Henry Louis Gates was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct after getting into an argument with a police officer. This would be a major story given professor Gates' reputation. However the fact that he was arrested in his own home and that he is a friend of the sitting President of the United States makes it a media storm.
I have no doubt that Mr. Gates was extremely upset to be accosted in his own home by a police officer. I also have no doubt that his reaction was based not only on the current situation, but a lifetime of racial bias that he has had to face. Was his reaction more emotional than rational? Probably. Was he justified in reacting the way he did? Probably. I believe that if you are in your own home and have committed no crime, then the police have no right to treat you like a criminal. The police officer in this case will now get a lot of support from the Right. People like Rush Limbaugh are already rushing to give their views in favor of the officer. This once again proves the hypocrisy that comes from that side of the aisle. The Republicans are the first to talk about the sanctity of the home and an individuals right to privacy. If this had happened to George Will, and he would have been arrested by a black police officer in his home, the outrage from the Right would be palpable.
I have written about this topic before and I frankly hate to repeat myself, but unless you are a black male in this country, you have no idea what if feels like to be afraid to step outside your front door in fear what the very people who are supposed to protect you might bring to bear. I live in New York City and there is no neighborhood or group of people or time of night that causes me more fear than the sight of New York City police officer heading my way. I have first hand experience of being wrongly arrested and abused by the people that we call "New York's Finest". The funny thing is that I actually feel fortunate that I didn't have to grow up in Boston. In his early years, the comedian Chris Rock told a joke that went something like this, "I was in South Africa the other day...Or was it Boston". Boston is the town that reacted the most violently to forced busing in the seventies. Boston is the town that still has de facto segregation to this day. Boston is the town that being black is still a cause for alarm, unless you play for the Celtics or Red Sox.
Was race a factor in the arrest of Professor Gates? Of course it was. Would both men have acted differently if they were of the same race. Of course they would have. If Professor Gate were white would a 911 call even have been placed? debatable. The point here is that once a police officer shows up at the residence of an individual, what should be the threshold for then allowing that officer to arrest any person that lives there? I am not sure what the answer is to that question, but given the accounts of the proceedings given by both Professor Gates and the Officer, I am confident that the threshold was not breached. Would the Officer have arrested an elderly, semi-disabled, white Harvard professor? You can bet your last bowl of New England Clam Chowder that he would not have. The multi-cultural support for this officer from the Cambridge police department doesn't impress me. The New York Police department has never been held accountable for firing over 80 shots at an unarmed man and hitting him with over 40 in the doorway of his own apartment. And they were only held accountable for sodomizing an innocent man and causing life threatening internal injuries after one of dozens of officers decided that he couldn't maintain his silence anymore.
Actions speak much louder than words. If you think that race plays no part in any of this, I would just ask you to look at the growing movement that is questioning whether the President was born in this country. The absolutely only reason it's a question is because of his race. The language from the opposition is couched in the terms of "taking the country back". Glen Beck promotes gun ownership as a rational response to losing an election. I remember when 5 people on the Supreme Court decided who our next President was going to be. There were a lot of disappointed people, but I don't remember anyone of any national prominence promoting armed revolution. Why is it okay to question the legitimacy of a President who won his election with a decisive majority of the American people voting for him? He's black. It's as simple as that. Having a black President is a huge step forward for this country, but being black still means that there's a bullseye on your back.