Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Arrest of Professor Gates - Who's Responsible?

I've read two accounts of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. One account was written by a friend, Lawrence Bobo. The other account was provided by the attorney for Henry Louis Gates, Jr. They are, in my opinion, very different accounts. The attorney's account would leave one to believe that the policeman had no cause to make an arrest. But, the account by Lawrence Bobo convinced me that Gates was responsible for his own arrest even though Bobo blames the policeman for a false arrest. Gates and a second black man broke into a house that he had just rented when he found that the door was damaged and the key would not open it. This activity was reported to the local police who responded as though it was a possible burglary.

I agree that race continues to be an issue in the US. Having a black man as president gives white America a new perspective that is not wasted on many, if any, whites and it gives blacks a new perspective of themselves and hope for continued improvements in race relations. However, I think Professor Gates is responsible for his arrest. Professor Gates could and should have reacted like an “unknown person” confronted by a policeman investigating the report of a possible crime. Instead, he chose to assume that the white policeman was disrespecting him because he was black. Then again, it may have been a “class” issue: the working class cop versus the “famous and successful Harvard professor”, according to Lawrence Bobo. I can’t be sure whether either the policeman or Professor Gates turned this into a “class” issue but Lawrence Bobo’s own words suggest to me that he has a “class” attitude. I didn’t recognize the name Henry Louis “Skip” Gates in spite of the fact, according to Lawrence Bobo, that Professor Gates is “one of the most readily recognized black men in America and the most broadly influential black scholar of this generation.” I looked at a photo of Professor Gates and he was not familiar to me. That doesn’t mean that Professor Gates is not highly recognized and most broadly influential. What it means to me is that at least Lawrence Bobo, if not Professor Gates, is wrong to assume that the policeman had to have recognized Professor Gates by sight and by name and was bent on punishing him for his race and/or his status.

Let me know what you think after you have read both views.

1 comment:

Dana said...

I found this whole situation very interesting, as my (white) neighbor across the street experienced almost exactly the same thing a couple of months back. He was recently moving back into the house, which was owned by his Dad, and ended up having to go in through a window.

Another newish neighbor on the street saw him, called the police, and he ended up being stopped and handcuffed, on the side of the road, a few minutes later. So there he was, on the side of the highway for everyone who went by to see, in handcuffs, for trying to get into his house. It was all cleared up, eventually. But not without a good deal of frustration, humiliation, etc.

I wonder if the cops in my town have something against white, bald guys with tattoos?