Saturday, July 25, 2009

Just Imagine

“Imagine,” says Chris Matthews at MSNBC, "that the roles and races in the Cambridge arrest were reversed (black cop, white prof). Would the public discussion be the same?”

I don’t think it’s a very illuminating question (not that I presume Mr. Matthews’ first intention is to illuminate). It comes with a number of underlying assumptions, perpetuating the view that race issues include only blacks and whites and are about “us” and “them.” At the risk of perpetuating some of those same assumptions, I offer my own series of questions that I hope will be more illuminating:

Just imagine that Lucia Whalen, the woman who made the 911 call (and whose ethnicity I don’t know), observed a short, WHITE, 58-year-old-man with a cane, trying to enter the house.

1. Would Ms. Whalen have “seen” something else—something so different that she wouldn’t feel the need to call 911?

2. How likely would it be that she would even know the guy, and might even go over to assist? (Whether Ms. Whalen DID know Dr. Gates and still made the call is a whole ‘nother question.)

Nothing of that scenario involves Sgt. Crowley, who was simply responding to a call.

3. But what if the short, white, 58-year-old man--indignant over this intrusion into his home—is ranting and raving (over some perhaps imagined offense) and calling Sgt. Crowley and his mama names, acting “a little bit stranger than it should have been”? Would Sgt. Crowley perhaps see an “angry uncle” who needed to be calmed down (as presumably police training would dictate) rather than a man so “uncooperative” in his own home that he needed to be arrested? What are the chances that this would have resulted in an arrest?

And alternately:

Imagine that rather than Sgt. Crowley, his black partner, Sgt. Leon Lashley, had confronted Prof. Gates.

1. How likely is it that the professor, still indignant and angry over the intrusion, would continue the ranting and raving?

2. If the professor did continue his rant, would Sgt. Lashley perhaps see an “angry uncle” who needed to be calmed down? How likely is it that it would have resulted in an arrest?

What do you think?

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