Our old friend Molly Arden e-mails us to ask "whether anyone knows the real skinny on the Henry Louis Gates affair -- or HarvardGate as some have dubbed it." Asked to summarize what she knew of this breaking news story, Arden writes:
Harvard professor Henry Louis ("Skip") Gates, Jr., the acclaimed scholar who heads the university's ambitious African American studies program and is among the nation's leading black literary intellectuals, was apprehended by police last Thursday in his Cambridge house. Apparently Gates, accompanied by a friend, was returning from a trip abroad and encountering difficulty opening his front door. Maybe he forgot his house keys? A nosey parker saw two black men with backpacks forcing their way into the Gates residence and called the cops. When the cops came, a shouting match ensued, and Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct and handcuffed. According to Gates, he produced his ID as requested, proving that the place belonged to him, and was mis-treated by a rogue cop. According to the police report, Gates was uncooperative, behaved abusively, and repeatedly accused arresting office Sergeant James Crowley, 42, of racial prejudice. Crowley maintains that he put Gates under arrest only after he persisted in his "tumultuous" behavior and ignored police warnings to calm down. According to a satirical piece in the Gladfly, a local humor publication, Gates brilliantly staged the whole episode as a dramatic way "to demonstrate the inherent racial bias marking police conduct in the red republic of Cambridge." The piece alleges that a passage in Gates's book Signifying Monkey describes a similar incident. (Diligent research yields no such passage.) According to one blogger, the story tells us what we already knew: that if the police come to your door, it is wise to be as nice and polite as the circumstances allow. According to a Harvard friend, everything depends on your view of Gates: is he a "pompous overpraised egomaniac" or a "major scholar, distinguished professor, prize-winning author, and academic superstar"? President Obama, acknowledging that Gates is a personal friend, said the police acted "stupidly" to arrest a man for lawfully being in his own home. But he wishes cooler heads had prevailed on both sides. A police academy administrator points out that "you can talk your way into a ticket, or into jail" by antagonizing the police on the scene. The disorderly charges against Gates have been dropped. But the blame game has just begun, and if you worked for PBS, would you assemble a panel consisting of a black law enforcement officer, Al Sharpton, and Archie Bunker?
Further details and opinions, anyone?