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« Hakuna Matata [by Jennifer Michael Hecht] | Main | Happy Birthday, Joe Lehman »

July 23, 2009


A parable for our times.

Not Archie Bunker. Rudy Giuliani.

i hesitate to comment on this but -- cops cannot tolerate the feeling that they are not in control of a situation and anyone who gives them that feeling is looking for trouble. it doesn't really matter what race you are and it certainly doesn't matter if you're a "distinguished professor." how could somebody who's an authority on any kind of real world experience be this out of touch with how to deal with the police? or is his ego simply too inflated to navigate that situation? it's just really exasperating to read about -- especially when it's blamed on racial profiling and other red herrings. Obviously Gates should stay safely on NPR and PBS and "the Vineyard." Otherwise, as was so eloquently stated by another professor who had a similar experience in the '60s, he might get "kicked and beaten about the buttocks."

I'm with Mitch on this one, though I understand that taking any stance other than the reflexive one is risky. A lot of the details of this story haven't been circulating, including that someone called the police when they noticed suspicious behavior. I sure wish Obama had stayed out of it.

Of course I don’t know the details of the Harvard case but this is what I do know:

I once saw a man, a white guy, brought into a police station. The story was that he was a driver for a cola truck (he had his uniform on) and his boss, mad at him for goofing off, reported the truck stolen. The cops were a little pushy with him and he pushed back. They got a little rougher and he freaked, screaming and thrashing. Meanwhile, other prisoners in their cells were making fun at him, or yelling at him to shut up. The last I saw of the driver four cops had him by the arms and legs, and took him to a room behind two big steel doors. They used his head to open the doors.

I once had a very angry cop point a gun at my head. They don’t like it when you escape. His face was red, he was trembling and his eyes were bugged out. I smiled at him nice, I was polite, and he did not shoot me.

Moral: when stopped by the cops be nice. Don’t feed into their fears and stereotypes.

Thank you for filing this report. It's the first I've read that captures some of the humor in the situation. In my humble view, Richard and Mitch are right, as is the official who says that you can talk yourself into a ticket or an arrest.

It certainly isn't against the law to shout at someone, especially in your own home, but yes, this kind of reaction towards a police officer will likely lead to arrest. I've seen it happen. Like Mitch, I wondered if Prof. Gates was just out of touch with this infuriating reality or simply thought he was exempt from it. I have no idea. I do know that it's utterly ludicrous to be arrested in your own home because you are non-violently angry, and I know that black men are treated shamelessly in cities from coast to coast. And I also know that when a police officer shows up, it's better to stay calm and say as little as possible.

je ne toucherais ca sauf avec un poteau de trois metres (dans le sens de la longueur).

We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor's home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

Everything everyone has said here makes sense. I think it's possible and indeed probable that both of these things are true: 1)Prof. Gates lost his temper and 2) the police officer overreacted in response. Once it was established that this was Gates' home, the officers should have just left. I agree with Pres. Obama - the officer acted stupidly. I think the argument can be made that Prof. Gates also acted stupidly, but there is no law against acting stupidly in your own home, which is why the charges were dropped. Nobody comes off looking good here.

Charles Blow in the NYTimes on the issue:

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I left it
on when I
left the house
for the pleasure
of coming back
ten hours later
to the greatness
of Teddy Wilson
"After You've Gone"
on the piano
in the corner
of the bedroom
as I enter
in the dark

from New and Selected Poems by David Lehman


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