Archive | July 25, 2009

Best Defense

It’s interesting how so many defenders of the Cambridge Police Department are arguing that there’s nothing wrong with the officer’s conduct because he would have arrested Gates even if he hadn’t been black.

Gates' mugshotI think we’re entitled to doubt whether he really would have been as ready to arrest a non-black Gates – but OK, let’s stipulate that that’s so. What the hell kind of defense is that? “He’s not a racist, because he treats whites like crap too!”

Whatever his motivations, Officer Crowley (any relation to Aleister, incidentally?) should have dropped the case and departed as soon as he determined that the “intruder” was in his own home. (Note that Crowley himself has said, “I really didn’t want to have to take such a drastic action because I knew it was going to bring a certain amount of attention, unwanted attention, on me,” which shows that he knew the man he was arresting was not a burglar.)

Assume that Gates behaved in a “confrontational” manner; assume, if you like, that he did so in a way that went beyond what the situation warranted (though this seems far from obvious even according to the officer’s version of the story). So what? There’s no evidence that Gates aggressed against Crowley; his only “crime” was failing to kowtow to the superior authorita conveyed by Crowley’s blue costume. (And if Gates weren’t a famous person, I doubt the charges would have been dropped.) But while the American public is willing – though, alas, just barely – to be dragged into a conversation about the possibility that cops might be systematically abusive toward particular races, the idea that they might be systematically abusive, period, is still outside the bounds of polite discourse.

Quick Addendum:

Another argument I’ve heard is that Crowley’s conduct couldn’t have been racially motivated because he leads anti-racial-profiling seminars and once gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to a black athlete. This “but some of my best friends are …” argument misses the point. People with consciously antiracist convictions can still be guilty of relying on racist assumptions in their conduct; that’s how prejudice works. (And of course the same applies to sexism, statism, homophobia, and so on.)

Addendum #2:

See also Charles’ post.

Side Order

Jascha HeifetzToday’s paper contains a great quote attributed to Jascha Heifetz:

No matter what side of an argument you’re on, you always find some people on your side that you wish were on the other side.

But according to Heifetz’s official website, the actual quote is:

No matter what side of an argument you’re on, you always find some people on your side that wish you were on the other side.

Equally true, but a somewhat different flavour.

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