The arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates is an example of poor police work, to be charitable, and the vestiges of racial relationships between black and white men. The police officer, after having been presented with two valid identification cards demonstrating who Gates was and where he lived, should have simply moved on. He didn't. According to the first-person account I read on The Root, the officer didn't do that, ignored reasonable requests by Gates, and was joined by numerous police officers for backup. Gates, likely tired after a long flight from China only to be greeted by a front door that was disabled in what may have been an attempted break-in, was likely offended that the officer didn't immediately bring the matter to a close. As a black man, I've been there and can easily believe that the officer thought Gates was insufficiently deferential and was looking to knock the professor down a peg or two.
Gates' commentary during the incident didn't help and I'm willing to bet that he may, at some point, regret some of what he said. But the reality is: once the officer confirmed Gates' identification and address, then the officer should have ended the situation. Ultimately, Gates got arrested because he hurt Sgt. Crowley's feelings. That won't hold up in any court of law. And prosecutors declined to prosecute because they knew the arrest was complete garbage.
I think it's folly to ignore the history of race in the interaction between some white men and some black men. From calling grown men "boy" to the well-documented cases of race-based violence, upstanding black men are not willing to accept the behavior exhibited by that police officer. For every Henry Louis Gates, with resources, notoriety, and connections, there are countless others like him who have to live in anonymity with the reality of racism and racial profiling. We don't need hypersensitive cops who didn't like the fact that a black man stood up and required respect and professionalism. Professionalism should have prevailed. Now, the Cambridge police force will pay in the form of a damaged reputation and, perhaps, even monetarily too. All because one officer got mad because his feelings were hurt.
Now, President Obama is turning the White House into the hottest Happy Hour spot in D.C. Thursday. I live about a mile from the White House. Maybe I'll take a six-pack of cold Sam Adams and see if they'll let me in!
Michael K. Fauntroy is an assistant professor of public policy at George Mason University and author of Republicans and the Black Vote. He blogs at: MichaelFauntroy.com.
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