The one in which Emily admits to making a mistake

Every now and then, I make a mistake.

When it comes to arguments with my husband, of course, I am always right.  However, sometimes when I branch out into the wider public, those not quite as willing to humor me, I actually can be wrong.

And I was last week.  I stand by most of my post on Sotomayor, Gates, and Benjamin.  I do believe that all three of them have learned and will continue to learn from their experiences as minorities in the United States.  However, I regret stating that Gates was racially profiled by the Cambridge police.

Here is my take on it, which is just my take and should not be read as expert opinion (as if there were ever any risk of that happening).  I think that Gates is a brilliant but probably egotistical academic (redundant, I know).  He is also a black man.  Confronted with a cop who probably just wanted to do his job, Gates reacted with that entire history.  Did he lose his cool with a cop who absolutely should have been investigating?  Yep.  Should the officer have asked him to step onto the porch?  Well, let’s put it this way.  If ever the cops come to my house to investigate a possible forced entry, I sure as hell hope they ask me to step outside and talk to them, because then I can get away from the violent maniac behind the door who has the meat cleaver poised above my head.

(What can I say?  I have an active imagination.)

Did Gates feel he was being racially profiled?  I have no doubt.  And he felt that way for damned good historical reasons.  Nonetheless, his ego as an academic and his righteous anger as a black man in a country with a distressing history of racism led him to overreact with a police officer who was responding to a call.

However, Gates ought not have been arrested.  He did nothing illegal, and anyone could have seen that the guy was not a threat to Officer Crowley.  Not a physical threat, anyway, although clearly arresting him was not exactly a boon to the good officer’s career.

Officer Crowley made a mistake.  Henry Louis Gates, Jr., made a mistake.  Most shockingly of all, Emily Rosenbaum made a mistake.

As I said in the original post, smart people learn from their lives as members of racial minorities.  If Gates is the academic I think he is, this experience will deepen his understanding of racial relations in this country.  Officer Crowley, if he is a good police officer, will also learn from the experience.  It is not an issue of right or wrong, as the last week has made so very clear.  There are a hell of a lot of crossed purposes whizzing around the U.S., and even well-intentioned people can explode against each other when race is involved.

This last week could be a teaching moment for all of us.  We could talk honestly about race instead of assuming there has to be a good guy and a bad guy in every situation involving a black man and a white cop.  It would be nice to think that our moment is here.

24 responses to “The one in which Emily admits to making a mistake

  1. I think a lot of people made some snap judgments about this situation, I know I did. It wasn’t until I heard the officer’s side of the story, and heard the conviction in his words that I thought maybe he was just acting in the name of safety. He most definitely overreacted, but in this situation, as it turns out, there are two sides to the story.

  2. Yep, sometimes people can misunderstand each other willfully.

  3. Nicely put, and classily done. We should all try this kind of reevaluation.

  4. I’m with evenshine – classy. Very classy.

  5. Exactly. I’m so glad that neither party has been boxed into a corner in the coverage of this story. The officer wasn’t forced to back down, no one has labeled Gates as a maniac — which would have been so typical of our media. For once we are just talking about it, and admitting that it is understandable how tempers may have flared. Accepting that history colors an individual’s response.

  6. Em – I am admiring you.

    I still think there are issues, quite likely on both sides, but I respectfully bow out of the conversation at this point.

  7. Most shockingly of all, Emily Rosenbaum made a mistake.

    This made me laugh. Sometimes you remind me of my husband.

  8. Emily, I’m sorry to disagree, but I think that unless you know Dr. Gates personally, you are assuming a lot to refer to him as “brilliant but probably egotistical academic (redundant, I know).”

    I still stand by my feelings that if it had been my father (an older white man) attempting to get into his house in that manner, I am not so certain the police would have been called, and the assumption most likely would have been made that he was locked out of his house, rather than that he was involved in nefarious activity.

