Yes, this is yet another commentary on the arrest of Henry Luis Gates, Jr. Though it is obvious that the powersthatbe are interested in dismantling the media whiplash caused by the whole affair, I cannot get the image of Mr. Gates’ arrest out of my mind. I am appalled and angry for him. Of course, he did agree that he might’ve overreacted in anger by the police officer’s ‘investigation’ into a burglary call at the address. I can see that. I also can see that the arresting officer may have a brilliant and marvelous track record of good civil service to the community. However, these two still met on that fateful night and the officer still made the offending arrest. And that is not sitting in my craw too comfortably.
Here is the reason I am so disturbed by this situation. Mr. Gates should have been pissed off. He should have been angry. He should have been yelling from the rooftops. And the officer should have respectfully allowed him to do so. Mr. Gates was “breaking into” his own home. Once the officer was aware that the “offending party” was entering his own home, he should have left it at that. No need for any foolishness, no need to even stick around for the angry barrage of slander from Mr. Gates was necessary. All that was required of the officer was to ensure that their was no crime being committed – and that is all that was required. For whatever reason, Mr. Gates was incredibly angry about the incident, but was not charged with assault to any officer, in fact he was taken in for the faulty charge of disorderly conduct, in his own home. In effect, the police officers chose to teach a lesson to Mr. Gates (and all other successful black men) by making him endure the process of arrest.
When the arrest became public, there was a whole lotta explaining to do and the charges were dropped. However, the message to Mr. Gates and to the greater African American community that will endure is that even becoming a successful participant in the American Dream, even inculcating and engaging in that dream at the highest echelons of society do not protect one from harassment. The make-up beer and lovefest between Mr. Gates and the arresting officer, mediated by the president, cannot erase the harm this incident has caused. For the less-than-convivial police officers out there, untrained in the graces of appropriate ‘race-relations,’ are sure to discern that the incident establishes provisos to continue to engage in racially motivated arrests. And lets face it, were Mr. Gates white, the police would not have been called, the police would not have insulted Mr. Gates, in turn the police would not have been insulted by Mr. Gates, and therefore no arrest would have occurred. The statistical numbers of African Americans arrested in comparison to all other members of the any given community stands as evidence brought forth by police precincts’ own accounting.
One can only imagine the kind of haranguing and threats and even violence Mr. Gates has already had to endure in order to secure the homestead where he currently resides. This is not a cheap piece of real estate. And I have to wonder what the neighbor, who might have previously discerned that Mr. Gates was black, was thinking when she called the police on that fateful night, “reporting that two black men with backpacks were entering the home.” What has Mr. Gates already endured in his neighborhood and community? These events do not take place in a vacuum, where no other incidents or prior experiences inform the actions of all the parties present. Why on earth did the arresting officer consider it beneficial to himself, the neighborhood, or the community at large to arrest Mr. Gates? In order to give some benefit of doubt, I’d suggest that officer had no clue that he was arresting an eminent scholar with renowned success and worldly contacts; otherwise the whole affair is even more shocking to my sensibility. Pondering some of these questions, does it seem so damn shocking that Mr. Gates was pissed off when questioned by the officer and the questioning continued even after proper identification (including said address) was provided?
And here is where my own personal history comes into play, why I can’t just let this go. I am not visibly African-American. I have not had to endure racial tensions which prevented me from accessing opportunities. But I am descendant from an African-American grandmother who hid the truth of herself to the world in order that I might not live as she had to. Even after the civil rights movement, she was never able to tell her story because my other family members prevented her from doing so by some very horrible methods. Mr. Gates’ professional work has been about uncovering those secrets and revealing the inter-relatedness of all humans (check out his documentaries on PBS sometime, they are pretty amazing). So if he was mad enough that night to scream from the rooftops about what was happening to him, shouldn’t we be angry too?
Despite the politically savvy and timely “laugh over a beer” at the White House, I think we should all be appalled that this happened in the first place. For the less-connected men in the world, for the disenfranchised, we should figure out an enduring methodology for addressing the whys and hows of the situation in it’s entirety. Mr. Gates legacy is worth more than it has garnered, Mr. Obama’s presidency is worth more than the “stupidly” public relations handling of the incident, and all of the people who turned out in record numbers to “Vote for Change” deserve a better solution than what has transpired thus far.