Arresting Times

The internet is abuzz with the news that a prominent African American professor (from Harvard, no less), Henry Louis Gates, was arrested over the weekend. Apparently, he had returned home from an overseas trip, and was faced with a jammed front door. As he was trying to let himself in, cops came by, asked for identification, did not get any cooperation from Professor Gates, and promptly arrested him. Now, the world is heaping scoops upon scoops of criticism on the police officers, police department, and the neighbor who called the cops, all of us screaming, “Oh my God, racial profiling!”

At first, I was flabbergasted and thought it was a horrible case of racial profiling gone hideously right…right because it’s nice when law enforcement gets caught doing something stupid to someone prominent. There is more accountability, and you know that when they apologize, they really mean it; who wouldn’t be sorry for having wronged a prominent individual?

Then, I got to the end of the first article, and every article I’ve read since, and I can’t help being on the cops’ side. They received a call from the man’s neighbor, who said she saw “two black men with backpacks” trying to enter her neighbors house. I’m sure she knew her neighbor was a black man, and wasn’t attempting to be stupidly racist. My neighbors are Vietnamese; if I see a couple of Vietnamese folks that seem like they are struggling with the door, and they’re not my neighbors, should I assume they are, and just let it go? And then find out the next day that my neighbors had been robbed? Or, should I call the cops and report suspicious activity, as I would want my neighbors to do if they saw, say, Muslim-looking dudes trying to get into my house? I’m going with the latter option every single time. I call the cops over the slightest weird noise I hear coming from my neighbors…because the one time I didn’t, they were robbed. I’m going to err on the side of caution, and so far, nobody is complaining. That’s the neighbor; how about the cops? Did they do something horribly, tragically, stupidly racist?

Maybe they did, to an extent; or maybe they didn’t. The reports are apparently varied as to what happened, and when they arrested Professor Gates, and on what grounds. Some reports say he was arrested at his front door, before he ever got into his house; others say that when his front door was jammed, he went around to the back entrance, got in, and then there were these cops who knocked on his front door; when he opened it, they asked for identification. Here is where people get all up in arms, and I’m thinking, why are you getting ticked off? Clearly, there had been something wrong with his door (maybe because someone at some point had botched up a break-in?!), the cops came to check it out (because they were called, probably validly?!), and now they’re wanting to make sure they are not talking to a big bad robber guy. What’s the problem? If they had just asked, “Do you live here, sir?” He said, “Yes” and they went on their merry way, and it turned out that the dude  at the door who happened to be black hadn’t been Mr. Gates, would that have reflected well on the cops’ job performance?

I get that Mr. Gates at this point began to get irate and ask for their badge numbers and names…but I don’t get why. So, they asked for your ID, you provided it (maybe immediately, maybe after a little bit of shock at being asked to provide ID in your own home), and now they’re leaving; what’s to get mad about? This is where my sympathy for Mr. Gates begins to ebb. I also don’t get why the cops didn’t just give him their badge numbers, although I reckon it would not have been all that difficult for Professor Gates to obtain their names: law enforcement officers wear name plates right on their uniforms. I get that this might have happened a ton of times without reason at all…but this really doesn’t sound like a situation without reason. To top it all, the cop who arrested Professor Gates for “disorderly conduct” seems to have pretty solid race-related credentials. If anything, this sounds like it was a power struggle between a “wronged” home owner and a cop, and a cop is going to win a power struggle every single time, even if the skin colors of the protagonist and antagonist had been reversed.

There’s a time for crying racism, and there’s a time for crying boo. Yes, there are cops who go way over the line, many many cops…but punishing the ones who just might have good reasons for their actions is the fastest way to weed out the good cops and leave behind nothing but bad apples. And to me, that is kind of what this situation is beginning to feel like.

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5 Responses to Arresting Times

  1. D.S. says:

    I was thinking racism at first also, but after reading some reports about what happened I can’t help thinking it was all a big misunderstanding. And if its true that the Professor didn’t cooperate with the officers when they asked for identification, then he’s partly to blame because identification would’ve shown that he lived in that address. Maybe racism did play a part in the whole thing, but I just can’t help thinking that it was just a misunderstanding and nothing else.

  2. After the 7/7 bombings, there were a lot of ‘non-white’ stop and searches taking place in London; a lot of people complained about it… but as far as I am concerned, prevention is better than cure. The media here reported it as – Gates proved he lived at the address to the cops, yet they got heavy handed with him… as much as I would like to believe that, I wonder how much of it is true.

    I think this has been blown out of proportion; if this was any other average Joe would we have heard of it?

  3. Prevention, yes, is better than cure…but racially profiling people is not an effective way to find actual criminals. At best, it can find potential criminals, but that’s more of a luck of the draw kind of thing. So, I can’t say I blame people for complaining when it happens: after all, it wastes a lot of people’s time and energy, while the real one is out there. I see the post 7/7 stop-and-search activity as more a way for law enforcement to show the public that they’re on top of things; while it may reassure the public, it doesn’t mean it’s right.

    The more that comes out about this case, the more I think Gates is pursuing the wrong story. The real story is about being arrested for “attitude,” basically a contempt for cop arrest. Gates would have been arrested even if he were non-black. And the reason I think this arrest is completely bogus is because the neighbor’s call to the police, and the police sergeant Crowley’s police report, have just been released. According to the neighbor, Lucia Whalen, she never mentioned the potential robbers’ races, the tape of her talking to the dispatcher backs her up…yet Crowley’s report says something to the contrary, and he says that he spoke to her while she says she did not speak to him. When I see a cop lying about something so inconsequential, I wonder what else he has made up. He sounds like a cop with a bit of a power problem, and that’s no better than being a racist. So, while I initially thought Crowley was perhaps not such a bad apple, I have shifted towards thinking he is some kind of bad apple, maybe not a racist one, but definitely one with a power complex. And that kind of bugs me.

  4. Amy says:

    Assalaamu alaykum

    The more I heard about it, I tended to agree with what you wrote in your post, and also in the last comments. It didn’t seem to be a racial conflict at all, but one where the officer was trying to demonstrate his authority when not absolutely necessity. And listening to some discussions from officers among my acquaintance has led me to believe that police officers who feel the need to show their power aren’t exactly one in a million. Even a tactic I’ve learned in dealing with people is to let the people who need to feel authority get that feeling, and they’ll be more cooperative in doing what you want–so long as they feel like they’re respected and in control.

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