    I cannot say, since I am not a person of color, that I understand Dr. Gate’s justified feelings of suspicion and pain in regards to how he personally, and how other Persons of Color, are treated by the police. Since I cannot understand, I do respect it, and am hesitant still to fault him at this time.


  9. I can safely call him brilliant, knowing his work very well. As to egotistical, well, if he’s not, then he’s the first-ever A-list academic who isn’t.

  10. Ah, self-awareness. You weren’t exactly wrong, you just let yourself be open to new information which broadened your perspective.

    (Being wrong with great frequency has lead me to some handy rationalizations.)

  11. I wish I had something more elegant to say, but truly, that whole situation was just a cluster-fuck. And as much as Gates may or may not have been an asshole, I still think Crowley was (unconsciously or not) behaving in a racist manner.

    Bear in mind that I’m not saying Crowley is a racist – but there is no defined line between being “A Racist” and “Not A Racist.” Someone who is a racist can behave in non-racist ways, and someone who is not a racist can behave in racist ways without realizing it simply because certain forms of racism are harder to see when you’re coming from a position of (in this case, white) privilege. (I’ve written “racist” so many times now that it’s starting to look weird.)

    I guess I figure it’s more incumbent on Crowley to be the more self-aware of the two because a) he’s the cop, b) he’s the one with the privilege (both white- and cop-privilege), and c) it’s likely that at some point Gates HAS been a victim of racial profiling, and was reacting in an understandable way. (Not that it makes him any less of an asshole, if he was being one.)

    So, um, yeah. Like I said. Pretty much a cluster-fuck all the way around.

  12. I stand by my contention that Crowley went “above and beyond the call of duty”. His justification was Gates’ disruptive behavior, and the tapes the CPD said would vindicate their position don’t support that.

    Given what the 911 tapes contained, Crowley also wrote an imaginative police report in at least two respects (the caller could not identify their race and didn’t even guess black, and no one said anything about backpacks). I still find Crowley suspect.

  13. Too funny! I stand behind my two big egos with different agendas equals a showdown theory, and when a cop is involved, you get cuffed no matter what color you are. Firsthand experience talking here 😉

  14. you’ve met your mistake quota for the year, and we expect you to be perfect until July 2010.

  15. I second the idea that racism is not always conscious. I think many people have racist tendacies that they are not even aware of.

  16. If a cop came to my house and acted the same way that officer did towards Gates I would have reacted the same way. I am not an academic. I do not believe I have a huge ego. I am also not a black man. But nearly every single interaction I have had with a cop was not a positive one (I have never been arrested but have had run ins for various reasons). I have been on the receiving end of poor treatment, lack of respect, abuse of power and the list goes on and on. Do I automatically react with attitude when an officer approaches? Yes. But it’s all based on past experience. Should I be arrested even when I did nothing wrong because I have the “audacity” to give back the disrespect and attitude I receive? I think not. I think in this situation, it’s not even all about race. That is a huge factor….but as I’ve said, I’m a white woman and have received equally poor treatment for no reason other than happening to cross paths with cops who have God complexes and think their badge and gun gives them the right to trample people’s civil rights and harass them. Like the time my ex-girlfriend and I were pulled over by Providence police for absolutely no reason and made to get out of the car with our hands on the hood while the cops made sneering remarks about our sexuality….all because my girlfriend had chosen to have a rainbow sticker on the back of her car? I kept asking what we had done wrong and was told to be quiet and it reached boiling point – they refused to give me their names or badge numbers and threatened to arrest me. Why? Because I actually stood up to them and knew my rights? So. It’s not so black and white. Excuse the pun.

  17. Defiantmuse, if you were in Gates’s situation and exchanged heated words with the cops, do you think you would have been arrested (assuming they were not aware of your sexual preferences)? I’m not being snotty; I’m honestly interested in your take on this. You mention that you’re a white woman (as am I), and I can’t help but wonder if you’d be less likely to be arrested in the same scenario, if the cop was unaware of your sexuality. (I specify the part about sexuality because it’s certainly the case that LGBT folks experience more discrimination than straight folks, as presented in your own example.)

