Responding to a post I read over at Hulabaloo, who I usually find spot on with things, I can't help but be disappointed in how his original post and the resulting comments take the smallest grain of what happened in Cambridge with the Henry Gates arrest and then apply it to a whole host of racial and police grievances. We have to look specifically at what happened here to see if the police either abused their authority or elements of racism entered the proceedings. The biggest solution to racism is stepping away from assumptions, stereotypes and subjective anecdotes. The post and comments seem to reply heavily on these for support.
From what's been reported the police followed proper procedure to respond to a reported break in at a private residence. Gates front door was stuck and he and his driver were literally forcing his front door open when police arrived. I think it's reasonable for a passerby to see that as needing a police response.
Secondly, I think it's reasonable for the police when they arrived to ask Gates to identify himself, explain why he was forcing the door open and prove he owned the property and had legal right to be there. They don't and can't know any more than what they witness. Forcing his way in could have been for any number of reasons and the police have no idea who he is, why he's there or his intent. They need to know for their own assurance exactly what the circumstances are so that they can leave the scene secure both for the safety of those involved and potential allegations of negligence after the fact. At this point it seems that Gates was already becoming agitated in having to actually explain himself and his actions to the police.
But it wasn't until the police were leaving when things truly got out of hand. The police were wrapping up, leaving the property and Gates was even further agitated and belligerent toward the officer screaming things about how he wouldn't be treated that way if he weren't a black man. More on that later. But the police perceived it as an aggressive and threatening move and so they cuffed him and charge him with disorderly conduct. Again this seems like appropriate procedure.
Gates is absolutely right he wouldn't be treated like that if he weren't black. I think if he were white he would have had less racial chip on his shoulder, he would have quickly complied with some humility for the perception of what was happening and the police would have been on their way. I think it would have been very different if the responding officer were black as well. Gates would have no racial bargaining chip to not comply with their requests. I've seen no evidence that if the tables were turned, if Gates were white, the police would (or should) have acted differently. It was Gates' reaction and seriously subordinate behavior that led to his arrest. When the call came in the police were obligated to respond. Gates in turn should have felt as obligated to quickly and clearly resolve the matter.
The Gates matter is not a racial issue. It's an issue of privilege. I think the true nature of Gates' behavior stems from thinking himself above the law, a nationally prominent ivy-league professor, wealthy, living in a posh neighborhood - someone who knows the President of the United States personally. His behavior stems from the mindset of "how dare he" about a more common person questioning his actions. It's how anyone in a position of power, who thinks them better than someone else based on status, wealth, class or actually race might act. It was only convenient that Gates was black and the officer white that Gates had the opportunity to blame the situation on racism.
There are obviously times when police and other authority figures abuse their power. There are obvious and regular examples of mistreatment by police because of racial elements. This however, does not seem to be the case and it frustrates and sickens me as more and more people pose him as some hero crusading against white authority. I truly respect Gates, having watched his PBS television show, but this is an ugly example of using perceived bias to one's own advantage.