I am about to shock M* regulars by writing something I have not written in a long time: President Obama was correct about something. The Cambridge police did act stupidly in arresting Harvard Prof. Henry Louis Gates. You want proof: read the police report here.
Here are the quick details: Prof. Gates and his driver (both of them black) are trying to get into Prof. Gates’ house, but the door is stuck. A neighbor calls the cops because she sees two black guys apparently trying to force a door. One policeman, Sgt. James Crowley, arrives at the scene and asks Prof. Gates for ID. He gets incensed and is rude and disorderly. But he clearly is the owner of the house. This would have been the time for Sgt. Crowley to say, “sorry about this — have a nice day.” But instead he arrested Prof. Gates for being disorderly.
Look, there is no doubt that Prof. Gates had a chip on his shoulder. There is no doubt that he acted rudely and was insulting of a police officer. It sounds to me like Prof. Gates is a complete jerk with a persecution complex. But the police are there to deal with threats to the public safety. Prof. Gates was not a threat to anybody. Time for the police to leave and go find some real criminals.
I have a friend, the most soft-spoken guy you have ever met in your life. He was in a bar with a loud, brash woman who was drunk. The woman got a bit out of control. The police were called, and they were about to arrest the woman. My friend, who is a lawyer, very calmly asked the police why they were arresting the woman, what the charge was. He was slammed to the ground, knee in the back, handcuffs slapped on. The police pulled his shoulder muscles and he was hurting for weeks. He was shoved into a police car and charged with disorderly conduct. My friend happens to be white.
The lesson for me is: if the police ask you to do something, you do it. Leave the police alone.
Prof. Gates went way, way, way out of his way to provoke the police into doing something stupid. But the point is that they took the bait. If they had simply left him alone, the story would have ended there. Now we have an ongoing racial drama for the next several months that is completely unnecessary. Not too smart on the part of the Cambridge police.