Monday, July 27, 2009

It All Could Have Been Prevented So Easily

(Henry Louis Gates Jr.'s cat? -- though, to my amazement, none of the commenters -- 89 so far -- drew the connection that I immediately did.)

Maybe I should just leave it at that? The fuss over the incident involving Gates and a Cambridge policeman who arrested him for disorderly conduct has been covered, like the waterfront, exhaustively, in the corporate media and the blogosphere. The blizzard of conflicting opinions, often presented as fact, gets boring after a while. Quite a few people insist that Gates was in the wrong for not presenting his ID when Sergeant James Crowley asked him to, even though Gates did present his ID on request; both men's accounts agree that far. These folks don't seem to be bothered that Crowley evidently refused to show Gates his badge when Gates, with equal propriety, demanded to see it. Quite a few casually assert that Gates behaved badly by yelling at Crowley (though Gates claims he had a bronchial infection that prevented him from yelling at anybody, even a policeman), and some will go so far as to declare that he should have been arrested for doing so, or at least had no reason to complain if he was arrested for doing so. This attitude can be used to excuse anything a policeman might do to anyone, up to and including anal rape with a broomstick or plunger handle, or riddling him/her with bullets. And indeed, many Americans are willing not merely to avert their gaze from such unfortunate incidents, mumbling about a few bad apples, but to applaud actively them with Catch-22 justifications. (You must have been doing something wrong, or you wouldn't have been arrested / beaten / tortured / shot.) One commenter on this article about Abner Louima complained about the $8 million settlement he received from the city and the police, paid for "by all tax paying New Yorkers-we didn’t harm Mr. Louima". Well, you can't have it both ways: either the police force is the responsibility of the people it protects, or it's a well-organized gang of armed men and women accountable to no one -- if the latter, then something needs to be done to curb it.

Gates apparently called Crowley a racist, and there's been the expectable hysteria over "the race card" by whites. It turns out that Crowley is a trainer in racial sensitivity, highly regarded by black and white colleagues alike, but then the white policeman who raped Abner Louima with a plunger handle had a black fiancee and was very concerned about racism in the world. Compared to the Louima case, the Gates case is small potatoes indeed. But does it matter, really? As IOZ has pointed out, American police have brutalized people of all colors, including whites, with multicultural gusto. If police brutality has become color-blind, I suppose it's as much a cause for celebration as having a President of African descent presiding over the violence of the American Empire: our victims are just as dead, maimed, and homeless as they are when the President is white.

To add to the fun, the novelist Ishmael Reed has an attack on Gates at Counterpunch today. Some of his charges may have weight, but I couldn't help noticing that Reed took special exception to Gates's currying favor with feminists and "Gays", all of whom he evidently assumes to be white -- at least, all of those who like Gates. He cites Marlon Riggs and Barbara Smith as witnesses to white gay racism, while allowing that "Undoubtedly, there are pockets of homophobia among blacks but not as much as that among other ethnic communities that I could cite." Oh, well, that's all right then! It's a bit late in the day for such tunnel vision.

President Obama has invited Gates and Crowley to the White House to meet him and discuss the case over beers. (What is it with Obama and beer? I wouldn't want to have a beer with him because I don't like beer; and whether we talked over alcohol or not, I'd have some hard questions to ask him.) Both men have agreed to the meeting, which I suppose is a good thing. But none of that, including the current media circus, should affect the investigation of the case.