Although race was what caught President Obama’s attention, the confrontation between a Black Harvard professor and a White Cambridge police officer is not about race at all.
It is about citizens’ rights. When you look past the argument over race, you can see that a homeowner’s rights were trampled on by the investigating and then arresting officer.
Last week, Henry Louis Gates, a prominent scholar of African American studies at Harvard University, returned home after spending one week in China. Discovering his front door was jammed, Gates had to break in and pried the door open.
Neighbors, who saw Gates entering his home without a key, called police. Cambridge, Massachusetts Police Sgt. James Crowley, who was dispatched to investigate, confronted Gates. Although Gates had established that he was in fact the owner, that it was his home and that he had lost his keys, Crowley arrested Gates anyway, charging that the homeowner turned suspect had been verbally abusive.
It’s hard to get anyone’s story straight in this battle because everyone is trying to use the Gates-Crowley incident for their own political benefit, including police, Obama, Democrats and Republicans.
Obama, who knows Gates, was moved when he read the story about Gate’s arrest. Here is a man who was arrested on his own property after having proven to police he was the homeowner because words had been exchanged. To President Obama, that sounded like an incident driven by race, because historically, only Black people who are, in principle, stopped in expensive cars are asked “Is this your car?”
Crowley and the Cambridge Police are indignant not because of race but because they are arrogant cops, typical of the arrogance that undermines the police profession.
Police believe that citizens do not have a right to challenge them, even once they have established the facts of their innocence. Individuals, police believe, have no right to yell at them, express anger at them and even call them names.
I disagree with that completely. Gates was on his property. In his home. Regardless of whether the police officer could not confirm it right away, once he did, the police officer was on a man’s property in a country where a man’s home is his castle and what you do in your home is almost completely your business.
Republican fanatics like Sean Hannity, Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, among the most racist bigots yelping on talk radio and cable TV, insist that Obama is a Muslim fanatic who is biased towards the terrorists and the proof is he is sticking up for a friend who is Black.
These are the same nut jobs who have mesmerized a significant portion of the American population, brainwashing them with fear mongering, lies, distortions and, yes, racism. Racism against Blacks and racism of sorts against Muslims and presidents who happen to have Muslim middle names.
These are the same fanatics who are trying to argue that Obama does not have a legitimate American birth certificate and therefore should not be president, a contention that is so outrageous and absurd is smacks of Nazism.
These are the same fanatics who shut their eyes when it was proven that their champion, the ineloquent and uneducated President George W. Bush had ducked active duty service during the Vietnam War to hide out in a reserve unit that he often failed to report for duty for because he was working on the campaigns of his politically connected father’s friends.
All of this garbage is heaped atop the Gates-Crowley debate and has turned it into a side-show that the neo-cons, extremist Republicans and racists in and out of public office hope will help undermine Obama’s social agenda of providing affordable and effective healthcare to all Americans, taxing the rich and forcing them to pay their share to society, and stirring this country away from unjustified foreign wars.
In fairness to Crowley, he avoided making it a political issue, declaring that while he supports Obama, he disagrees with the president.
But the police unions and other branches of the National Rifle Association, which would want to put automatic weapons in the hands of every American citizen, have turned this innocent argument about police conduct into one of racism and failed presidential leadership.
Obama is correct when he says the Cambridge Police “acted stupidly.” They did. Crowley should apologize to Gates, even though Gates should have used common sense and curbed his own emotions and accusations that race rather than individual rights was the point of contention.
Crowley should apologize because as a police officer who carries a weapon and is shouldered with the limits of individual authority, he must live to the higher standard of justice and he must adhere to responsibilities that everyday Americans must be assured are rights that are protected.
Whether you came as a police officer knocking on my door with the best of intentions, once it was clear that you were wrong, then you should have apologized and left immediately. And if the confrontation provoked anger from the citizens, the police should be professional enough to recognize that the circumstances sometimes justice a citizens outrage and anger as an expression of their free speech.
But the battle of citizen’s rights is not as provocative as one based on racism and race. And because of that, a White police officer who overstepped his bounds after the facts were established, has now been pushed in to a corner where instead of acknowledging wrongdoing and mistaken judgment, he will play the game of politics, race and the battle against a Black president.
The fact is, if Gates had been White, Crowley probably would have walked away once it became clear that the suspect was in his own home. And no one would care.
As for Obama, clearly, he jumped the gun and should have thought twice about elevating an incident to national frenzy. That is one of Obama’s big problems.
He loves to talk. Although having an eloquent president who can talk sure beats having a former president who has to make up stupid words and based his foreign policy decisions on a vice president hell-bent on starting a war rather than ending terrorism.
Ray Hanania is an award winning columnist author and Chicago radio talk show host. He can be reached at www.RadioChicagoland.com.