Professor Henry Louis Gates
Talk about a media firestorm! Everyday I’ve been listening to media reports about the situation concerning the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates. The full spectrum — left, center and right — of the media have been all over this story .
Here are the basics of the situation: Mr. Gates came back to his house from vacation and he forgot his keys. So, him and the person with him pried open his door in order to get inside the house. A neighbor saw this happening and called the police. In the 911 call she stated that she wasn’t sure if it was a burglary or if the people lived in the house and perhaps forgot their keys.
The police arrived. Professor Gates, who is a black man showed his identification to the white police sergeant who was the first on the scene. Gates explained to him that he was a Harvard professor and indeed it was his house as the address on his license proved. Stop.
Okay, now at this point the officer should've left and if he was a decent individual perhaps even apologize to Mr. Gates for the inconvenience. This, of course, didn’t happen. The Sgt. questioned Gates further and at one point professor Gates said “this is what happens to black men in America” and he was arrested for “disorderly conduct.”
Let me pause for a minute to say this: I most certainly am not a bleeding heart starry-eyed liberal who blindly worships the archetype of the faultless, noble habitually oppressed black man. Nor do I have the white guilt self-hate complex thing going on. I am a realist. With that being said: Did race play a part in the arrest of Henry Gates? Yes, it very probably did. I don’t know the officer who arrested Gates personally so I can’t comment with certainty on the nature of his psyche, or what went on in his mind during the situation. But, I do know how a white police officer who harbors racial prejudices would have been thinking …
He arrives on the scene, ready to make an arrest. Gates sees the police car and opens his door to meet the officer.
Gates: Yes officer?
Officer: We have a report of a possible burglary in progress
Gates: I just came back from vacation and lost my keys so I pried my door open.
Officer: Uh-huh, well I need to see some I.D. (I haven’t ever seen any blacks in this nice neighborhood before unless they were up to no good.)
Gates: Fine. Here, here’s my Harvard professors ID and my drivers license with my home address, this address, on it.
Officer: (Yep, he’s a professor alright and sure enough this is his address, but I don’t like the tone of this boy’s voice. Probably went to college on that affirmative action, probably one of Obama’s Communist allies.) Well, how long have you lived here?
Gates: (Why is he asking me more questions?) Officer, this is exactly what happens to black men in America —
Officer: Place your hands behind your back!! Submit to hand restraints and don’t resist or force will be used!! (We got us an uppity nigger right here!! And by God, I’m gonna put him in his place!!)
Gates: What? What am I under arrest for?!
Officer: For! For! … (Shit it probably won’t fly if I plant drugs on him since he’s a professor. A fake assault case might look fishy. Shit!) For! For, causing a disturbance and disorderly conduct! (That’ll work! Everyone knows all niggers* can get loud and unruly!)
Anyone who believes a lot of white police officers do not think like this is just naive. They may not be card-carrying members of the Klan but they have deeply ingrained racial prejudices. Really, if Gates would've been a black dude in a working class neighborhood he very well may have been savagely beaten or worse.
Ah, yes, and Obama’s comments on the situation: “The police acted stupidly” and “there is a history in this country of racial profiling by police.” I was actually rather shocked that he was so straightforward and not engaging in his pandering to the Right that he seems to be so fond of.
But, of course, all of the Right wing pundits went crazy accusing Obama of being a race-baiting, police hating radical Communist hell-bent on destroying America. Then came the catering to the Right by Obama — apologizing for making a truthful and relevant statement. I’m wondering if Obama is ever going to stand up and say “racism exists in our society and we need to have an open and honest dialogue about it.”
* Note: I think it should be obvious to most, but if not, the derogatory remarks in parenthesis represent the thoughts of the racist police officer.