So, I spent most of the week steering clear of the news, but broke down yesterday and read a newspaper at lunch. I'd been hearing chatter over the arrest of professor Henry Louis Gates in his own home, but yesterday was the first day I'd really stopped to absorb the details. I googled and read the police report to get the facts as clear as possible.
Conservatives have predictably come down on the side of the cop. Gates is calling the cop a "rogue officer" and blaming his arrest on racial profiling. But, having read the details of the case, it looks like Gates threw a temper tantrum over being asked for ID. He got himself arrested not because he was black, but because he was being a jerk. The officer plainly didn't mistake him for a suspect. He understood that Gates lived at the house, as indicated by his police report. He wasn't using racial profiling to single Gates out as a robber. He was teaching a jerk who was hurling insults at him why you shouldn't be nasty with a cop.
And, I fully, 100%, think the cop was completely wrong to arrest Gates. It's one thing to stand in the middle of a city street and curse a cop until you're blue in the face. It truly is disorderly conduct to make an ass of yourself in public. But, this confrontation didn't unfold on a city street. It unfolded in Gates' living room, and later on his own lawn. And, honestly, if you don't have a right to shout insults at a government official in your own living room, what exactly do you have the right to do? If at any point after it was established that Gates was the rightful occupant of the place, Gates told the cop to get out of his house, the cop should have left, no further questions asked. There was obviously no crime in progress. It seems like the 4th ammendment would be on Gates' side, as well as the first ammendment, which would seem to grant the freedom to shout out, "This is what happens to black men in America!" That's not a threat. It's a statement of a political opinion. If you're in the middle of a movie theatre shouting it out, I guess there's an argument that you're disturbing the peace. But if you're shouting it out in your own living room?
Conservatives are supposed to revere the constitution, but I haven't heard a single one jump to the defense of Gates based on the first or fourth ammendment. Instead, conservatives are revealing their most cherished value here, a love of authority, and a tendency to always side with the cop over the accused.
Now, with all this said, I have to admit that I think Gates was an idiot. According to the facts I can find, he and his driver did, in fact, break into his front door. I don't think it should have been a huge suprise to him when a cop showed up to investigate. In fact, I think a smart man would have said, "No problem officer, I live here, but I do appreciate you're dropping by so quickly to investigate. Good to know that you're watching out for me." If the cop was sceptical that Gates lived there, it seems like Gates could have proved it in half a minute even if he didn't have a photo ID on him. It's his own house--isn't there at least one picture of him hanging on a wall somewhere? So, Gates could have been smarter.
But, the cop certainly could have been smarter as well. In his own police report, he acknowledges that Gates produced an ID, and when he radioed in, he said that it appeared that Gates was the legal resident to the house. Gates may have been standing there hurling insults at him, calling him a racist, a redneck, and a son-of-a-bitch, but so what? He stuck around on Gates property long after he'd established that it was, in fact, Gates property. He knew that the break in he'd come to investigate hadn't happened. He should have said "And a good day to you too, Sir," to Gates insults, tipped his hat respectfully, and marched out. He couldn't seriously believe Gates was committing any actual crime. Certainly somewhere in the city, there were matters more deserving his time and attention?
Obama was stupid to say the cop acted stupidly. The cop was stupid to arrest a man who hadn't committed any actual crime. Gates was stupid to throw a temper tantrum at a cop who had a legitimate reason to stop by.
One last thought: I hope that Gates has installed some really, really good locks on his house. Because I imagine that if his house is ever actually burglarized now, it's going to be a very, very long time before the police actually get there.