Last week when I read in the Boston Globe that a prominent black Harvard professor was arrested outside of his Cambridge home for disorderly conduct stemming from a bogus breaking-and-entering call to the cops from a white neighbor, my intuition whispered that this story would eventually escalate to international news. Because it’s just as important – if not more – than global warming, health care reform, the financial crisis, Swine Flu, poverty, AIDs, terrorism, and world freaking peace.
My premonition came to terrifying fruition when President Obama made harsh remarks towards the Cambridge PD at the tail-end of his press conference on Wednesday night. The next day on BBC.com, “Black scholar arrest angers Obama” was the most popular story. Congrats, Cambridge! You’ve made the big time!
“Did Obama admit that he didn’t know all of the facts of the case, yet go on to call our police department ’stupid?’” was the general incredulous Cantabrigian reaction to Obama’s speech. Yes, here in Cambridge country, we are Liberal elitists, we pride ourselves on our diversity, and so of course we resent the President’s implication that our enlightened police force has racial profiling tendencies.
(Did you know that real pigs are colorblind? It’s true!)
Yet obviously something went awry right before Sergeant Crowley arrested Professor Gates. Gates said that Crowley walked into his home without permission, refused repeated demands by Gates to provide his badge number, and should have left after Gates showed his ID. Crowley said that Gates was uncooperative and insulted his mama. Like Judge Judy says, when two litigants present different versions of the same event, the truth is probably somewhere in between.
But that’s not my concern. My concern is that this episode is suddenly a matter of national and global importance. My concern is that Sergeant Crowley has quickly become a working class hero, with many Bostonians applauding Crowley’s refusal to apologize for ‘just doing his job.’ What? Since when is it a crime in American to yell at the police in your own home, when no crime is being or has been committed? How is that disorderly conduct? Since when is a cop ‘just doing his job’ when he refuses to provide his badge number to a citizen simply because that citizen is angrily yelling at him?
Everyone involved in the situation is demanding apologies from everyone else, and here’s how I see it: Crowley should apologize not for racial profiling, but for abuse of power. Gates should apologize for assuming that Crowley was a racist cop. Obama should apologize for calling the Cambridge PD stupid. And Cambridge should apologize just for being Cambridge, a community that assumes it is incapable of racism by virtue of its diversity… until powder keg cases like this explode in their “la-la-la-la” faces.