The most revealing thing about the arrest of Harvard "Black Studies Professor" Henry Louis Gates was the way his personal buddy, Barack Obama, cast aside the traditional reserve of a president asked to comment on a local law enforcement matter before all the facts were known. In doing so, Barack Obama last week showed himself not at all "post-racial," but rather a quite traditional race hustler, jumping to the conclusion that everything could be explained by racial oppression.
As Thomas Sowell pointed out in the Review-Journal's Opinion pages Wedneday, "Those of us who want to see racism on its way out need to realize that others benefit greatly from crying racism. They benefit politically, financially and socially. Barack Obama has been allied with such people for decades. ... The racial profiling issue is a great vote-getter. ... Academics who run black studies departments, as Henry Louis Gates does, likewise have a vested interest in racial paranoia.
"For 'community organizers' as well, racial resentments are a stock in trade," Mr. Sowell continues. "President Obama’s background as a community organizer has received far too little attention. ... What does a community organizer do? What he does not do is organize a community. What he organizes are the resentments and paranoia within a community, directing those feelings against other communities, from whom either benefits or revenge are to be gotten, using whatever rhetoric or tactics will accomplish that purpose. To think that someone who has spent years promoting grievance and polarization was going to bring us all together as president is a triumph of wishful thinking over reality."
But meantime, there is a second issue here. The majority of letter-writers on this topic have taken the position that Henry Gates got what he deserved, because he was "lipping off" to a police officer, committing the crime which many knowingly refer to as "Contempt of Cop."
But here's the thing: There is no such crime. What happens in our current and burgeoning American police state, all too often, is that police believe they must prove themselves in control of every situation -- the "toughest gang on the street." While this may make sense when dealing with violent urban gangs — and win cheers from the kind of folks who always enjoyed watching Charles Bronson get the best of some troop of Hollywood bikers in all those drive-in movies — they now use the tactic fairly indiscriminately, against anyone.
As Jacob Sullum of Reason magazine comments in Thursday's Review-Journal Opinion pages, "Whether or not race played a role in the incident, Cambridge police Sgt. James Crowley clearly abused his authority, retaliating against the Harvard professor for his disrespect by hauling him away in handcuffs. The highly publicized arrest illustrates the threat posed by vague laws that give too much discretion to police officers who conflate their own personal dignity with public safety. ... Even if we accept Crowley’s version of events, the arrest was not justified (a conclusion reinforced by the city’s decision to drop the charge). ...
"By Crowley’s own account," Mr. Sullum continues, "he arrested Gates for dissing him. That’s not a crime, or at least it shouldn’t be. ...It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Crowley was angered and embarrassed by Gates’ 'outburst' and therefore sought to create a pretext for arresting him. 'When he has the uniform on,' a friend of Crowley later told The New York Times, 'Jim has an expectation of deference.'”
The pattern is clear. In order to assert their control and "clear the scene" where they fear they've been made to look bad, officers handcuff and arrest the loudmouth or loudmouths on a vague and trumped-up charge. "Disorderly conduct" will often do. A few hours later, as in this case, the charges are dropped. Jail and court personnel thus endorse and institutionalize the procedure.
Where can such an attitude eventually lead? After their initial armed assault on the Branch Davidian church in Waco, Texas in the winter of 1993 -- guns ablaze (they killed the dog and her puppies in the pen outside, first thing) federal agents couldn't allow themselves to say, "Wow. They outgunned us and drove us off. Two of our guys are dead, possibly from our own, 'friendly' fire. What? No one even tried to show those guys our search warrant and let them peacefully comply? Boy, did we ever mess up. I guess now we've got to apologize to this church full of Christians and slink home with our tails between our legs. And I bet there's going to be hell to pay about the nursing mom killed upstairs by the gunfire from the helicopters as her infant played at her feet."
Unthinkable. As unthinkable as Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge police walking away as Henry Gates stood on his own porch, unsubdued, continuing to shout abuse. And so the massive FBI-engineered Waco "standoff" began, complete with the sniper killings of residents who either tried to leave the church or sneak back in, their bodies being crushed into the ground by armored personnel carriers, and finally ending in a conflagration probably set off by government "ferret" rounds and insertion of toxic gas in a flammable suspension, burning scores of innocent women and children to death.
If a neighbor calls to report a house-break may be in progress, police must respond. Please note that despite the fact we now spend many times more on "police services" than our grandparents did, the "beat cop" of 75 years ago was likely to know who belonged in that house, by sight. To today's "responding officers," however, kept remote from the community in their patrol cars, every citizen is a potential drug-crazed killer.
Are we obliged to "prove who we are," in our own homes? I submit being asked to prove I have a right to be in my own house presses awfully close to violating the Fourth Amendment, which bars the violation of the "security of our houses" except under warrant issued "upon probably cause," etc.
Yes, if Sgt. Crowley was calm and explained his errand, a wise man would have answered his inquiries calmly. We are instructed both by the courts and our common sense that a suspected "crime in progress" can temporarily trump the Fourth Amendment.
But as Mr. Sullum points out, "Among other things, the law guarantees the right of citizens to criticize public officials."
There is a solution -- which would simultaneuously also curtail the use of "traffic tickets" as a mere method of collecting municipal revenues (a quasi-official road tax) rather than to punish unsafe driving. Make the officer contemplate the same degree of inconvenience he's imposing on the citizen. Require an officer making an arrest or issuing a citation to hand the arrestee a court summons, bearing a specific date and time when the appropriate court will be in session. (They used to bear such a date and time. Today, they rarely do. You have to "call.") If the possessor of such a ticket shows up on the date and time specified -- shows up just once, you understand -- and remains there one full hour without being confronted with the charges against him or her by that officer, in person, the court must dismiss the charges AND -- AND -- pay the citizen $400 (or twice the cost of an average traffic ticket, whichever is more) for his trouble.
Listen now, for cops and court personnel to squawk. Almost as though what they're interested in is keeping us shuffling along, not rattling our chains too noisily, extracting from their faceless hordes of "offenders" the most possible revenue at the least possible inconvenience to them ... and not letting the accused citizen have his "day in court," at all.