Jul 21, 2009

"Racism" floats to the top of the Henry Louis Gates story [LINK]

My latest letter to the Globe:

The Globe's report on the arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr. for disorderly conduct, after Cambridge police responded to a call of a break-in at his home, does everything possible to suggest that racism was the underlying factor driving the incident.

It sets a provocative scene of "two black men on the porch of a stately home on a tree-lined Cambridge street." It then relates how Gates's outraged Harvard colleaugues assert that racism flourishes "even in a liberal enclave like Harvard Square." It relates perceived racism at the hands of police around Harvard, mentions one professor having been stopped on the street following a robbery, along with his assertion that "black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment."

Only three quarters of the way through the article is there a somewhat accurate description of what led to the police call: that two men were repeatedly trying to force their way through the front door. No, they weren't just standing on the porch being black.

Given Gates's strong reaction to the police entering his house under the misapprehension that he might have broken in, the Globe's reporters might as well have dispensed with the racial angle, instead suggesting that even in neighborhoods surrounding the Harvard campus, outraged self-importance is prevalent.

UPDATE: It made it, without any substantial changes. And correction: the arresting officer asserts in his report that he only entered the premises to follow Gates to the room where he kept his identification, understandable as a matter of safety.

UPDATE: While I have every reason to believe the incident was not racially motivated, and was mostly driven by the lack of cooperation Gates displayed to the police, this post by Patterico actually persuaded me that the cops were wrong to arrest Gates. In that, I believe my experience may mirror that of the arresting officer himself. I am so deeply offended at these ritualistic, spurious invocations of racism as to consider them fighting words, and I become overly willing to break out the handcuffs on the guy.

That said, and even agreeing with Patterico on this point, I'm ready to break out the handcuffs once again after witnessing President Obama address the matter in a press conference tonight, in an absolutely disgraceful performance, even after the perfunctory admission of ignorance on the matter, completely omitting anything Gates might have done to provoke his own arrest, and blathering on yet more about racism. Clearly, this is going to be the template: even though we have a black president, the fact that such a prominent African American intellectual can be arrested on his own porch means nothing has changed, and that it's open season on the black man! What utter mendacity.

Sure enough, Gates is certainly getting a lot of mileage out of the incident, as this Globe follow-up makes clear:

"I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong," Gates said in a phone interview from Martha's Vineyard. "If he apologizes sincerely, I am willing to forgive him. And if he admits his error, I am willing to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling.

"That's what I do for a living," he added.

Indeed, that's what he does. Thanks, by the way, for the generous offer! Could it be Gates's deep familiarity with "the history of racism in America" have in any way colored his perceptions of events others might have seen as mundane? Does the fact that he got busted simply serve as confirmation bias? Crap, he even may make a documentary based on the incident, because, after all, this is what he does for a living.

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