My Two Cents on Gates

08/26/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

I just posted a tweet saying I don't view the Gates matter through a racial lens, I view it through a Harvard lens. I want to explain, and I'll try to do it briefly.

First, I've had my share of run-ins with cops. When I was young, I liked drugs and street politics, and that meant lots of confrontations with NY cops. Never got arrested because I was lucky and because I was fully submissive when stopped by cops. They scared the shit out of me. I knew they had lethal force, and they must teach them how to be terrifying, because they are. Very.

Later, as a college student, I'd occasionally get drunk (in New Orleans, everyone does it) and once even got picked up and put in jail for a night to sober up. No record, but I'll never forget it.

Hitch-hiking in Calif, I got stopped by police in Tracy, and was fined exactly the amount I had in my pocket. I paid it, and wondered where the money went, but I didn't make a stink. I just left and never went back.

A picture named cuffs.jpgI once had two cop cars come to my house in Woodside, and I had to prove that I lived there. I did. Kept my mouth shut except to say "Here" as I handed over my driver's license. I owned the place. Didn't matter. Until they left they owned my ass.

A couple of years ago driving from Calif to Denver, I got stopped in Winnemucca. I was speeding. Really speeding. Stupidly speeding. I accepted my ticket graciously. Drove slowly the rest of the way and got stopped in every major town in Nevada. Never expressed any irritation. Just begged for them to let me leave the state. Promised never to return.

I say all this to point out that I have some experience with cops, and I'm white, and I would never in a million years think of yelling at a cop. Never have, and if I ever do, I expect to be arrested.

Now Gates says he didn't yell at the cop. I don't believe him. Too many other people who were there say he did. I'm pretty sure when you're yelling at a cop who's doing his job he's supposed to arrest you for disorderly conduct. I think that's more or less what disorderly conduct is.

I also think yelling at a cop is stupid. He's got a gun. If it's so much worse being black with cops (and I believe it is) you'd think blacks would be 100 times more careful about it than a white guy.

Now, the second part of the story...

In addition to being hassled by cops, sometimes deservedly and other times not, I also spent 1.5 years at Harvard as a research fellow. I was not at the level of Gates, but I had an office in Harvard Yard and a very nice ID card that got me into all kinds of great places. Being in Harvard gives you an Ivy League feeling, you're one of the Special people. It's very nice.

IMHO what we're seeing here is not black outrage, but Harvard outrage. As a piece in Salon pointed out today, if he were anyone else, white or black, no one would have cared, and he probably wouldn't have been so vocal in his rage. What he's saying over and over is "Hey I'm a tenured Harvard professor. I just got back from China where I was on a PBS show. I'm a big dude. You don't treat me this way."

But I'd like to say to the Harvard prof what the Salon guy said to him. Shut up Prof Gates. You're just like the rest of us. When a cop gives you an order, you do what he says. If you have a beef with it, that comes later. And let your lawyer speak for you, and be sure you're right.