For those who haven’t heard, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested by the Cambridge Police (the charges were later dropped). According to Gates’ attorney:
Professor Gates was driven to his home by a driver for a local car company. Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’ luggage into his home.
Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.
Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.
Carol Rose, like many other commentators, thinks this was a result of racism:
The arrest of Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. after he was confronted by police while trying to open the front door to his home is the latest reminder that racism is alive and well even in the most wealthy and progressive enclaves of Massachusetts.
But I actually don’t think this is about race, but a challenge to police authority. Basically, once Gates’ challenged the officer’s authority–and mind you, he had already shown the officer his identification–by asking the officer to identify himself, which is Gates’ right to do, the officer viewed this as a threat. Police officers do this all the time–in ‘bad’ neighborhoods. Talk to people who live across the river in Roxbury or Dot, and this isn’t unusual behavior. More than one police officer would describe these neighborhoods in language that isn’t that different from the way U.S. soldiers describe Basra. With that mindset comes a strong belief that an individual situation must be strictly controlled. ‘Mouthing off’–that is, exercising your rights–is an attempt by the potential perpetrator to gain control. If you’ve been around long enough, you have probably experienced this in one form or another.
And, in some situations, this is probably warranted: police, on occasion, do have to deal with pretty awful, and more importantly, dangerous people. But the problem is most people aren’t criminals, and they have this funny dislike of being presumed guilty when they’re not. One of the insidious things over the last decade resulting from the rise of the hybrid Nanny-Security state is that there has been a growing acceptance that our security forces should treat people as potential criminals first, and free citizens second (nothing has helped more than the rise of pointless airport security, which doesn’t really keep us secure, but does desensitize us to security intrusions).
The real shocker is that this treatment happened to a ‘respectable’ person in a ‘good’ neighborhood.
Troll-be-gone: Before some shithead goes on about how Gates’ wants the police to not catch criminals breaking into his house, Gates showed the police officer his ID.