Stanley Fish, a longtime friend and colleague of Gates’s, in his New York Times blog summarizes the racist treatment Gates has suffered since his earliest days as a professor. It’s important for those of us who have followed his career to remind people that, despite all these experiences, he has never been one to take simplistic approaches to race or to paint white people with a broad brush. In particular I recall a moment in one of his documentaries when he interviewed a young Boston gang member. The boy was complaining about being held back by racism and about having to turn to street crime to make money and gain respect. Instead of sympathizing, Gates expressed bewilderment at this worldview and its origins, and contrasted it to the bootstrap ethos he knew in the black community of his own youth, which faced similar poverty and considerably greater racism.
For the police perspective, consider that of Brandon del Pozo, a former NYC beat cop, now an internal affairs captain and a grad student in philosophy. In a piece published at Crooked Timber, del Pozo lays out the policing logic of the situation. He says he thinks he would not have arrested in the situation, but urges the broader point that we should want the police to be able to maintain control over the environment of an emergency call, including the sound and attitude level of all present, until they have completed their investigation by the process they are taught.
Finally, for a progressive viewpoint that does not pointlessly flame the police, Digby situates the incident, and critiques del Pozo’s analysis, in the context of creeping authoritarianism in the U.S. in the last decade. Important take-away FACT: it is now legal, and socially accepted, for police to torture and sometimes kill people with electric shocks (tasers) and corrosive acids (pepper spray) simply because of the words coming out of their mouths or the locations in which they are standing/sitting. This is frightening, and even moreso for people who find themselves the subject, more often and less fairly, of police suspicion.