Friday, July 24, 2009

The Natural Born Right to Act Like a Jackass

At first glance even, the arrest of Henry Louis "Skip" Gates Jr. looks odd. A professor in an upscale neighborhood led away screaming by suburban police does not happen every day. Professors do not normally kick up a ruckuss and police in the 21st century rarely seek trouble with an academic of Gates' standing. But there it is.

We posted the police report yesterday morning just for everyone's perusal. It's not like a famous local gets arrested every day. The Piedmont native, known best by his famous, or infamous depending upon who you ask, narrative Colored People has never shied from controversy. He certainly did not on the day of his arrest either.

Let's take the police report at face value. Police show up at Gates' home because he himself is trying to break into it. He locked himself out of his recently purchased home. Now you and I might have been grateful for the quick response to a perceived break in, we would have produced our driver's license, and thanked the officers for their punctual response.

Gates upbraided the officers for their questions, at first refused to produce identification, and shouted at them. According to the report he threatened them with his influence and called them racists. Eventually he produced a Harvard University identification, but continued making a loud scene. Gates never became physically violent, however. Eventually the police arrested him and took him down to the police station. Gates' mug shot became national news.

Unless the police report is horribly inaccurate, the police appeared to act with restraint. Gates basically, as we say here in the Mountain State, made an ass of himself. Some have speculated that he even tried to provoke an arrest for some reason. After Obama bashed the officer in question, residents rose in defense of the career officer. Apparently he even tried to save the life of Boston Celtics star Reggie Lewis by using mouth to mouth rescusitation.

Here is my problem with this situation. Yes, Gates acted irrationally by the accounts of the report and all witnesses. However, he never became violent. Gates is an elderly man with a slight frame. At the time he wore a polo shirt and expensive slacks. The crime with which he is charged is vague in the extreme, something akin to "disturbing the peace." I do believe that the officers acted with restraint, not "stupidly" as the Maximum Duce Obama claims (or claimed before he retracted it, then didn't retract it.) Of course now his press secretary wonders why a topic that Obama mentioned in his own press conference would be covered by the media.

However there is something that bothers me about a loud, but otherwise peaceful and physically non threatening man, being led away in handcuffs for acting like a jackass on his own property. Officers certainly had the obligation to find out that he owned the home whose door he broke down, but after that, why not just leave the old man to gnash his teeth by himself? Gates and any of the rest of us have the right in broad daylight to scream, holler, and cuss so long as we do not threaten or harm others. His dignity remains his personal problem. Acting like a fool is a natural right, especially on one's own land.

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