Friday, July 24, 2009

Racialist outrage and embarrassment in Cambridge!

What an outrage! What an embarrassment! A couple of nights ago [actually it was midday], Cambridge, Massachusetts policemen, responding to a call from a concerned neighbor, arrived at the house of Harvard Prof Henry Louis Gates, Jr., to find a couple of chaps pushing in at the front door.

What, in that policeman’s shoes, would you have done? I would have done exactly what the chap in question did: “Wot’s all this?” followed by a demand for some identification.

Here comes the outrage, and the embarrassment. 95 percent of it belongs to Harvard’s famous Professor of Afro-American studies, who responded to the request for identification with “Why, because I’m a black man in America?” and then, having produced the requested documents, embarked on making a loud scene with the police outside his house. Result: arrest for disorderly conduct, handcuffs, and a free ride in a police cruiser. The other 5 percent of the outrage and embarrassment, I hasten to add, belongs to the Reverend Al Shaprton (I always giggle a little at that conjunction: “reverend” and “Al Sharpton,” don’t you?) and other representatives of what Michael Meyers, in one of the best pieces about the incident, called “the race industry.” Gates should “skip the histrionics,” Meyers advised in his column in the New York Daily News.

Calling the cops when one sees suspicious activities underway is exactly what good neighbors do. It is what a woman who works nearby did – and all indications are she acted in good faith. When cops follow up on such a report by asking suspicious persons who’ve seemingly gained entry to a vacant house to present ID, they are doing their jobs.

Nevertheless, Gates and the race industry spokesmen who’ve rushed to his defense have leaped to the fast conclusion that this was an incident of racial profiling – and that one of America’s most famed black academics was a victim of police misconduct. Choice reaction by the Rev. Al Sharpton: “I’ve heard of driving while black, and I’ve heard of shopping while black. But I’ve never heard of living in a home while black.”

Give me a break. Mr. Meyers, alas, is unlikely to get a break in this case. Instead, we’re going to get a cartload of hypersensitive articles like this one from The Washington Post, which reports Professor Gates’s side of the story at great length but leaves the police version hanging in a limbo of racist implication.

Who knows how long this rancid little melodrama will run. If entities like The Washington Post and professional race baiters like Sharpton manage to gin up the race engine sufficiently, it may last quite a while. Apparently Gates has asked for a personal apology from the Cambridge police: I hope he does not get it.

Two points. The first cannot be properly investigated in the present climate of racial hypersensitivity, so I bequeath it to a future historian of American culture. You can scarcely find a mention of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. that does not assure you of his eminence and scholarly distinction. Don’t believe it. To call him second rate is a calumny upon respectable mediocrity. He is a desperately pedestrian scholar who, except for the accident of skin color, would be lucky to be teaching at the University of Southern North Dakota, Hoople. Instead he is the Yada-yada-yada Professor of racial grievance &c &c at Harvard. Some future anthropologist will set the record straight.

The second point concerns Gates’s favorite (really his only) intellectual gambit: playing the race card. His scholarship is concerned with nothing else, and he has just demonstrated that his academic interests are all of a piece with his amour propre. Gates claims to want to push beyond racialism, but his every move, personal as well as intellectual, depends upon and reinforces it. The philosopher Sidney Hook summed up some of the liabilities of this attitude:

as morally offensive as is the expression of racism wherever it is found, a false charge of racism is equally offensive, perhaps even more so, because the consequences of a false charge of racism enable an authentic racist to conceal his racism by exploiting the loose way the term is used to cover up his actions. The same is true of a false charge of sexism or anti-Semitism. This is the lesson we should all have learned from the days of Senator Joseph McCarthy. Because of his false and irresponsible charges of communism against liberals, socialists, and others among his critics, many communists and agents of communist influence sought to pass themselves off as Jeffersonian democrats or merely idealistic reformers. They would all complain they were victims of red-baiting to prevent criticism and exposure.

Wise words. It’s a pity that the director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University has yet to take them to heart.

UPDATE: So now the President of the United States, when not busy wrecking the US economy or bowing to tyrants, involves himself in police matters. Yes that’s right, folks, when asked about GatesGate, Obama said that the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” by arresting a chap who was loudly abusing them. Way to go, Pres!


Part of the police reaction:

Cambridge Police Department Commissioner Robert C. Haas said in a press conference late Thursday that his department was "deeply pained" by the president's comments yesterday. "We take our professional pride very deeply. ... And when I talked to the officers... you could see they were really stunned," Haas told reporters, adding that they took "those comments to heart" and "were very much deflated."

Haas said the department "deeply regrets the situation" but also stood behind Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested Gates for disorderly conduct. "I believe that Sgt. Crowley acted in a way that's consistent with his training and national standards," Haas said. "I don't believe in any way that his actions were racially motivated." "Based on what I have seen, he maintained a professional decorum through the entire situation and maintained himself in a professional manner," Haas added. Haas said a professional panel will be assembled to investigate and analyze the incident, and added that, "The whole story hasn't been told."

Sgt. Tom Fleming, director of the Lowell Police Academy, told ABC News today that Crowley has been teaching a class to cops on racial profiling at the academy for the last five years. "Jim Crowley is what we call a squared away guy. He's a really good role model for young cops and he was selected to teach this racial profiling class by the former police commissioner of Cambridge, Ron Watson, who is black," Fleming said.

Crowley and his union slammed the president today for his comments about the incident at Gates' house last week. Obama "was dead wrong to malign this police officer specifically and the department in general," Alan McDonald, the lawyer for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, told ABC News today.

Crowley also chimed in, saying that the president's characterization was "way off base. ... I acted appropriately," Crowley told WBZ Radio in Boston Thursday. "I support the president of the United States 110 percent," Crowley told WBZ. "I think he's way off base wading into a local issue without knowing all the facts, as he himself stated before he made that comment."

White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs said today that the president was not calling the Cambridge police officer stupid when he criticized his actions in the Gates incident. On whether the president regrets the use of his words, Gibbs said: "No. He was not calling the officer stupid. The situation got out of hand."


There is of course much, much more on this issue now that Obama has poked his ill-informed nose into it. I am not going to link to it all but see here and here for instance. Apparently neighbors who heard and saw the racket have confirmed that Gates was very abusive and obstructive and that the police acted only after great provocation. But now that the race card has been played any attempt at rationality in the matter is probably pointless.

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