apology for his obnoxious behavior. Somehow though, I don’t think we’ll be hearing that. On the contrary, Gates is apparently planning to devote his academic time to issues of racial profiling, i.e. extending his argument that white cops are racist for some years to come. Based on what I’ve seen so far, this is wrong.
And based purely on the content of his character, I think I can say that Henry Louis Gates Jr. is a creep.
Update: Hot Air notes that the cop, Sgt. Crowley, has taught classes on racial profiling. Hmmm. Must be a very clever racist.