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Showing Skip Gates who's boss

How "tumultuous" is an American citizen entitled to be in his or her own home? I always thought that the space for such behavior in your own home was supposed to be pretty large, as long as you didn't disturb the neighbors. But thanks to the Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department, I've been disabused of that notion.It sounds from the news stories I've read as if Henry Louis "Skip" Gates was not exactly a model of calm rationality in his encounter last week with the Cambridge police. Had he been less exhausted (after traveling from China), less irritated (after having had to force open a balky door to his house), he might have been more understanding of and accommodating to the officer sent to check a report of two black men (Gates and a cabbie) possibly breaking into a house.But Gates wasn't. He was exhausted and irritated and, some reports said, slightly under the weather. And the last thing he wanted was to be confronted by a cop asking why this black man was in this house--his house.Again, I am relying on news accounts, which may or may not be full and accurate. But it appears that Gates finally did show the police identification that demonstrated who he was and that the house was his own. So why does any extracurricular shouting and remonstrating matter. Why was his "tumultuous" behavior in his own home considered grounds for an arrest (never mind that the charge has now been dropped)?Why, indeed? Unless the purpose was to show an uppity black man who was boss?


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This incident had nothing to do with race until this wealthy, arrogant, Ivy Leaguer who happens to be black interjected it. Why is this suddenly a learning opportunity for everyone else?When people behave badly its best to focus the attention on that, and not everything else that might be wrong anywhere else.Sean,You and others are clearly very angry and want to make some kind of example of Gates. What is your agenda? And why is it so important to make sure that the indisputable fact that there is still a real problem between white cops and black citizens doesn't get discussed?

As many others have repeated endlessly, and as the NYT article itself noted: There is a world of difference between an insult delivered to a police officer inside the man's home and one that is outside. The officer in this case specifically asked Gates to go outside. This officer lost his cool. Imagine if he had played against the type Gates assumed he was and didn't arrest him -- then Gates might have had time to sleep on it and realize what a doofus he had been. Instead, the police officer did exactly what Gates assumed he would and more or less validated Gates' assumption that white police officers truck no disrespect from a black man, turning the police officer (I am guessing) into the kind of officer he prides himself on not being. It's sad, actually, but I still maintain that the burden in this situation falls on the police, who are trained to deal with conflict resolution. Bill M.: You have no idea what you are talking about.

Today's NYT indicates the variety of views (and training) police get and hold in dealing with situations like these.Despite Cindy's comment, race perception does matter to a minority - a short piece on the news last night indicating there is almost a broad perception that you put yourself in danger as a minority if you question, get mad or ask for an IDThe Pres has allowed he exacerbated things -let them all sit down at the White House with a beer and we can go along holding our own preconceptions in this hard teaching moment..

Gates comes across as an angry and embittered man, not withstanding that he is a renowned scholar at a prestigious university, well respected by his peers, and a personal friend of the President of the United States. I once observed a disabled man in a wheel chair following someone down the aisle of a supermarket, screaming and yelling at the person, saying things like,"You think you're better than I am?", etc. I have no idea what precipitated this behavior, but Gates' behavior reminded me of the incident.Apparently there are audio tapes of the Gates incident; wonder if they will be released?

The more I read about this incident, the more I am concluding that Professor Gates was in the wrong. Why did he behave inappropriately? Jet lag from a trip. Damn door won't open. Black scholar on race and racial relations.Not a good brew for a professor who, one supposes, is respectful and cordial on other occasions.I'm not prepared to "call" the police officer on his decision to arrest Gates. I don't walk in the officer's shoes. Gates' physical appearance and cane notwithstanding, the officer knew --- as all police officers know --- that some of the worst stuff can happen on a person's property including in the home.At some point, if an officer cannot get the situation under control, he likely has no option but to put the offending person in the "cooler" for a few hours.In this instance, the professor comes across as arrogant based on what I've read and heard on the news. I have friends in academia, but some of the most arrogant folks I've known in life have been academics (not my friends, btw :).Obama (for whom I voted) was "stupid" for using this word when --- in the same breath --- he acknowledged he didn't have all the facts.Unless a subsequent report suggests otherwise, I think Gates was in the wrong. His behavior can be explained for the reasons cited earlier, but it cannot be somehow justified or excused.

Obama finally did the right thing and realized he inflamed the issue. He even spread the blame to Gates which he should have. Barbara, I believe I have been in the trenches much more than you have on this issue. By a whopping margin I estimate. You are very good on most issues. This is not one of them.

But the "issue" isn't whether or not Professor Gates behaved admirably. The issue is whether a policeman ought to be able to arrest a person he finds at home committing no crimes. Even if the cop's account is 100% accurate, Gates still has not been accused of doing anything to threaten the safety of the cop or anyone else. The cop arrested him anyway. And he did so when -- as I and others have mentioned already -- he could and should have walked away. If there's some circumstance that makes that arrest anything less than "stupid," it hasn't come out yet.From the article Historyman linked to above:

Lets say I do a stop, Mr. Adams said. I question, and its nothing. Sir, Im sorry, I apologize. Whats the reason for staying, if the angers directed at me? If its directed at a third party, a storekeeper, I stay.But if the officer himself is the provocation, the officer should leave, he said, and added that Sergeant Crowley did not use such common sense.

