A Park Police officer once flagged me down when I rode my bike through a crosswalk, shaking up some tourists. “You can hurt someone just as much with a bike as you could with a car,” he said. “You’re right, sir,” I replied. “I was wrong and I won’t do that again.” And I haven’t.
When dealing with the police, everyone knows it’s best to agree with whatever an officer says. To be polite and contrite, even if you think the officer is wrong. Well, everyone except Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates.
Gates was arrested outside his home in Cambridge, Mass. last week. Officers were called to the house by a neighbor who saw two men (they happened to be black) pushing against the door. The first officer on the scene (who happened to be white) checked Gates’s ID and asked him to step outside. Gates refused and demanded the officer’s badge number.
Sgt. James Crowley says he identified himself, Gates says he didn’t. The professor then followed the officer outside yelling, “Is this how you treat a black man in America?” Today Gates says he wasn’t belligerent toward the officer. “I weigh 150 pounds and I’m 5-7,” he told The Washington Post. “I’m going to give flak to a big white guy with a gun?” But the police report and photographs from the scene suggest otherwise.
All charges have since been dropped, but Gates isn’t going to drop it. “I want to be a figure for prison reform,” he told the Post. His friends plan to flog the supposed police racism for all it’s worth, too. “Ain’t nothing post-racial about the United States of America,” wrote fellow Harvard prof Lawrence Bobo in the Post on July 22.
Bobo goes on to draw exactly the wrong lesson, lauding Gates for refusing to go along with the police. “I think my friend could have been physically injured by this police officer (if not worse) had he, in fact, stepped out of his home before showing his ID.”
It’s difficult to believe that a Harvard professor would suggest that an American police officer would order a man into the front yard so he could beat or shoot the man. But that’s the gist of Bobo’s argument. Look: If the officer wanted to beat Gates up, he’d keep him in the house. The front yard, surrounded by witnesses and other officers, is the safest place to be if Gates is worried about being beaten.
There’s a reason the officer wanted Gates to come out of the house, and it’s not so he could pistol whip him (if not worse). It’s so the police could check the house and make sure there wasn’t anyone else -- an intruder -- there.