It has now been several weeks since the controversy over a white police officer arresting a black professor in his own home for disorderly conduct has emerged in the national spotlight. I have so far kept quiet on the subject, but feel the need to speak out having seen the reaction from the national media and fellow citizens. Before I continue, though, the story needs some context.
The professor in question is Henry Louis Gates Jr. of Harvard. Returning home from a trip to China, the professor found that he had locked himself out of the house and forced his way in. A neighbor, who evidently did not recognize the man, called the police. When the police arrived they asked the professor to step outside of his house. According to reports from Boston, the professor presented his driver’s license as well as a Harvard ID, yet the police arrested him anyway.
This is not the first incident to happen, either. According to the Boston Globe, Professor S. Allen Counter of Harvard “faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.”
The national media picked up the Gates controversy almost immediately. A debate raged on the airwaves as to whether the police had racially profiled the professor, whether the arrest was appropriate and whether Professor Gates should have just “shut his mouth”. President Obama, giving a press conference on healthcare, was asked a question on the subject at the tail end of the press conference. Instead of avoiding the question, he responded in defense of the professor.
This created an uproar among conservative Republicans, who went so far as demanding an apology to the police officer on the floor of the United States House of Representatives. The Republican Party response was to quickly politicize the event. Glenn Beck of Fox News went on national television calling President Obama a “racist” that had a “deep-seated hatred for white people.”
Inconveniently for the Republican Party, the law is on the side of the professor – not the officer’s. The charges were dropped for a reason. They would not have held in a court of law. As some have suggested, “running your mouth”, is not grounds for arrest when you are inside of your own home. The police overstepped their bounds and the officer should have apologized. Period. End of story. After the officer established that Mr. Gates was the lawful owner of the home he should have left it at that.
I think that a part of this has to do with the fact that it occurred in Massachusetts. Had this happened at say, the University of South Carolina, Alabama or Georgia, I think that the public would be more sympathetic with the professor. The white Southern cop would have immediately been labeled a racist and that would have been that. Because it occurred in liberal Massachusetts, it is immediately assumed that racism does not exist in the North.
Reality has it that racism exists everywhere. I am not saying that the police officer himself is a racist. I don’t know the guy. Clearly he acted in a manner that raises suspicions over his conduct. He should, at the very least, be investigated and perhaps disciplined for his actions. This won’t happen, of course, since our culture sympathizes with police and immediately assumes the guilt of minorities. In the case of Mr. Gates, perhaps it would have been wise for the professor to take this to civil court. It might be the only way to get the full truth of what actually happened.
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