Thursday, July 23, 2009

THE GATES INCIDENT

I’m sure you heard about the famous Harvard Professor and author Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested in his own home in Cambridge.

And maybe you read the posts throughout the web, like this one on Huffington that point out what many see as the obvious racism involved, since Gates is African-American and the cop was white.

No doubt the policeman’s behavior was wrong.

Once he arrived and could see that Professor Gates is an elderly man who needs a cane to walk he could have figured out he wasn’t a cat burgler, even if his “accomplice” was a younger man, Gates’s friend and driver, another African-American.

And once Gates showed proof that this was indeed his house and that he had simply misplaced his door keys after a trip to and long flight back from China, the cop should have just apologized for bothering him and left, even if Gates was cursing him out and calling him a racist for responding to a neighbor’s 911 call when she thought she saw a burglary in process.

And my heart goes out to Gates for having to go through something like this at his age and after a grueling flight etc.

But.

And this may be misinterpreted but I’ll say it anyway—BUT, I have experienced similar things, as have several of my white male friends, at the hands of cops, both white and black.

Once driving in Los Angeles at night two young white cops stopped me for speeding and when one came around to the driver side window where he could see I was a middle-aged white man alone in a Volvo, because I didn’t respond quickly enough, he pulled open the door and ordered me to get out and put my hands on the hood and spread my legs while his partner, gun drawn, aimed at me from his position on the sidewalk.

I did exactly as they said and was eventually let off with a ticket. But why the cowboy stuff? It wasn’t racism, since we were all white, nor was I any kind of threat obviously, but whatever was bugging them that night I got part of the brunt of.

If I had been black, and especially if I had been black and protested too much, they may have cuffed me and taken me in. But then again…

Once a friend of mine, a younger man was leaving his gym in Manhattan after a workout and when he reached his car parked out front the meter was just running out and a parking cop was already there getting his ticket book out.

My friend tried to reason with him, humorously. Also pointing out that he had a special badge from the New York police because he had operated on a policeman after the cop was shot a few years before. An operation he had let me take part in, as a spectator, since I was staying in his apartment at the time, visiting from L.A. (He gave me an extra pair of his scrubs and I got to see firsthand how poorly the Kings County Hospital was run at that time.)

So there it was, identification showing he was a doctor and supposedly the beneficiary of special police consideration. But when a squad car pulled up and asked the traffic cop if my friend was causing any trouble and the traffic cop nodded, the two cops in the police car emerged and did the hands on the hood, spread your legs, then hands behind back routine and cuffed my young doctor friend and took him into the precinct and put him in a cell until bail could be raised.

Just for questioning a meter cop.

I don’t remember anymore if he told me if the cops in the car were white or black or Asian or whatever other false categories we use to divide ourselves, but I know my young doctor friend is a white man and he was treated way unfairly by the cops for basically no reason other than objecting to a last minute parking ticket.

Sometimes the power cops have just goes to their heads, whether the victim of that is white or black. Or as Freud supposedly said, sometimes a cigar is merely a cigar.

[PS: This is not to say the cop wasn't an out-and-out racist, I'm just saying there's other possibilities.]

[And PPS: I've had plenty of black friends who have faced similar situations that definitely involved true racism.]

14 comments:

JIm said...

I can remember way back when I was a middle aged man of 58 like the professor. I even often needed a cane since it was pre knee replacements.

It seems like the President was at least premature with his criticism. The police report is on Drudge. If it is true, the professor seems to have been out of line.

AlamedaTom said...

Your post resurrects the film "Crash," which won (very deservedly) best picture a couple of years ago. I have never understood the criticism of that film, the main gist being that it was "too predictable," or that it was too simplistic. This Gates fiasco was all too predictable and simplistic -- not a lot of rocket science on this one right? "Crash" had it right on in every respect. For those who might say the professor was "out of line," see Terrence Howard's "melt-down" in "Crash."

~ Ciao, Willy

Ed Baker said...

well

take my advice

what, black or green

when going to the credit union on a military base ((The Betesda Naval Hospital)

and your are driving a beat-up 1976 F-150 in 2007

when the military cop at the little shack says..

"your drivers license picture doesn't have a beard"

and you say that licence is 2 years old. I grew one since."
and then things go down hill from there...

well NEVER EVER say to a cop: "you're a fucking moron" SHIT 6 military squad cars assaulted me with drawn AK-47 s!

they had me there so long I peed on the curb.

they gave me a tickit for urinating in public..

I went to court. and luckily I found a law that says "anybody over 62 can piss in public" I got off.

now the Bethesda Naval Hospital is closed to ALL civilians!


etc

t.p. said...

