Rob Kall: The Big Stupid in Cambridge

Crossposted from

“Some Scientists claim that hydrogen, because it is so plentiful, is the basic building block of the universe. I dispute that. I say there is more stupidity than hydrogen, and that is the basic building block of the universe.
Frank Zappa

I don’t think the Gates arrest story is all about racism. I’m willing to believe that the Sgt. James Crowley is not a racist, that he’s a good man. after all, this is a man who, as USA Today reports, gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a dying black Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis “when the basketball player crumbled on a practice court with heart problems.”

I’m willing to believe that he was not motivated by racist reasons when he followed up on a call that two men were breaking into a house.

But he did something stupid, even malicious. Once he was in the home of Henry Louis Gates Jr. and had confirmed that Gates belonged there and was not engaging in any illegal behavior, he should have apologized and left the scene.

He should have understood, being an instructor who taught about racial profiling, that this encounter would be upsetting to a black man who studies racism, who knew that there had been a history of racial profiling incidents in Cambridge.

He should have accepted that the woman who made the call reporting a crime was in error and that, having done his job, a man, in his own home, had a right to be irate. Crowley had no right to arrest a man in his own home for calling him or his mother names.

But he took offense and decided he had the right to arrest a man for getting angry, for calling this special cop, this holier-than-anyone cop, names.

That was stupid. That was worse than stupid. it was emotional. It was abuse of police power. It is exactly the kind of thing that happens to blacks, to latinos, to teenagers all over America. A cop uses his power to arrest in a way that goes beyond the situation. He arrests someone for an attitude, for cross words, for a glare or dirty look.

That can be racism, or it can be simply the abuse of power. It is often both.

There is no doubt that Crowley had to go to Gates’ house and check things out.

But I think that Gates also over-reacted. When someone asks for my identification when I am cashing a check at a bank, I don’t take offense. I am not insulted that I am not trusted. I thank the teller for being cautious, protecting my security. Gates could have shown his ID and thanked Crowley and that would have been that. But he didn’t. Gates took offense too. Even if Crowley came to the house with a typical cop “attitude,” treating Gates with less than the respect Gates was accustomed to receiving as a noted Harvard professor, Gates did not need to get angry. But, as a historian of black history, as a man who knew personally and professionally the context in which he was being affronted, he had some right, in his own home, to show indignation and even to shout it. Though it was an understandable, even justifiable response, it doesn’t mean it was the best response.

They were both wrong, both over-reacted, took unnecessary offense. They both need to show some contrition.

As I write, Mika Brehzinski says, “Watching two men getting their back up,- it leads to things escalating…. there is a chance race played no role in this.”

Too much testosterone in both men? Too little forbearance? Two strong men butting heads? Perhaps all of the above.

But all this took place within the context of history — ironically, a history that both men knew well. It seems that both of them were unable to rise above their knowledge of the past, helplessly falling into patterns of behavior that are repeated in racially charged situations thousands of times in America.

I’d like to hope that the two of them can work things out.

Gates lost it, continuing to go after Crowley once the issue was resolved.

Crowley was totally out of line, arresting Gates for getting angry about having his home violated. He failed to suck it up and accept that his job as a cop sometimes put him in situations where he offended people and raised questions of guilt when the person was clearly innocent. A cop should understand when an honest man becomes irate when being challenged in his own house.

As Obama says, “Words were exchanged between both men. Cooler heads should have prevailed.”

Bottom line, they were both to blame. Stupid was all over the story, on both sides.- Even if race was not involved, history had a lesson here and both men didn’t take it. They forgot it. Gates could have decided to assume that this was not about racism, that it was a routine check by a cop. Crowley could have remembered that blacks have been abused since their emancipation and he was in a sensitive situation. We really don’t know whether racism was in Crowley’s heart. But Frank Zappa’s rule of the universe was certainly at play. Obama was right, but it also applies to Gates.

The final test will be how the two men move forward with their lives. Every element of adversity in a person’s life can become a gift that changes the person’s trajectory, attitude and way of engaging with the world. If some good comes from this ill-fated interaction, that will seal its fate in history as more than a splash in the news for a few days.

wrote something off the top of my head and it’s actually quite quotable.

Shocker: Cops Back Cambridge Cop

When asked about the arrest of Gates at his own house for disorderly conduct, the police attorney waffled, saying that disorderly person is a tough call.

Union leaders blame gates, say president shouldn’t have called it stupid, deny racism connection.

They’re saying Obama didn’t have all the facts. Hello!! Who has better access to facts than the president of the United States?

The police may have responded to the call properly, but the decision to arrest Gates was incredibly wrong. It is frightening to see such a collection of police leaders rising to defend such an incredibly stupid arrest.

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