Sean: Give me a break. If the cop is looking for common human decency then he's in the wrong line of work. Not that there was anything indecent in Gates's response. Did he lose his temper? Apparently. Was his response worthy of praise? Certainly not. Worthy of empathy? Without a doubt. Can Gates's critics here honestly say they wouldn't have had a similar response? I seriously doubt it. I don't see what's so important about repeating the mantra that Gates was "in the wrong" or "arrogant" or whatever. Bill M.: You're sounding more like a mugged liberal every day. Rudy was a wildly unpopular mayor before 9/11.

Bill M. is not sounding like a "mugged liberal": He's a cranky but honest, and ultimately very decent man. It seems to me that he calls them as he sees them, and devil take the hindmost. Good for him.

From Andrew Sullivan:"Maureen's dad was a cop and she knows people like James Crowley. I do too. And Obama is right that cops like Crowley are good men in general (although I can't pass a judgment on someone I don't know). I also believe in being respectful and polite to policemen as a rule, and do not recall any moment in my life when I haven't been. But I do think it's necessary to remember that policemen are our servants, not our masters. We pay their salary - and they'd better treat us right. And I find the many comments that we should always show deference to the man with the gun and the badge and never publicly criticize cops to be alarmingly authoritarian in its implications.""Alarmingly authoritarian in its implications."Bill Mazzella rightly, in my view, criticizes what he sees as a culture of blind submission to the Roman Catholic equivalent of the police, and fails to see the irony, not to mention the likely connection, between Catholic culture and the call for reflexive deference to civilian police authorities. I don't like the secular authoritarian vision any better than I like the religious one.

Barbara, in a newspaper column from yesterday, Clarence Page uses the phrase "contempt of cop". A valid usage would be something like this: 'Skip Gates was arrested for the "crime" of Contempt of Cop'. It distills Andrew Sullivan's point quite well, I think. the already long list of improbable White House get-togethers - Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Princess Diana and John Travolta - we will be able to add the names of a black professor and a white policeman...Admittedly, it is tempting to view the invitation as the ultimate conflation of the age of Obama and the age of Oprah.Aside from the choice of beverage, there is something very daytime television, something very soft focus, something very soft sofa, about this attempt to defuse the controversy...

One more, linking Obama to presidents past:Yet startling and novel as Mr Obama's attempts to defuse the controversy are, he is merely upholding a long tradition. Presidential racial politics have often been conducted with gestures, symbols and photo opportunities, and this is but the latest example of a well-worn genre...

You forgot what in my memory is the oddest of them all, Michael Jackson and Ronald and Nancy Reagan, touting Mrs. Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. Talk about odd. Jackson seemed high at the time, and it was in the era where he always wore one glove and big sunglasses. As news about his drug dependence emerges, it seems odder still in retrospect. I remember Nancy Reagan looking at him with an alarmed expression on her face. (On tv of course -- I wasn't there!)

MJ and the Reagans at WH sounds odd all right (link to video below). But the Reagans must have been used to all sorts of celebrities from their years in Hollywood. On the other hand, few people honored by the WH would have dressed like Jackson, as you mentioned.BTW, RR remarked in his diary (published not long ago) on this occasion that he was surprised to find MJ very shy.

Last one from me... Barbara's comment prompted me to read a little on Jackson's visit, including some interesting trivia after the visit that involved our nation's current Chief Justice.

If Prof Gates had been Caucasion, all the anti-government hermits out West would have been having a fit about civil rights being violated. If a white man were arrested on his own property after having not committed any crime. this conversation would have been received a lot more sympathetically by most people. FOX, CNN, MSNBC and all the talk shows, blogs, Twitter and every other news source would be talking about how everyone's rights could potentially be violated. But, because it was the proverbial "angry black man", oh well, you know he was very disrespectful and brought it on himself. I am one who wholeheartedly beleives in respect for duly constituted authority. If I'm in trouble, you'd better believe I would be thrilled to see a police officer to help me. I would never talk to an officer the way Gates did, but officers know, in their line of work, they are not seeing society at it's best. That's the name of the game. If they want to see people at their best, they need to work for Publishers Clearing House and give away money. EVERYONE would love them then. But, being an officer of the law is not for people who expects everyone to love them. As an experienced officer, I think he should have been able to rise above the fray, look behind the angry words, show some empathy (because you and I know if he were in that situation, he would have been very ticked also) and just apologize to the man and leave his home. Was Gates wrong, absolutely, but as the very old saying goes, "Two wrongs don't make a right".