Wednesday, July 22, 2009
Emily Bazelon and Farai Chideya spoke today on Bloggingheads about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, Jr. Returning from abroad, Gates found himself locked out of his Ware St. residence--so his driver and he--both African American--'broke in'. Some observer called the police--who came and arrested Gates. Bazelon and Chideya agree: Gates' arrest illustrates the persistence of racism even in Barack Obama's America--and indeed, the President himself has spoken out on Gate's arrest. Gates vows to redirect his scholarly work in response to the unjust arrest, and is demanding (and receiving) an apology from the Cambridge Police. [See Mark Kleiman, for additional convincing as to why the cop acted improperly.]
Gates has come to see the incident as a modern lesson in racism and the criminal justice system. The police department views it as an "regrettable and unfortunate" incident that "should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Prof. Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department." [WaPo]
Gates, who in 1997 was declared to be one of the 25 most influential people of the United States by Time Magazine, told the officers at the scene that "this is what happens to black men in America," the police report said. [AFP]
In 2003, something somewhat similar occurred to me, when I was falsely accused of assault. The police deemed my accuser's account unassailable, due to her gender--and arrested me without any discussion at all, as I bore the brute's genetic marker XY. A prominent social service agency immediately came to my accuser's defense. I spent hours in jail, I couldn't see my son for weeks; it was a difficult several months. (The trial eventually went to a jury; I was acquitted.)
For brevity's sake, assume that Skip Gates and I were both unjustly arrested, based on 'genetic markers' of guilt. Observers immediately jump to Gates' defense, the system hiccups, the police issue an apology--Gates is never charged with anything. A quite different result in my case: Edina's Finest never express embarrassment; society generally assumes female innocence--and male turpitude--in such disputes, sometimes going so far as to question the possibility of female wiliness.
Posted by Gavin Sullivan at 8:51 PM