I wasn’t going to write about this – I really wasn’t – but it happened in my back yard, so I gotta say something.
In case you haven’t been listening to certain easily excited newspeople lately, the Big Story is that Obama’s healthcare plan is looking like it might actually happen some white cop arrested some black Harvard professor in his own home for reasons the President referred to as “stupid.” Well, actually, he said “the police officers acted stupidly.” He wasn’t calling the cops stupid, because, really, he knows better, and if you think that’s what he said, you need to stop listening to that crap.
Look, I’m not going to recount the exact who’s, where’s, and what’s of the story, because everyone’s heard about this thing and everyone has an opinion on whose fault it is. No one has all the facts, except those who were there, but everyone’s leaping to judgment, and I am nothing if not a lemming when it comes to this sort of thing. So, here’s how I break it down in my own guilty, white, liberal head:
Professor Robert “Skip” Gates – 10% his fault.
I think we can all agree here that air travel’s a bitch, especially when you’ve flown all the way from China, as the good Professor had done (and boy were his arms tired.) And the key I use to unlock my apartment has never quite worked right, either – luckily, no one’s called the cops on me when I’ve gotten home late one night and made a lot of noise trying to get in, but the dog sure don’t like it. And no one likes being hassled by the fuzz, especially someone who’s made a career out of learning and teaching about the – shall we say – somewhat unpleasant history this country has with race relations, especially between white people with uniforms and black people in the wrong place at the wrong time. Also, it was his goddamn house and he showed ID.
But, dude, yelling at the cops is never a good idea. Even if they’re wrong.
Now, some of you will probably tell me that this is a very priviledged, white male thing to say, and that I don’t understand what it’s like and all that white liberal jib-jab. Before you say this, however, I would like you to watch the following video featuring Chris Rock. Just don’t watch it at work, as it contains, as my father would say, “Words.”:
Now then, obviously Gates didn’t get his ass kicked and obviously the world doesn’t always work like that, but, dude, DON’T YELL AT THE COPS. I don’t care if they’re in your home and you just spent 20 hours flying the friendly skies of Chairman Mao Airlines and you’re tired, and I don’t care if they’re white and you’re black and there’s a history of racial inequality in this country that continues, ironically and unfortunately, even in a day where we can elect a black man President, and I don’t care if the whole situation is unfair and frustrating…. DON’T YELL AT THE COPS! Even if you’re a white guy in a suit with a tiny little crucifix pendant and a Bible and really expensive shoes. DON’T YELL COPS!
Not so fast, Cambridge PD. You’re not getting off so easy.
Officer Crowley – 10% his fault.
Here’s the deal: I commend the Cambridge PD (a police department without any real record of racial discrimination, to my knowledge) for responding to a burglary call as fast as they did. And I understand the pressures of the job, and the unpleasantness of being in a situation where the guy in front of you probably lives there, but it’s still your job to make sure, and holy God he’s one of those Harvard types who thinks the law don’t apply to him and he probably never worked a day in his life, not like your father who scraped and fought in the factories so that you and your eleven brothers and sisters could afford nice shoes, and never got promoted because of affirmative action but you don’t hate the blacks, ‘cuz he taught you that wasn’t right, and now this goddamn Professor is yelling at you and calling you a racist and what are you supposed to do, guy?
Ok, I made most of that up. The point is, I get the whole town vs. gown dynamic, the class and race resentments, and the fact that, at the end of the day, Crowley was just a guy doing his job. Crowley used to teach an anti-racial profiling class, actually, up in Lowell – his African American boss thought Crowley was the best man for the job. Which makes this whole thing kind of sadly ironic.
Still, though, when an old man in a polo shirt with a cane is yelling at you from inside his own home, it might be a good idea to back away and call it a night. The guy ain’t going to hurt you. He walks with a cane. HE WALKS WITH A CANE. And the minute you realized that this was a world-renowned African-American scholar who knew more about racism in this country than just about anybody, you should have realized that arresting him would probably unleash a wee bit of a shit storm. Well played, sir.
However, the lion’s share of the blame still falls upon the one person no one’s talking about here; the one truly racist person in this whole story, the one person who actually did something completely inexplicable, ignorant, and wrong. Gates and Crowley both overreacted, but neither one actually did something bad. Nope, in this case, we gotta go with…:
The Crazy Neighbor Lady – 80% of the blame.
Wow. Wow. Why aren’t we talking about this lady? This lady who didn’t even recognize her own neighbor, who thought two black guys in nice clothes getting out of a nice car with nice luggage were a threat to the neighborhood? Who supposedly lives in a city – a notoriously LIBERAL city, at that – and yet has apparently never seen a Black person before? Wow.
If we don’t get health care because of this, we’re blaming you. I think it’s fair to say that we know where you live.
Now: let’s talk about the President, who said at his press conference that he thought the cops acted stupidly (admitting he didn’t have all the facts). Man, he had to have been kicking himself after saying that, knowing the political nonsense it would cause. He probably believed it – heck, I sorta believe it, a little (see above). The fact remains: the President weighed in on a national news story that happened to involve a friend of his, so he’s logically going to see it a certain way.
Should he have said that? Maybe not, for the same reason that Sgt. Crowley should have been more careful – it’s the sort of thing guaranteed to open up a can of worms. I give him credit for later saying that he misspoke, and that he wasn’t calling anyone stupid. Not that this mattered. I love how some (Rush Limbaugh, Monica Crowley, etc.) are now DEMANDING that the President APOLOGIZE to Crowley, as if inviting the man to the freaking White House for a beer wasn’t enough.
I dunno, man: if Teddy Roosevelt (to pick a President at random) told the nation that he thought the Pinkertons (or something) were acting “stupidly,” everyone would be like “Whoa! Even the President said you were dumb!” Nowadays, though, we feel completely comfortable demanding that the President bend over backwards to satiate our easily offended egos. You can disagree with him, but holy crap, he’s President – I would have LOVED the chance to “DEMAND” that the last guy APOLOGIZE to the thousands upon thousands of permanently wounded American troops who lost limbs so W could deal with his Daddy issues, but it ain’t my place to tell him what to say.
The point is…. there is no point. This is all dumb.