Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Up Against The Wall, Esteemed Professor Gates.

As the saying goes, I have black friends (I do). I work with many African American youth from around Greater Hartford. I have a twenty year history of taking care of kids of color at summer camp. For a white guy, I’d say I am pretty well versed in the politics of race in this country.

That, however, doesn’t make me black.In fact, the more I know, the more I realize how much I don’t know. The color of my skin has automatically ensured that I have an entirely different experience than someone born an African American.

All that being said, I’m left with lots of questions regarding the recent arrest of prominent black-studies scholar and Harvard Professor Henry Gates in front of his Cambridge, MA home earlier this week.

As with all conflicts there are some divergent stories about what transpired that day.

  • To the neighbor who called police, there were “two black men” forcing a door open.

  • From the Boston Globe: “The police report said Gates was arrested after he yelled at the investigating officer repeatedly inside the residence then followed the officer outside, where Gates continued to upbraid him. "It was at that time that I informed Professor Gates that he was under arrest,'' the officer wrote in the report.”
  • For Professor Gates, he told the investigating officer that he was sure he was being targeted because he was a “black man in America.”


Would a call have been made to the police at all, had it been two white men forcing their way into a Cambridge house? Might the neighbor have wandered over to lend a hand?

Would police have reacted differently had they found a middle aged white man standing there? Would there have been an arrest? Would there have been any provocative behavior on their part?

Would a white man have reacted to police arriving at his door in a different way? Would he have hesitated to identify himself or follow instructions?

And, perhaps most interesting to me, how might we, black and white, have reacted differently had a white man been arrested that afternoon? Would black pundits be decrying police abuse of power? Would whites be dismissing the affair as being blown out of proportion?

I will not add to the rancor here and take a side, as it were, in this particular incident. I will say, with utmost confidence, though that the event proves one thing clearly. We are still a nation struggling with issues of race. Who ever is right or wrong in this case doesn’t matter. That there is a case at all shows we have work to do.


Joanna said...

Very well-written, Pat, and unfortunately, very true. I can't imagine how Professor Gates must feel now when he attempts to enter his home since the incident.

I attended the Forum on Cruelty, Violence and Morality in '99 and if I remember correctly, race issues were raised. Here we are, 10 years later. It's as if that Forum never ended.

Ophelia Tittsenbottom said...

Cult-like Gang Gaining Power in Boston Suburbs
Wednesday July 22, 2009
By Earl Stimp
Cambridge, MA—Police have uncovered a vast network of intimidation, dealing and violence throughout Boston’s suburbs. According to police this new menace rearing its head is a gang that members have dubbed “The Classics.”
Made up primarily of African Americans, surprisingly the average age of gang members appears to be “in the 60’s,” according to Cambridge Police Sgt. Halloran. “We’ve never seen anything like it. Its all old black guys.”
Sgt. Halloran went on to say that the gang is unique in a number of other ways. “The gang members appear to be doctors and other professionals. We arrested one guy who was a OB GYN and we started calling him Cliff Huxtable,” referring to the 80’s sitcom The Cosby Show where the lead character was a Black doctor.
According to police, the gang has virtually taken over the underground first-edition classic literature market in Boston as well as importing vast amounts of illegal herbal teas.
In certain neighborhoods, they are seen openly flaunting their presence by riding around streets on old-fashioned bicycles with the giant front wheel and wearing their “colors,” academic robes and hoods indicating which graduate school they attended.
Police shared a written constitution of the gang with its by-laws they discovered in a recent raid. Initiation into the gang requires “drinking a jigger of sherry and getting nabbed by the constables.” These bone-chilling instructions indicate the police may have a difficulty dealing with this new threat.

The Boston Pennysaver 2009

Bratney said...

Earl is right. I saw one of these guys and he scared the poop out of me. Cambridge has become a war zone.

Inspector Clouseau said...

We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor's home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.