My Take on The Henry Louis Gates situation

Now I am sure many people have been wondering when I was going to dive into the debate that is brewing around this country. Truthfully I wanted to leave my opinion out of it. But after seeing some of the recent developments, I believe I may have some valuable insight into the matter.

I attended Boston College and have spent many evenings over in Cambridge
visiting friends at Harvard, MIT or in the neighborhood. It is simply one of my favorite towns. The diversity, culture and overall vibe is amazing. It has a Greenwich Village feels that is quite enjoyable. But that doesn't mean that everything is smooth under the sun. I admit that I have heard from many of my Harvard friends of color that they don't feel comfortable with the police departments of either Cambridge or Harvard University. I must believe that they have valid reasons that many people of color around this country have about other police agencies. There is a sense by many that even in one of the bastions of American education, race is a factor in how one is treated. Being asked to show ID while on campus, or having extra security for events that people of color attend, all leaves quite unsettling feelings to many.

I have been a fan of Henry Louis Gates for years. He is one of the
preeminent minds in America, black or otherwise. I won't rehash the details of the story for the sake or sounding redundant, but I will give my views on where I see things.

The more I look at things, the one question that keeps coming up is: Why Was Gates Arrested? Now some may say it is clear that he was being
belligerent with the police and was in the wrong. I do not argue the validity of that. I would be upset too if police came to my door and said that they were investigating a home break-in and began accusing me of being the one breaking in. His anger seemed very valid. I believe that this would occur whether he was black or otherwise. But was he being so angry that it warranted an arrest. And if it did why wasn't he arrested in his house? And furthermore, why were the charges dropped?

It is clear to me that the police officer couldn't arrest him in his house for disorderly conduct and there must have been a feeling amongst the police department that the charges couldn't stand up in court. This could be as a result of Gates' stature in society or because they were
frivolous. Either way it seems that the police officer felt that he didn't want to be embarrassed by the other officers outside the Gates' residence, and felt that the only way to mitigate that was by arresting him. Clearly having this man questioning his authority left him quite upset. But again, why the arrest?

I have a problem with people saying that in no way did race play a factor in this case. I have strong doubts that Gates' would have acted in the way he did if he were a white man. And even if he did, I find it hard to believe that he would have been arrested. Truth be told, I have seen white people say and do some of the most ridiculous things in front of and to police officers and not get arrested. Gates merely was defending himself against the inaccurate reports of him being a burglar and trying to get the identity of the male officer in his house. That does not warrant an arrest in my book. The question must be asked if he was a white man whether he would have even been accused of burglary.

I commend Barack Obama for speaking his mind on the topic. Now I don't support his use of the word "stupidly", but I do support his view on the police being out of line. For too long I believed that Obama had tried to stay above the fray of racial politics. And to this point he has done a good job of it. But blacks and other people of color have wanted to see him stand up for them, even if that stance was unpopular by the white community. He did that well. I believe that those people who are upset at him for his stance, need to understand the history behind allegations of racial profiling, police brutality and how that has affected the relationship between the police and people of color in history.

I believe that Gates should push this as far as he can. He has been an advocate for the black community, an educator to many and now a symbol of what can happen to even one of the most recognizable members of the black community.

Michael Eric Dyson described it best on CNN this evening. I leave his comments as a question to all who wonder whether race played a role in this story:

"imagine if professor Henry Louis Gates was professor Henry Kissinger and was arrested. And imagine if President Obama was President Bush and said that he was my friend and treated unfairly. The debate would be completely different."-Michael Eric Dyson

Maybe he is right....


ajonnyblue said…
We really need to consider this notion of "disorderly conduct". It seems to leave way too much opportunity for the abuse of police power. This should not be tolerated.
Anonymous said…
It's easy to see what side you are on....I would only ask one plea....if you want the truth, play the recording, I want to not only hear WHAT was said but the WAY it was said..If this was done you would have the truth, but not until you do this, and of course you WON'T, the truth here will never be heard....this is so one sided and always is...the Blacks are the ones that keep this race issue on going, lets here what really was said and the way it was said, then you'd see! Thankyou.
Tim said…
You can never be arrested in your own home/car without a warrant - anytime police say 'Please step outside' just stay put. Police always act out of line and abuse their power - I am convinced there was a heated exchange between both parties but at the end of the day the person with the badge pulled his trump card, not realizing the world of controversy he brought down on himself. I know from experience asking a police officer for his badge number is the fastest way to piss him/her off and they can throw 'disorderly conduct' or 'disturbing the peace' or 'abuse of / disobeying an officer' charges around at will to shut you up.

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