(SEE the UPDATE at the end of the post.)
What an outrage! What an embarrassment! A couple of nights ago [actually it was midday], Cambridge, Massachusetts policemen, responding to a call from a concerned neighbor, arrived at the house of Harvard Prof Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to find a couple of chaps pushing in at the front door.
What, in that policeman’s shoes, would you have done? I would have done exactly what the chap in question did: “Wot’s all this?” followed by a demand for some identification.
Here comes the outrage, and the embarrassment. 95 percent of it belongs to Harvard’s famous Professor of Afro-American studies, who responded to the request for identification with “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” and then, having produced the requested documents, embarked on making a loud scene with the police outside his house. Result: arrest for disorderly conduct, handcuffs, and a free ride in a police cruiser. The other 5 percent of the outrage and embarrassment, I hasten to add, belongs to the Reverend Al Shaprton (I always giggle a little at that conjunction: “reverend” and “Al Sharpton,” don’t you?) and other representatives of what Michael Meyers, in one of the best pieces about the incident, called “the race industry.” Gates should “skip the histrionics,” Meyers advised in his column in the New York Daily News.
Calling the cops when one sees suspicious activities underway is exactly what good neighbors do. It is what a woman who works nearby did – and all indications are she acted in good faith. When cops follow up on such a report by asking suspicious persons who’ve seemingly gained entry to a vacant house to present ID, they are doing their jobs.
Nevertheless, Gates and the race industry spokesmen who’ve rushed to his defense have leaped to the fast conclusion that this was an incident of racial profiling – and that one of America’s most famed black academics was a victim of police misconduct. Choice reaction by the Rev. Al Sharpton: “I’ve heard of driving while black, and I’ve heard of shopping while black. But I’ve never heard of living in a home while black.”
Give me a break.
Mr. Meyers, alas, is unlikely to get a break in this case. Instead, we’re going to get a cartload of hypersensitive articles like this one from The Washington Post, which reports Professor Gates’s side of the story at great length but leaves the police version hanging in a limbo of racist implication.