Thursday, July 23, 2009

What if it had been you?

Almost everyone has heard of the incident in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was arrested after someone called the police to investigate his breaking into his home. If you don't know the details, read this editorial from The Charleston Gazette. But let's put this into perspective. What if YOU broke into your house?

I know we've all done it. The door's been hard to open, or we've forgotten our keys, and we need to break in. Heck, Mother did it so often that my brother and I had a drill. Climb the picnic table into the bathroom window, walk around and let the others in. No big deal.

So if it had been me, a blond, blue-eyed Caucasian woman, I would have broken into my house. Sure! IF someone had called the police, they would have come in, asked me what was going on, I would have told them. Maybe they would have asked for ID, which I would have produced. They would have apologized, and I would have thanked them for doing their job and watching out for us. Don't believe me? Read Buzzard Billy's account of what DID happen when she, another Caucasian, refused to let a police officer into her home in the middle of the night. True story.

This is not what happened to Dr. Gates. OK, steps 1-4 would have been the same. Right up till Dr. Gates produced his ID. See, he's a black man. Never mind that he's a respected, graying professor and looks every inch the part. He's still a black man. Instead of an apology, he was given an arrest and put in handcuffs. The police said he was "agitated." Would I have been agitated? Oh, haell yes! Especially after I had produced ID and was still being questioned. Agitated wouldn't have begun to cover it. Sounds to me like he was restrained by my standards, according to both the police and his own reports.

Wrong is wrong. And racism is not dead in this country. Heck, it's not even close to terminal.


Buzzardbilly said...

I think the most telling thing about the police officer's actions in Dr. Gates's case is: All charges were promptly dropped. Sure the officer himself is trying to give "his side of the story" and "why he won't apologize for his part in the incident," but what he did was clearly wrong and his department dropping all charges only proves that moreso.

It is a shameful and racist incident. In my incident, the officer never laid eyes on me, but I guess he could have assumed I was white as there were few non-whites living in the area where I lived.

Buzzardbilly said...

BTW, TMZ was where I first saw the story when it broke. Their article (which was more of a snippet and up before most people had a chance to react to the gravity of the situation) reduced the whole thing to the "your mama" comment and tried to turn it into a "your mama" joke. It left me slack-jawed.

Buzzardbilly said...

That TMZ story that boiled my blood is here.

Neurotic Atty said...

I agree with you in the general sense that I agree that racial profiling and racism are still problems in this country, and -- let's be honest -- always will be. Would that woman have called 911 if it had been 2 white men forcing the door? Doubtfully. BUT I have one very big problem with this whole story: By his own admission (at least in the article I read when the story first broke), Dr. Gates did not initially show his ID. He first refused to. And I get that he was (rightfully) mad and frustrated and insulted at the idea of having to defend his presence in his own house, BUT the police were called to investigate a potential burglary, and that's what they were doing. What if it had been someone else who forced that door open and the cops just took the intruder's word for it that it was his house? Then Dr. Gates would be upset that the police allowed his house to be burglarized! And you ask, "What if it had been you?" Well, if it had been me, they wouldn't have had to ask to me to produce my ID; I would've said, "Look, this is MY house, and I have every right to be here! Here's my driver's license to prove it!" But Dr. Gates apparently didn't do that. He reportedly argued with them about it first.

Also, the offense for which he was arrested (though the charges were subsequently dropped) was disorderly conduct; not burglary. I'm sorry, but I don't agree that his arrest for disorderly conduct was necessarily based on his race. Have you ever watched "Cops" or any other law enforcement-related reality show? Those shows are full of white folks who start arguing with the police and -- BAM! -- they get arrested for disorderly conduct or obstruction. Why? Because they're standing there yelling at the police. The police don't really like that, you know? In that first article I read, Dr. Gates admits that he followed the police out onto his porch and began arguing with them when they then refused to look at his ID (after he, reportedly, initially refused to show it). BAM! He was arrested, just like all those people on "Cops."

If you ask me, he was treated differently because he was a HARVARD PROFESSOR. If he had been Joe Redneck, would the charges have been dropped? And if he had been a young, black JANITOR, would you even be blogging about this? No, because it wouldn't have even made the news. Now, THERE'S your injustice. To draw the ire of Al Sharpton and society in general, you have to be a black SOMEBODY before anyone cares that you may have been the victim of racism or racial profiling.

