Henry Louis Gates arrested, released
I’ve seen a lot of tweets the last couple days about the arrest of Henry Louis Gates (or “Skip” Gates). Lots of my friends have expressed outrage and derided the police offices who investigated the break-in report and eventually arrested Gates.
I’ve not been so quick to do so. Yesterday I read the official police report, which has since been pulled from the link I had (if I find it again I’ll link it here). I’ve also read the Washington Post interview with Gates after the arrest.
Now, a bit of background about where I’m coming from. Three years ago my house was broken into. I came home to find the door wide open and a window that had been taken apart. I called the local police who told me to wait outside, and an officer arrived moments later. He proceeded to enter the house to make sure the perpetrator wasn’t still inside. This was his job, and I felt nervous for him… someone could be in there with a weapon. I’ve long empathized with law enforcements officers. Every day they’re at risk, and I don’t know how I’d deal with the fear that even a routine traffic stop could end in disaster.
Not long before that I was home sick and locked myself out of the house when retrieving something from my car. I had to climb in through a small window that was open on the front of the house, and I was nervous that somebody would see me and think I was breaking in. Part of me wished someone had. It would’ve made me feel greatly at ease to know that my neighbors or passersby on the street were looking out for me. Instead, nobody saw, or cared enough to follow up on it. Just the same as when my house was actually broken into a few months later.
So as I read the story about Gates, I found absolutely no fault with the neighbor who reported to the police that two men appeared to be forcing their way into Gates’ home. Then when I read about the police officers who arrived and went to investigate the house, I completely understand them being on edge. They have to be prepared for the worst, that’s their job and how they stay alive.
The police report says that Gates initially refused to provide identification, and accused the police officer of being a racist for investigating the report. On this count I absolutely 100% disagree with Gates. The police officer was doing his job. In the WP interview, Gates says:
“I was thinking, this is ridiculous, but I’m going to show him my ID, and this guy is going to get out of my house,” Gates said. “This guy had this whole narrative in his head. Black guy breaking and entering.”
So Gates basically says that he assumes any police officer doing his job is a racist. He then says:
“I said ‘Who are you? I want your name and badge number.’ I got angry.”
But why? Again, the officer was doing his job and was trying to leave, and Gates gets angry? Why? I would have been thankful. They investigated an earnest report, found that nothing was wrong, and were ready to leave. But instead he got angry. Angry about what? About them investigating a reported break-in?
I just don’t get it. Up until this point I believe the police acted appropriately, and that Gates had no reason to get angry. The officer left the house and Gates followed him outside yelling at him.
At this point, the group of police officers he was antagonizing decided to arrest him for disorderly conduct. I’ll agree that this was probably unnecessary, and the fact that the charges have been dropped supports that. But I believe police officers often arrest and detain people for antagonizing them or a crowd. Anyone who is doing that is probably trying to get arrested.
However, I’m still at a loss for where race factored in on the side of the police. Does Gates think that if a black police officer had arrived, he wouldn’t have approached the house and asked for identification? Does he think that if he’d been white the police officer would have just told the neighbor to go about her business and not investigate the report?
It seems to me that the only place in this story where race factors in is in Gates’ rather bigoted assumption (which he explained in his remarks above) that the white police officer must be a racist, and that an appropriate thing to do would be to try and provoke him.
Maybe if some eyewitness accounts come out that dispute the police report, or if someone can find some shred of evidence that this officer has any history of racial bias, then I’ll start to understand the outrage. At this point, I feel like I must be missing something… or are we really that insecure about race issues these days?
What do you think? Is there some part of the story I’m missing?