July 22, 2009

Common sense on the Gates arrest

James Taranto puts Henry Louis Gates' recent arrest (charges since dropped) into perspective:

So, is this what happens to black men in America? We’d say it’s what happens to men in America who are mistaken for burglars. It -- or something very similar -- happened to us.

It was a balmy afternoon in the mid-1990s, and we were a guest at a friend’s house in Alexandria, Va. Our friend was out of town, but he left us the key. Shortly after arriving, we went out to the backyard for a bit, then to our room for a rest. We heard some commotion outside and went downstairs to investigate.

It turned out to be Alexandria’s Finest, trying to get in the back door. Apparently a neighbor had seen us in the yard, mistaken us for a strange man, and summoned the police. As we recall, there were two cops. They were not friendly. We remember vividly that one of them had his gun drawn, albeit defensively (that is, it was still pointed into the holster).

We were shocked and offended by the intrusion, but we had the presence of mind not to give voice to those feelings. We explained the situation, showed our identification, and demonstrated that the key in our pocket unlocked the front door. Satisfied that we were not a trespasser or burglar, the policemen left. They did not apologize. The experience left us a bit rattled. But on reflection we realized that although perhaps the policemen’s manner could have used some improvement, they were merely doing their job. It wasn’t their fault the information on which they acted was bad.

Having been through a similar experience, we feel qualified to say that Gates handled the situation poorly. Becoming belligerent with a police officer is almost never a good idea. Not only can it get you arrested, but it can cause a merely uncomfortable situation to escalate into a deadly one. If Gates thought the officer behaved improperly, he should have held his peace, defused the situation, and later taken the matter up with local officials. In addition, if Gates did tell the officer he had “no idea who he was messing with,” he showed a distinct lack of grace.

Taranto goes on to note that the cops weren't totally in the right, either. Once Gates' identity was established, they should've taken off. (As I, too, said in the first update of my original post.) He says the situation "appears to have been a misunderstanding between two stubborn men, both of whom would be better off had one of them exercised some maturity and forbearance." Indeed. Which doesn't seem to satisfy those on the hard-left like a certain two commenters over at DE Libertarian. The usual [racial] canards are trotted out ("it wouldn't happen to a 'nice white guy' like you...") as well as the contradiction in feelings toward authority. That is, one commenter in particular (a frequent visitor to the local gaggle of moonbats) ripped the police as invasive Gestapo-ites because they dared to hang around after Professor Gates' had established his ID. Of course, on the other hand, if someone happens to drive a vehicle with a bumper sticker that states support for a vigorous application of the 10th Amendment, then you're deserving of federal surveillance!!

Taranto's anecdote reminds me of the time me and a buddy, as juniors in high school, were detained by a couple of cops for fitting the profile of a some teens who were terrorizing young kids on Halloween night. They detained us, in fact, right in front of my house. My mother was frantic. One of the cops (a woman, for what it's worth), was exceedingly nasty, seemingly already considering us guilty. My friend and I were cooperative and polite, as was my father who eventually came down to see what was going on. It all took about 20 minutes, and we were released. Was I upset? Not really. I knew I wasn't guilty, and I knew the cops were just doing their job. I was more upset at the embarrassment my folks had to endure by the neighbors seeing a cop car in front of our house with the lights flashing. But that was nobody's fault. Again, the cops were just doing their job. And y'know what? It's a job that is becoming less and less one that people will want, thanks to overblown incidents like the one involving Professor Gates.

UPDATE: Who is owed an apology?

UPDATE 2: Some common sense from the WaPo, remarkably.

Posted by Hube at July 22, 2009 11:38 AM | TrackBack

Comments  (We reserve the right to edit and/or delete any comments. If your comment is blocked or won't post, e-mail us and we'll post it for you.)

I don't know that they necessarily should have taken off right away once Gates' identity was established. It's quite likely police procedure to make sure that there's no one else in the house that shouldn't be there. (The old "person hiding in the kitchen while the legal resident makes the police go away" scenario we see so often on TV/movies.) Especially since in this case, weren't two men reported as breaking in and only Gates spoke with the cops? It's quite reasonable for the cops to wonder where the second person got to and want to make sure that he's not hiding somewhere.

(From the little I've read on this case, it seems that both sides handled this poorly, but I can understand why the cops acted much of the way they did.)

Posted by: Paul Smith at July 22, 2009 01:59 PM

Anyone know anything about the other person who was with him?

Posted by: Chris DeGreef at July 24, 2009 02:58 PM