    In other words, you would likely not have been pulled over (or at least not detained) if you had been assumed to be hetero. I’m thinking that Gates would not have been likely to be arrested if he were white. But that would (I think) make it MORE of a race issue, not less of one, just as you and your girlfried being detained makes that incident MORE of a sexuality issue, not less of one. (Because as a straight white woman, I’m pretty sure that if I got pulled over with a rainbow sticker on my car, and turned out to have a boyfriend or husband in the car, I would not be likely to be detained.) (Then again I live in LA, so maybe it’s different out here – I really don’t know.)

    Does all of that make sense? I feel like I’m not asking the question well, but part of that is because I’m still rolling it around in my head.

  18. um. no, I agree. I’m not saying that I don’t think race or sexuality or anything such as that factors in and in many cases is the main issue. I guess I was just also making the point that I think a lot of cops do not deal well with people challenging them or standing up for themselves. I’m actually surprised I’ve never been arrested because I tend to have issues/attitude with authority in general and am not very good at controlling my tone or temper. I think that, even though I’m white, if I crossed the line verbally with a cop who was not in the mood I could easily be arrested. I have had friends (white friends) arrested for simply being verbally defiant in various situations (protests, simply walking down the street and the cops harassed them for their “hippie” style or whatever, etc.)

    SO, I’m not saying that I don’t think that gates was arrested because he was black, I think he was. But I also think that white people are harassed and often end up in trouble too for simply standing up for themselves and not bowing down to abuse of power.

  19. DM,
    why is it i can imagine you mouthing off to the police? 🙂

  20. I am positive that if I were in the same position as Gates was a few weeks ago that I would not have been arrested. I’m not white, but I’ve been told I “pass” enough to manage through some of Boston’s whiter neighborhoods. But that’s not why I’m sure. My husband is a criminal defense attorney, and if he were there he would point out why the police had no legal justification to take me anywhere.

    Several years ago, I got into a confrontation with a cop right outside of my property who was detaining two young black men whom they thought had a gun. (They didn’t- I had seen them horsing around and saw it was obviously play, but someone else called it in.) After more than half an hour of watching them make these kids sit on the sidewalk while they searched, I was indignant and told the cops that they were wasting their time and were, in short, ridiculous. The cop in charge was irritated, but I wasn’t in any trouble. And I was definitely more of a jerk that night than even the police report makes it sound like Gates was.

  21. Gotcha, Defiantmuse. Actually, I totally agree with your point (which for some reason I was sort of missing before) about cops with egos not handling people who stand up for themselves well. It seems like a profession that would attract people with power complexes (in the worst case scenario) to begin with, and then all the recruits pretty much learn that they have to be The Boss in all situations.

    I’ve been fortunate enough to have good experiences with cops, in no small part (I’m sure) because I’ve had a lot of friends on various police forces, along with one family member (although the family member is kind of a jerk, honestly). So I’m always interested to hear other experiences because I recognize that I’m TOTALLY biased. 😉

  22. Em, point taken on the A-list academics with egos. *grin*

    I keep reading about this situation, and even though the original phone call did not actually contain the words” black man” as far as I can tell, that doesn’t mean the woman who called the police was not moved to make the call based on racial bias.

    The whole situation just doesn’t sit right with me. I feel sorry for Dr. Gates. Were I in his position I’d be very upset, and possibly vocal about it, as well.

  23. One of the things that seems to happen is that incidents give us an opportunity to explain our prejudices (which may well be born out of decades of facts and wise interpretation, but are nonetheless prejudices when applied to this specific event). We have a financial crisis and to the right it is proof that we should have never been lending to those unqualified minorities and to the left proof of banker greed.
    Big of you to keep thinking about this event. I find that is one of the hardest things for me – not settling on one conclusion and then closing the door on further thought.

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