The Gates Arrest

I read the initial article in The Crimson confident that the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr., would make waves far beyond Cambridge, Mass.  Allegations of racial profiling mounted; the charges were ultimately dropped.  But let’s not forget, as Stanford Law School professor Ralph Richard Banks wrote in The Times, that the police did exactly what we would hope they would — they responded to a call from Gates’s neighbor, who thought she saw two people trying to break into a home.  (Why Gates’s neighbor did not recognize him is a question yet to be answered.)  When Gates initially did not show the police identification as asked and displayed, as The Crimson wrote, “unruly behavior,” the police arrested him.  I would hope the police would respond as such.  Expecting Professor Gates to have some sort of immunity simply on account of his Harvard professorship — or, as GWU Law Professor Paul Butler wrote on the same page as Banks, that “One gets [loud] when he’s a black man who’s always tried to do the right thing and still ends up treated like a you-know-what by the police” — sets a dangerous precedent.  I cannot say that race did not play a factor in how the police treated Gates.  But what I can say is that if I saw someone breaking into an apartment next to mine, I would certainly call the police and expect them to treat the incident as if there were a potential security breach.
The really alarming part of all this is that President Obama condemned the Cambridge police as having “acted stupidly.” Obama the candidate and Obama the President have both, as The Times points out, attempted to stay as far away from the issue of race as possible, and this marked a departure from that pattern.  But that’s not what’s alarming about Obama’s response — it’s that, amidst stagnating healthcare legislation, economic recovery efforts that leave much to be desired, and the highest monthly death toll in Afghanistan in over a year, Obama’s response to a press question about Gates’s arrest was, as The Times writes, “the most animated performance of the hourlong news conference” intended to address Obama’s healthcare plan.  I don’t think that’s appropriate from a president who faces so many more pressing national issues than a local arrest in a New England college town.

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