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.