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In the Tennessean the other day, Gannett syndicated columnist DeWayne Wickham
denounced the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. by the Cambridge police. Gist of his story: A white cop "arrested Gates, I'm convinced, to put an uppity black man in his place." If only Wickham removed the word "black," he'd probably be right.
His take has been a common refrain among learned and liberal commentators over the past week. And it's a natural one. It's no secret that cops target blacks more than whites. And pretty much everyone knows somebody who's been pinched for the crime of Driving While Black. With this history in mind, instinct calls for the insti-formula of Racist White Cop Arrests Innocent Black Guy.
Except for one thing: This case had nothing to do with race. But it had everything to do with an entitled professor utterly divorced from the realities of America. Henry Gates was arrested for being a dick. Nothing more.
Before you begin to light me up in the comments section, let's look at this from the cop's perspective, shall we?
The only reason Sgt. James Crowley was at Gates' home is because he's the guy you call when there's trouble. (Or in this case, perceived trouble.) And since that's not such a great job, he deserves a little respect for doing it. But Gates didn't show him any. In fact, the good liberal violated one of the first tenets of lefty theology: Don't look down on a working man just trying to do his job.
Instead, Gates pulled out the Ol' Don't You Know Who I Am Routine, a leading tactic of the entitled class, be they athletes, politicians, or blowhard professors. It's a strategy that says, "You're beneath me, peon," the height of self-regard and condescension. And just to further inflame the situation, he tried to go over Crowley's head, making several attempts to call the Cambridge Police Chief. He even employed the 1972 insult "your mama." (Brother Gates, you may want to leave that ivory tower a little more often.)
Since then, liberal and learned commentators have come to his defense. Gates was in his own home, they argue. He wasn't really a danger to anyone. The cop should have merely taken the abuse. That's his job.
It's a nice argument in theory. But it also shows that the liberal and learned are just as divorced from America as Gates is. Anyone who works a service job knows what it's like to take abuse all day. But unlike the call center worker or the waitress, who just have to take it, cops do not. Which is why if you get too mouthy, there's a good chance disorderly conduct or resisting arrest will soon be part of your permanent record.
Pretty much every kid in America, be he black or white, understands this by age 15. Especially when it's so easy to avoid. We all know the Napoleon cop who's angry at the world and will jack you up for any reason. But they're the small minority. Most are just decent working people who wish to cause you no harm. If you haven't done anything terribly wrong, and you show 'em a little politeness and respect, they will be no enemy.
But Gates' arrogance precluded him seeing Crowley as an equal. He broke out the condescension and even played the race card, despite photos showing a black cop at the scene. And when you behave like this, you're going to get lit up, no matter what color you are. It may not be the law, but it's been a steadfast rule of America for decades.
That's why President Obama is right. This is a teachable moment. Only the lesson's meant for Henry Gates. The next time you encounter the cops, pal, try to at least fake like they're your equals.