National Guard Mobilized, Joint Session of Congress Called, President Obama Declares National Emercency as the Henry Louis Gates Jr Crisis Spins Out of Control
At this point I think the Henry Louis Gates Jr. arrest has gotten about a trillion times as much media attention as it deserves. In fact I honestly can’t think of a situation where the media attention was so disproportionate to the topic at hand. And I’m not talking about racism, which is an important topic. I’m talking about a trivial altercation between a cop and a professor, and altercation where everyone involved from the President on down could have handled better.
So I’ll start with the president. He’s already back-tracked on his regrettable first reaction to the situation, calling the cops “stupid.” It’s nice to see Obama is human, everyone occasionally says off-the-cuff things that they regret the second the words have left their mouth. What really angered me though was this bit of Presidential wisdom about the professor’s encounter: “But I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; … ” First of all, some of us do not get angry when confronted by a policeman who is doing his job. I’ve been confronted by the police on numerous occaisions, some of them completely unjustified, and I have never felt particularly angry about it. Secondly, and more importantly, so fucking what? Because the professor was angry it justifies him acting like a jerk? I’m sorry, but “I was angry” isn’t a defence in any situation. Grown-ups are supposed to act mature in difficult situations, not have hissy fits. Granted sometimes people do act stupid when they are angry, but it’s not a defence. That the president has given credence to one of the most abused rationalizations for bad behaviour ever is at best pathetic.
Then we come to the two jokers who started this mess. Yes, two jokers. It seems very clear to me that if either the cop or the professor had acted in a calm, professional, and diplomatic manner … this incident would have been defused in no time and that would have been that. Instead, one confrontational jerk met another, and the whole situation snowballed out of control. And the reason I know both of them are confrontational jerks is simple, neither of them has given an inch afterwards. I’m sorry, but when one gets involved in a stupid situation like this, a grown-up is at least prepared to admit partial responsibility for the role they played in the mess. Instead we have a cop who refuses to apologize, and a professor who carried on like he was some victim of horrible injustice. No, he had a stupid confrontation with a cop and got arrested, it happens every day, racism had nothing to do with it.
I even took the trouble to ask a black friend what he thought. His thoughts echoed my own, he thought both parties involved acted badly. If either party had been more diplomatic and non-confrontational, the situation would have been dealt with in no time. He added that a lot of his black friends do indeed get hostile and confrontational when dealing with cops … and have a lot of problems as a result. He just found it hard to believe that someone as old and educated as the professor could do the same thing. I mean, if a black person acts like every cop they meet is the living embodiment of white oppression, they are going to have problems with the police. People are human, if you give them attitude, most of them will give it back.
In closing, at least the President is now doing what adults do in situations like this, he’s insisting the two parties shake hands and make up. Good, that’s how immature playground fights should be handled. If there’s any lesson to be learnt in this situation, it’s my favourite old adage: “It takes two fools to have a fight.”
(The above image is claimed as Fair Use under US copyright law. It’s not being used for profit, it’s a low-resolution version of the original image, it’s an historically important image, and its use here in no way interferes with the copyright holder’s commercial use of the image. Credit and copyright: Stanley Forman for The Boston Herald American. It’s titled “The Soiling of Old Glory” and is a 1977 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of an incident during a protest against court ordered busing. I chose it because it’s kind of an intense image, it shows a race riot, and to illustrate how un-American this sort of dispute really is. And in closing, if I angered anyone with this post, good. If I offended anyone, it was not intentional, and I apologize.)