Dear M:
I had the very same thoughts this morning about this incident. While it would be crazy to deny or minimize the "special" treatment non-whites often receive at the hands of the police, it must also be acknowledged that the cops will not take kindly to anybody---white, black or otherwise--- giving them any lip. And sometimes, as with your LA incident, they will assert their power over you for no reason at all. Maybe the cop was totally out of line in the Gates arrest, but if Gates was going off on him...well, do that to a cop & he will arrest you. My primary regret is that Obama characterized Crowley as having acted "stupidly," thus opening a can of worms better left on the shelf.
---TP

JIm said...

I thought Obama was supposed to be the "Post Racial President". His "stupid" remark reflects more on him than on the Cambridge cops. It sure distracted from his attempt to sell socialized medicine. I hope he keeps it up. Anything that impedes his socialist agenda is good.

Anonymous said...

bottom line?

both The Cop and The Professor
two decent/good men!

JIm said...

Obama’s Stupidity Statement

Politics is a funny business. Little things can have big consequences. I believe many people voted for Obama because he seemed like a very reasonable black man. His election, in the minds of many, seemed to put to rest some America’s ugly past. Former civil rights activists criticized him for being too white. Folks on the right, like myself, pointed to his associations with distasteful people including the racists Rev. Wright and Farrakhan. This misstep of Obama is liable to make some of those voters rethink their earlier assessment of him. The Rasmussen Poll which has been very accurate in the past has Obama below 50% for the first time in his presidency. One could surmise that the Blue Dog Democrats feel more secure in opposing some of his programs because of his sinking approval ratings. I suspect the fact that, the President jumping into the midst of a racially charged incident, will not improve those numbers.

Curtis Faville said...

Mike:


Assuming the facts have been accurately reported--and there's no assurance of that, given the unreliability of eye-witness accounts--the cop should be suspended for six months without pay and reprimanded sternly.

Gates may be an asshole, but the guy has credentials. No matter how silly he may have been acting (verbally), any cop who can't take a little tough talk has no business in a uniform.

The easiest solution would have been a relaxed "everyone have a good night" and a leisurely departure, leaving Gates standing their holding his c*ck on the sidewalk. But no, the f*cking guy has to cuff him and drag him in, creating a national scandal.

But, hey, Boston Irish policemen? Whaddya expect??

Obama should have refused to comment beyond "this was a very unfortunate incident" and let it pass.

Ed Baker said...

yeah. Chicago! The Valentine's Day Bull Shit Masscarah!

what a crock of shit Politics and Religion is!

JIm said...

Hey Curtiss,
Even Obama seems to diagree with you. I doubt if an invitation to the White House is a prelude to a call for suspension.

Butch in Waukegan said...

Remember the Rodney King video? At the time lots of people asked: “What did King say to make the cops beat on him like that?”

Now many people think the issue is Gates was an asshole. These people are ignorant - maybe willfully -of America’s deep, undeniable, history of racism. Before the Mayflower.

Here’s an informed perspective:

http://goatmilk.wordpress.com/2009/07/24/commentary-obama-race-and-my-arrest/

harryn said...

oh boy - same old, same old - saw the cambridge news conference yesterday - since the 60's i've had problems with people in uniforms - it effects their ego - couple that with blind loyalty and a large degree of presumption and ignorance and you've got problems ...
sounds like way too much posturing on everyones part - and though obama is entitled to his opinion like everyone else, a nationally televised prime time news conference isn't the forum for that kind of subjectivity ...

Robert G. Zuckerman said...

"To protect and serve"

The police officer should have used common sense and his frickin radio to check if it was Professor Bates' house. When you can "Google" anything in the world in seconds, what's the mystery?

In 1974 I was beaten up and hauled away to jail by two Boston cops for selling leather goods (watchbands, belts, etc) with a valid permit in the Financial District. As they were shoving me into the squad car in front of a large crowd of secretaries and businessmen at quittin time, a distinguished elerdly woman whom I later found out was a noted pioneering female attorney in Boston said to the officers, "You can't treat him like that,", to which one of them responded "Get lost bitch."

To those who are vulture harping on President Obama, perhaps the most mindful leader in the world who is making heroic strides in salvaging the ruins in which the previous administration left not only the U.S., but the entire planet, let's go down the list of gaffes, lies and pure hypocrisies that George W. Bush, Newt Gingrich, Henry Hyde and all the others committed before rushing to judgment.

Quite frankly, I am sickened by the pathetic barrage of this incident, along with Michael Jackson, Sarah Palin and the like, with which we are being biliously flooded by the pontificating so called pundits that currently swarm the airwaves. That networks pay these people to dress up and talk over each other in what amounts to inebriate dinner table banter in the name of what's important and so called informativeness is downright depressing. And it's not their fault, it's the forum.

And there you have my rant.

Thanks.

The Kid said...

My husband's assessment of the situation was identical to yours, Mike - it was more about the tiny power a cop has and his eagerness to use it.

But.

I haven't seen a headline in - ever - where a white, middle-aged Harvard professor was arrested for breaking in to his own house.