Friday, July 24, 2009

Just Looking for a Fight

Tell me you haven't done this before:

You're locked out of YOUR house or car. As you poke around looking for some way to get inside, you thing to yourself, "I sure hope the neighbor doesn't see me and call the cops because they think I'm trying to break in," when in fact that is exactly what you're trying to do despite it being your car or house.

If by some chance the cops were called and wanted to question you, could you blame them? After all, you were engaging in some highly suspicious activity. If you're like me, you'd probably be a little embarrassed and a lot apologetic. What if you became belligerent with the policemen and started screaming at them? How would you expect the situation to unfold?

Now imagine for a moment that you somehow also qualify as a minority. Maybe you're not a white Caucasian male, or you are religious, or you have a speech impediment or something. And just for kicks, let's say that your buddy is the President (of America).

Well, as chance would have it, that is exactly what happened to a Harvard director and friend of President Obama, Mr. Henry Louis Gates Jr., at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. 

Here are the facts:
  • Mr. Gates and another person returned from a trip to find themselves locked out of Gates' home
  • Mr. Gates and friend were wearing backpacks
  • Mr. Gates and friend tried to force their way in through the front door
  • A woman [neighbor?] called 911 to report a suspected break-in
  • Police responded to the call and wanted to see Mr. Gates identification [duh!]
  • Mr. Gates, according to police reports, refused and was outraged that the police would want to verify he was who he claimed to be
  • Mr. Gates accused the police of racism
  • Mr. Gates is black; at least one of the officers is white
  • The arresting officer is an "expert" on, and teaches a class at the police academy about, racial profiling
  • None other than President Obama, in a news conference, says that the police "acted stupidly"
  • Mr. Gates claims that this incident is about "the vulnerability of black men in America" and has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that police officers were simply responding to a reported break-in or that he exacerbated the situation by flying off the handle
  • The article cites another controversial incident at Harvard in which police confronted a black man was trying to remove a bike lock with something other than the key or combination - as though had the man been white, the cops may have allowed him to proceed unmolested
  • The politicians involved - the POTUS, the governor, and the mayor - are embarrassed and critical of the incident
Maybe the cops had been tailing Mr. Gates for months waiting for him to do something that would justify an arrest? Should the police no longer take any action when there is a minority involved for fear of public officials' scorn? Despite the eventual outcome, I'd bet Reggie Lewis' family appreciates the arresting officer's supposed discrimination. Reggie Lewis was the Boston Celtics player that collapsed and died several years ago during a workout. This same 'racist' officer was the person trying to save Reggie Lewis' life by administering CPR.

Would our world be a better place if we all looked the same, were the same age and sex, had the same religion and salary? If we were all stormtroopers? Mr. Gates was arrested NOT for breaking into his own house or for being black, but because of the way he acted towards the police officers. 

Mr. Gates missed a golden opportunity to demonstrate an advanced level of understanding and tolerance and to teach an important life lesson to the students of Harvard. He instead chose to act in defiance of the law and in an immature manner; to attempt to incite anger and retaliation against the Cambridge police department. Is Mr. Gates above the law? He seems to think so. Does his position as a "renowned black scholar" from Harvard mean he is judged by a different set of rules than the rest of us? Does he fancy himself a new public figure of some new movement? The next X? Some kind of martyr? His comments seem to indicate as much - "This is not about me."

Race will continue to be an issue in this country until we stop making it an issue in the press.

And for Heaven's sake, Mr. President - if you want us to let Congress do their job and let you do your job and all of the various spending bills do their jobs - could you also let local law enforcement do its job, too?

Now, like that scene from Popeye, everybody is calling for everyone else to apologize. Personally, I don't think the police were in the wrong in any way. They don't need to apologize or submit themselves to the media barrage. As for Mr. Gates, Mr. Obama, the governor and the mayor - who cares if they apologize or not? They've already embarrassed themselves enough through their unfortunate remarks that no apology would serve to humiliate them further.

Let us not get distracted by this non-story from the real injustices currently being promulgated by our government.


It seems to me that a lot of people are piling on top of law enforcement in recent years. Why? They're just trying to keep the peace and protect the people.

If something is important enough to warrant a call to 911, do we not expect a response? Do we want the firefighters to say, "Oh, that smoke is probably just somebody burning their hamburgers"? Do we want the cops to say, "They're probably filming a movie about a foul-mouthed drunk dude getting all up in people's grills. My shift is almost over anyway"? Do we want the paramedics to say, "That guy will probably start breathing again on his own"? These people are paid to respond, not to rationalize.

If you get pulled over, common sense tells us to just cooperate. Even if you're sure you didn't do anything wrong, remaining calm and polite is always the best way to handle the situation. If you start acting in a threatening manner, the police will respond appropriately, just as they should.

Mr. Gates reaction seems highly suspect given the circumstances, which tells me he is seeking the spotlight, trying to get people riled up, and exploiting his friendship with Obama. This was a routine police call that would have been over in a few minutes with a bit of cooperation. Surely Mr. Gates can appreciate that his suspicious behavior and verbal self-destruct prompted the police's presence and his subsequent arrest, and not his skin color.

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