Harvard Scholar Disorderly

Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested!  One of the most respected African scholars in America was arrested.  What prompted his arrest?  Mr. Gates was trying to break into his own home.  He was having trouble with his front door.  And like some people who get locked outside their own home, Mr. Gates decided to get in right then and there the best way he can.

According to the news report, somebody saw a black man trying to break into a house.  The police made a visit to the house.  By the time the police showed up Mr. Gates was inside the house.  He was asked to provide proof of his identity and proof that he lived there.  Mr. Gates produced a driver’s license and his university identification.  But then what happened dissolves into a case of his side, their side, and the truth.

The police say that Mr. Gates became belligerent.  Imagine that!  Mr. Gates arrives from an overseas trip from China, a pretty good distance and a very considerable amount of time away, only come home to find his front door stuck and he has to force himself into his own home.  Shortly thereafter, the police are knocking at his door asking him to prove he owns his house.  It isn’t hard to believe that he was upset.  Dude was probably tired.  Instead of the police recognizing an angry man in his own home, the police want the respect from a black man that they feel that they are due.  Since the police didn’t get their props from Mr. Gates, they felt it was in the best interest of the Cambridge community to pull Mr. Gates out of his house and book him on charges that amount to being angry.

The spokesperson for the Cambridge police says that mistakes were made on both sides of this issue.  As is the custom when confronting black people, the police made the mistake of following the standard procedure of throwing any and all forms of compassion out the window in favor of the heavy hand of law.  On the other hand, Mr. Gates made the mistake of being a black man and thinking he was entitled to be angry on his own property.  Both sides have made key mistakes.

Mr. Gates is only the latest black man to be hauled off to jail or harassed by police for being accused of having a bad attitude.  And contrary to what a lot of people would like to believe, this is far from being an isolated incident.  I was listening to people making their comments during a program on the radio and a lot of white people were recalling their stories with police.  How come when they were harassed by police it wasn’t racist but this case was?  What makes Mr. Gates’ arrest different?

Off the top of my head I would say that none of the stories told were about police coming into their homes and arresting people when no crime was committed.  I would say that the fact that Mr. Gates identified his self and had proven that he was entitled to be in his house.  After such a long trip, it’s pretty reasonable to think that Mr. Gates was cranky.  Add a stuck door to the picture and it’s easy to believe that he’d be pissed.  Put cops on top of that and I could see him being angry.  But Mr. Gates has no criminal record and has a history of being a good citizen.  The fifty eight year old man is an asset to the community.  But good behavior doesn’t buy much these days.

Unless he had threatened somebody the police should’ve simply walked away.  But instead of allowing good judgment to prevail, the police felt that whatever damage their egos suffered from Mr. Gates’ anger required compensation.  A black man needs to have more respect for the agents of law.

People are entitled to their anger.  As a social collective we are told that our children are entitled to be angry with their parents, we are told that spouses are entitled to be angry with their significant other, some of us believe that we are entitled to give god the middle finger if we are so moved.  But then on the flip side of these anger management coins, many of us think that the lines of anger that are so crossable in other areas of our lives must be held fast and strong lest black people lose their proper regard for law enforcers.

Instead of people seeing this incident as the latest manifestation of the collective disrespect for black people, people want to sweep it all under the rug as nothing more than an unfortunate misunderstanding between two parties who both contributed to a series of mistakes being made that resulted in the harassment of another black person.  This was just another one of those cases where cops are too quick to trample the rights of a high profile black citizen by mistaking him for the typical black person without the resources to call attention to their abuse, and a case of a black man forgetting his place in our social structure.

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