Its interesting how so many defenders of the Cambridge Police Department are arguing that theres nothing wrong with the officers conduct because he would have arrested Gates even if he hadnt been black.
I think were entitled to doubt whether he really would have been as ready to arrest a non-black Gates but OK, lets stipulate that thats so. What the hell kind of defense is that? Hes 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 didnt 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 officers version of the story). So what? Theres no evidence that Gates aggressed against Crowley; his only crime was failing to kowtow to the superior authorita conveyed by Crowleys blue costume. (And if Gates werent 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.
Another argument Ive heard is that Crowleys conduct couldnt 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; thats how prejudice works. (And of course the same applies to sexism, statism, homophobia, and so on.)
See also Charles post.