The Henry Louis Gates Jr Affair

I’ve been following the issue of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr and his arrest. BTW Why do they always have to say “Henry Louis Gates Jr?” Why not just “Henry Gates” or even “Dr. Gates” or “professor Gates?” Are their that many Professor Gates at Harvard? Any way to the big issues.

I’ve listened to interviews with both Dr Gates and the police officer who arrested him. The stories don’t completely match which is to be expected. But honestly I didn’t hear anything in the interview with the police officer that made it clear why Gates was arrested. It seems to me the officer could have given Gates his name and badge number and just left. Yelling at police officers isn’t illegal is it? I mean as long as their are no physical threats its still free speech right? SO why the need to arrest Gates? That I just don’t get.

The police arrived to investigate a robbery. Gates was upset about being a suspect. I can understand that. He assumed that it was because he was a black man. There don’t seem to be any real evidence that this was the case though. One would have to be naive to think this sort of thing doesn’t happen to white men. Oh it probably does happen to black men more than white men but I find it hard to believe that a white man would have been treated any differently up to that point. If a call came in about a burglary I would expect the police to ask anyone they found in the house to produce ID no matter what race they were.

I would also expect most people to get upset being questioned like that in their own home. Most of us though are more intimidated by men with guns and would go out of their way to avoid confrontation with the police. I was stopped for a “traffic violation” once and the officer got quite belligerent when I calmly tried to explain that there was a delayed light and that the light on my side was still green even though the light he could see was red. Frankly I was afraid for my safety and I’m a white guy. So I shut up and prepared to fight the ticket in court. Fortunately when the officer called this in the office cleared things up and I didn’t get a ticket. No apology either I might add. Yes I still harbor bad feelings about that officer. I think he acted stupidly. But getting police to admit error is very difficult.  Gates should get an apology unless there is more to the story than what I have heard from the police side but based on my own experience I see that as unlikely.

In the Gates case I think both Gates and the officer acted stupidly. I’m sure they are both really smart people and mean well but either one of them could have calmed things down before they escalated the way they did. The officer should have calmed things down because that is his job. If Gates is so smart and professional and mature he should have seen that no good was going to happen with what was going on and calmed things down. Likewise there were other police there who should have stepped in to avoid the confrontation that led to the arrest.

Speaking of acting stupidly, the President should never have made the comments he did. I don’t disagree with his opinion but I think it was unhelpful to the situation. If nothing else it hardened the stance of both individuals which is not good. Now of course neither will own up to any mistakes which is a shame.

Also it hurt his credibility with the police. Did it help him with some people? Perhaps but to what practical good. I think he should have said something like “It is a very unfortunate situation that I am disappointed to see see happen. I am happy that the charges were dropped. I’m sure a complete investigation will be done and will wait for that before making more specific comments.” Privately he could have supported his friend and he could have requested an independent Federal investigation. But to publicly state something was stupid without more information was ill advised.

You know, just because something bad happens to a black man doesn’t mean race was a factor. There actually are black/white/Hispanic/Asian/native American people who do bad things. No really. I’ve also seen white people get arrested by non-white police and don’t know of many cases where they were arrested because they were white. Though honestly having seen white students being beaten up because of their race I would not be amazed if people were arrested in some cases because they are white. But assuming race is a factor without evidence is, well, its racist.

One Response to “The Henry Louis Gates Jr Affair”

  1. Matt says:

    This is another one of those cases where I’m frightened to find that you pretty much said exactly what I was going to.

    I also found that the news coverage around this story was just really misleading. Obama’s comment was something like, “There’s not enough information to know what role race played, but I do know that the police acted stupidly in arresting someone in their own home.” And then some news agencies picked it up as “Obama steps squarely into the racism battle” and such. Sounded to me like he deliberately avoided the racism battle.

    I don’t doubt for a second that there’s still rampant racism and that racial profiling goes on every day. But the only possible racism I see here was the lady who called 911 to say that “two black men” were breaking into the house next door. (How did she not recognize her neighbor?) Had Gates been white, I’m pretty sure the police would have handled the situation exactly the same way.

    It’s frustrating that we don’t have all the facts and that the stories are pretty different, but it sounds like Gates was flying off the handle. I wound up discussing this with some friends and coworkers, and we pretty much unanimously agreed that if we had been in that situation, we probably would have been super-cooperative with the police, since it’s easy to see why they might be suspicious of someone inside a house that was reportedly being broken into. We don’t want to get shot.

    But at the same time, I don’t think getting angry is really a good reason to arrest someone. The police deal with that type of thing every day, and they should be familiar with how to defuse a situation, and they should know when to say, “Well, you’re acting like a jerk, but it’s now clear that you’re in your own home, so I’m going to walk away now.” The police report indicates that he was arrested because he was “causing a scene” outside the home. Weren’t the police equally as involved in causing the scene?

    FWIW, a coworker of mine lives in Cambridge and says he’s interacted with this officer before, and that he’s a jerk “who always has to be right,” even when he’s not.

    And yes, I wish Obama had said, “I don’t know all the facts of the case, so I’m not prepared to comment,” or even, “I’m here talking about healthcare, so I’m not going to answer that right now.”

    Having weighed in, I’m now declaring that I’m sick of this story. It’s a petty squabble about a fairly frivolous arrest and people crying racism without any evidence of it. It doesn’t belong in a local paper in my opinion, but it’s now international news.

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