The press, the media, the internet and the public got it all wrong.. So did the President. This bit of drama was not the result of prejudice against African Americans.  That may have aggravated the situation, but it was not the root cause.

       To explain, let me tell you of the time I was stropped  for speeding on a Pennsylvania highway. I was not certain that I had been going over the limit, but that is irrelevant.  When the officer approached, I did not argue. I politely handed over my licence and my ownership certificate. He and I discussed the situation quietly. In our conversation, I addressed him as Officer. When he handed me a ticket, I thanked him and promised to drive more carefully in the future.

       After the policeman left, my wife looked at me quizzically. She knew from long experience that I was aggressive by nature, so my docility in this situation amazed her. I carefully told that, in dealing with policemen, whether you felt that way or not, quiet respect was the best policy.

       I explained that most policemen come from middle class or lower middle class backgrounds. Once they graduate from the Police Academy, they find themselves, often for the first time, in positions of power.  Power corrupts. Whn dealing with the hoi polloi or anyone below them in social stature, they always let it be known who is in charge, sometimes abusively. When dealing with the upper social classes, the famous and the obviously educated, they take a more muted tone. But never get in their face. Never confront, Never antagonize.  Never arrogantly say, “Do you know who I am?”On their home ground, the police hold the levers of power,; you don’t.

       Professor Gates was obviously tired from his trip and irritated in finding his front door stuck when he returned home.  The police were justified in investigating a report that a burglar was seen entering the house, but none of us knows how they approached the Professor or what words were exchanged. Suffice it to say that, under the circumstances, the professor got agitated and imprudently confronted the police in a loud and aggressive manner. Even after the matter of his being the householder was cleared up, he apparently continued his verbal vituperation, probably convinced that police were treating him badly because he was black.  

       Understandable but unwise. Note that Gates was not arrested for Breaking and Entering. He was arrested for Disorderly Conduct., the fallback charge of policemen, when no other seems viable. Disorderly conduct is normally a charge for abusive conduct in public. Legally, it is a very dicey charge in one’s own home, unless you physically accost someone, in which case a more serious charge is available. Note that the Disorderly Conduct charge was dismissed once the Prosecutors were handed the case.

       Truthfully, Professor Gates was not arrested for Disorderly Conduct. Nor was he arrested for being an African American. He was arrested for talking back to a Police Officer, loudly and aggressively, for getting in the Officer’s face, for making the Officer lose face unless he reacted. So, the Officer reacted; he arrested Professor Gates, handcuffed him and escorted him to the station. That’ll learn ya! 

      A plain and simple fact of American life and one I have tried to teach my Japanese wife.

 

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