Don’t Try This at Home

Of course, you’ve heard the saga of Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor who was arrested in his own house for (depending upon your perspective) either

  • Being black
  • Being belligerent

I’ve never experienced Gates’ degree of police-sanctioned drama. Of course, like most males who are ethnic minorities, I’ve had some uncomfortable interactions with cops (go ahead, ask your minority friends; most of them will have a story or two). However, none of these scraps have risen above slight inconvenience or principled annoyance.

And I’m not in a hurry to condemn President Obama, although he clearly developed a chip in his legendary cool when he said that the cops “acted stupidly.” Let’s give him a break on that one.

At the very least, however, we can agree that an enormous misunderstanding took place in Cambridge, and that this communication breakdown had a lot to do with race. After all, it’s very unlikely that a white officer and a white homeowner would have such mutually high levels of distrust and suspicion that this scene could be replicated with Caucasians all around:


As I said, my negative experiences with cops have been limited to the occasional unprovoked traffic stop or snide question. I’ve certainly never been handcuffed in my own home by a gun-toting officer. But if I were in Gates’ position, where a cop busted in and accused me of burglarizing my own place, I would have an automatic out that the professor clearly does not.

“Don’t shoot,” I could say. “I’m actually Italian.”

It would probably work.


2 Responses to “Don’t Try This at Home”

  1. July 26, 2009 at 2:39 pm

    Image vs. Substance
    In 1 on July 26, 2009 at 3:38 am

    Harvard Scholar Disorderly

    Image vs. Substance

    Whether Obama is in the White House, or not, to expect America to be a color blind country is too naive. The question should not focus on the presence of Racist cops in the land. Of course, there are. They are only a reflection of the society at large. The question should be on how the good professor tried to deal with the cops. More on the professor, later.

    Whether the president of the U.S. is an African-American or not, according to a report by the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, unemployment rate for African-Americans in June of 2009 was 15.3 while for Whites the unemployment rate was 8.8 for the same period.

    Whether the President’s father came from Kenya or not, a very high percentage of African-Americans continue to be in prison. In a very good study on the subject, professor Pamela Oliver of the University of Wisconsin at Madison writes, “US imprisonment rates are much higher than the rest of the world, and within the US, African Americans are imprisoned at least eight times as often as European Americans, About a third of African American men are under the supervision of the criminal justice system, and about 12% of African American men in their 20s and 30s are incarcerated.” How sad? But this is the reality.

    This is the disparity between image and substance. I am sure a lot of people had wrongly assumed that Obama’s Presidency would overhaul the economic ( anarcho-capitalism) and social problems facing the country. This is nothing but to underestimate the choke hold powerful forces have on the system. The election of the first African-American president in the U.S. had even given false hopes to Africans. While it is nice for the image of the U.S. president to fly to Ghana for photo-ops for less than a twenty four hours stay, in terms of substance, the trip’s usefulness for the benefit and interest of Africa is close to nil. Stop looking at Africa as your step child. You want to help, join forces with the African Union and try to find solution to the problem in Somalia.

    As my dear friend Ashley St.Claire is fond of saying, “A conclusion reached based on wrong assumptions is a sign of stupidity”.

    Back to the issue of Professor Gates. The president was upset because the police had ”mistreated “ his ” friend”. The President said, “Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don’t know all the facts. Now, I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home”

    If the president did not have all the facts, wouldn’t it have been advisable to wait before uttering the unfortunate “stupidity” comment? Less than twenty four hours later, the White House realizing the damage caused, the president told reporters, “My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved,” Then he let the world know that he had called Sergeant Crawley and has extended an invitation to the White House.So,now, the focus is not on the economy but on the arrest of a dear friend.

    As one of the die hard supporters of the president Jon Stewart said, “I wasn’t at the press conference last night, and I also don’t have all the facts, but I think it’s fair to say that Obama handled that question — oh, what’s the word I’m looking for — stupidly?” OOPS.

    Professor Gates who most certainly has no clue as to what happens to the average African American on a daily basis, may be, thought of himself so exceptional that he wondered how dare this cops want to check his I.D. As is always the case, ivory towers make professors feel patrician. Certain globe-trotting African-American professors actually have no understanding of the economic and social hell hole a very high percentage of African-Americans are at this moment. But there are those who speak on their behalf (so-called experts) without feeling the pains, and sufferings of the people. This incident wouldn’t have been an issue, if Henry Louis Gates Jr. had cooperated with the police like an average citizen usually does.

    This I am sure will be a profitable incident for those who will write, direct, and appear in the up-coming documentary on racism in the police force. Stay tuned. The actions of the jokers at ivory towers never cease to amaze me. Lighten up. Don’t take yourselves too seriously.

    Professor Mekonen Haddis

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