Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Escalation or racism?

Be prepared for more conversations about "race in America" as a result of Henry Louis Gates Jr. being arrested for disorderly conduct in Cambridge after police tried to question him for breaking into his own house: ["Harvard's Henry Louis Gates claims racism in Cambridge arrest"].
Maybe those conversations are needed because of unhealed wounds and other issues, but they are not needed because of this incident. I find it hilarious that Gates would pull a Kennedy - "Don't you know who I am?" - when asked to step out of the house to talk to the officer in this situation. A simple, "I'm Henry Louis Gates, I live here, here is my driver's license proving I live here ..." would have ended this entire situation. It is something any one of us would do in a similar situation, whether white or black, Harvard Square or Mission Hill. Instead, Gates is the one who pulled the race card by questioning the need to talk to an officer in the first place, shouting, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" He got uppity, if you will, and escalated matters into a situation that never needed to happen.
Also, keep an eye out for a sidebar to this story - how some of the cops who showed up to the Gates home were black and also didn't know who the heck he was! I noticed this in the television reports last night. If the black cops don't know who Gates is, how are the white cops supposed to know? And congratulations to all the cops who seemed to equally enforce the disorderly conduct provision of the law. We all know how celebrities of all walks of life seem to get away with, well, murder these days. Once they found out who Gates was, they could have left him alone and let him stew. Instead, they treated him like an equal Joe and took him away in cuffs. That's equality Mr. Gates, when you are treated just as others are treated. Don't you love it?
All Americans should be outraged by this incident and not because Gates was being profiled but because Gates immediately played the race card and the part of the victim instead of resolving what otherwise should have been perceived as a serious situation. Someone as educated as he is should have known better than to behave this way. Wasn't Gates worried that his home was being broken into? Why was he being so irresponsible? Or, are cops just supposed to assume that because its been raining a lot and all the doors on homes in Harvard Square get stuck these days, a lot of folks will be pushing on them hard, and looking as if they are breaking and entering. Come on.
I'm not a police officer and despite tests in high school suggesting I become one, I would never be a police officer. I was just never interested in the job and I can't imagine the stress that some officers are under these days. At the same time, there are some pretty bad cops out there and citizens need to protect themselves from them.
However, trust me when I say, no matter what race you are or what neighborhood you live in, the best way to deal with any cop is to just keep your mouth shut and do what they ask. That's what the ACLU advises and that's what I do. Give them your license and registration, don't answer questions, don't say a word. Shrug your shoulders because anything you say can be used against you. If they come to your house, don't let them in, whatever you do, because that can open yourself up to investigation ["Hey, there isn't a child proof lock on that can opener ..."]. But do open the door and speak with them politely and respectfully to resolve the matter and be done with it.
Escalating matters to make some self-righteous point - which was a wrong point in the first place - will just reserve a seat for you in the slammer. It's not worth the humiliation, as Gates is finding out now. At least he will be able to rise above it, due to his stature ... that's something a lot of folks never do rise above and never get over.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Only in America. This guy is a Harvard professor. Returning from a trip to China. He lives in a million dollar plus home. He's friends with Oprah, Governor Patrick and the President of the United States. A cop responds to a report of a break-in and this guy doesn't show any respect. Instead of appreciating that his neighbors are looking out for his property or that his local police are quick to arrive, he manages to throw out "Do you know who I am?" and gets pissed off. Only in America can this supremely successful man become a victim.