*Stepping down from soap box.*

MountainLaurel said...

This is what I love about the blog! Why haven't I been doing it more lately? Oh,yeah,....

Bb, you're right. I was assuming that you were in a predominantly white area. sounds like the officer was as well. I would imagine that if it had been a predominantly black area the story might have been different, but that's pure speculation.

A "yo mama" joke. Apparently TMZ is now employing junior high kids. That's about the time that we quit the yo mama jokes.

And Neurotic Attorney, you're right that racism is certainly still there. I'm hearing conflicting stories: the biggest one that I hear is that he was arrested after he showed his ID. I'm not sure which is the truth. And I have to say that you're smarter than I. I would have told him that this was my house and not even thought to produce ID. That would cut it in my hometown, but not where I live now. As it is, I had to prove my residence last week, and I couldn't do it. I just moved to my honey's house, and had no documentation or anything. Let me tell you, that was fun.

I think the "disorderly conduct" charge stemmed from the fact that he was trying to get their ID and badge number. Who knows what he would have done with it, but I have a feeling that they were afraid that he would make a complaint.

And regarding Cops, I don't watch it much, but from what I've seen there are more minorities than whites on there. I'm not saying the show is racist. But as a reflection of a racist society, there would be a lot more incidents involving people of color than folks who look like us. Yes, I've seen plenty of "disorderly conduct" charges on there as well, and those don't tend to have any racial bias.

Anyway, I've gone a bit far afield. I did want to get to your last point, NA, which is the one that I think is the most salient. The reason that this is getting press is that it's Dr. Gates is the most prominent scholar in the country in his field. If it were anyone else, it would be getting nothing at all. And that's one of the problems with this society that we live in. If you're not somebody of note, then nobody's concerned about the injustices visited upon you.

SagaciousHillbilly said...

Wow, don't ya love it when they defend the racist with "well, he didn't act as subservient as he should have?!"

I've gotten away with so much stuff just because I ws white. I'd have sat in jails many nights if I'd been a black man back in my 20s and 30s.

It gets me sick to see people defending blatantly racist acts.
Dr. Gates is one of the top 5 or 10 scholars of the 20th Century. Those Cambridge cops should have known who they were dealing with.

Buzzardbilly said...


Not thread hijacking here but trying to keep the conversation going:

I thought every citizen had the right to make authorities, such as police officers, show their ID and badge number before proceeding with giving up personal information on yourself.

If I were an elder statemen of academia, as Dr. Gates surely is and surely has garnered some considerable wealth befitting his labors and status, I sure as heck would ask for names and ID numbers so that I could call it into the station to make sure that the officers were really officers who were really sent to his residence. Call me silly, but we used to always tell Evil Granny to do just that if anyone she wasn't expecting showed up.

As far as black leaders standing up in unison when black people are not treated equally, that kind of reaction en masse is the only thing that brings about change in how people who aren't well-known professors are treated as well. I only wish other stereotyped groups who are treated unfairly as a matter of course (and there are many) were half as organized and vocal when someone from their unequally treated segment of the population is treated unequally.

MountainLaurel said...

SH, I didn't see NA's comment as defending the racist action as making a comment on how it could have been avoided.

BB, you're not're enhancing the conversation! While we have the right to ask for the badge and ID of the officer, I've never seen an officer react well to it. They get defensive. That's why Dr. Gates was arrested, I think. A "we'll show him!" I've never asked for an officer ID even when I've thought I've been in the right. I've been scared to. I'll get that story up on the's a doozy.

And actually, I have seen the black community stand up whenever a racist act has happened. That they know about, that is. Remember how the black (national) community stepped up about the Megan Williams situation a few years back? The problem is that it is so difficult to hear about these racist events unless you really look for them.

Buzzardbilly said...

I just noticed your "Not Available in China" banner. How does one acquire one of those? Didja piss off the Chinese government or something? Maybe take a pic of yourself weeing on The Little Red Book?

MountainLaurel said...

China has some heavy-duty filtering going on. As a result, lots of blogs are filtered based on their domain name. Like all of Blogspot. If you click the link that says "not available in China," you can run your blog's URL through and see if your blog can be viewed in China.

Mountain Laurel

Shea Kang said...

Good vibes. Everyday, all day. God Bless :)