Friday, July 24, 2009

HL Gates, Some Other Thoughts

Anyone want to talk about Henry Louis Gates? It's eerie how SILENT the media has been on the whole thing, isn't it? Here's my take: from witness accounts and police reports, I think we can all agree that Skip Gates was acting like an asshole. He did handle the situation poorly. He was obstreperous, rude, entitled, an asshole. But it is not, as Atrios would say, illegal to act like an asshole in your own house [can't find link....] .

Personally, I try to avoid acting like an asshole. I am often acted like an asshole TO. Most of us are. We get yelled at, berated, condescended to. And usually, we're grown ups about it. We accept that assholery happens and move on. I do software support, which is a career that really lends itself to asshole behavior. But no matter how much of an asshole my customer is being, I don't think I have the right to tell them that the only fix is to erase their hard drive (and, y'all, I have customers doofy enough to believe that).

Once this cop assessed that it was the homeowner who was acting like an asshole, he should have walked away. Instead, he chose to haul Gates away in handcuffs largely to show Gates that he could. Stupid.


That said, an anecdote: When I was about 19 I went out with a girlfriend to the local liquor store and bought a case of beer. On our way out, we walked past a young black man who was fiddling with something. As we walked past, he looked up and said "Can you help me? I'm going to my girl's house and I can't get this necklace on that she bought me. She's gonna kill me if I'm not wearing it." So, my girlfriend and I stopped and I did the clasp on the necklace for him and we carried on.

Seconds later a cop yelled in our direction "Hey, Tyrone!" When no one responded, he repeated, "Hey, Tyrone!" The necklace guy turned around and said "My name's not Tyrone." My girlfriend and I tucked our heads down and kept walking because we were carrying some seriously illegal beer. Also, we were chickenshit. As we walked away, the necklace guy was up against the cop car getting cuffed.

It's entirely possible that necklace guy was getting arrested for entirely good reasons. It's just as possible, though, that he wasn't. The cop started yelling for him after our exchange. He'd been there the whole time. I think there's a whole history of black men and police that cannot be discounted. Sometimes we act like assholes for cause.