Professor Gates recent arrest in Cambridge and the resulting furor surrounding the arrest and the President’s comments concerning same shows that race, as usual, remains an issue that has the power to deeply divide people here in the United States in 2009. What’s also interesting is how sure people are – on both sides of the issue – that the police acted "stupidly" or that the black professor, with a chip on his shoulder was overly sensitive and escalated what should have been a minor matter. Indeed, as more information comes out, see the article regarding the 911 tapes, http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/32169213/ns/us_news-race_and_ethnicity, it will be interesting to see if people’s first impressions change.
For example, when news first broke regarding the Duke lacrosse players and the black exotic dancers, many people leapt to the conclusion that the privileged, white, Duke athletes were, in fact, guilty of raping or sexually molesting one of the dancers. The University cancelled the season and the coach was fired. Not that I am condoning college kids getting drunk and hiring exotic dancers, but that is a far cry from raping or molesting someone. As it turned out, the Duke players were not guilty as charged, yet many of the people that immediately and loudly demanded that the players to be kicked out of school, jailed and that the season to be cancelled, never did get around to admitting how wrong they were.
Will the same thing end up happening here? Will the 911 tapes show that the Cambridge officer used a great deal of restraint and that the professor really is the one primarily to blame for his arrest? Or, will the tapes (and other evidence) show that the police acted stupidly in arresting a man in his own home? Who knows? But what I do know is this – race affects how we view things, oftentimes, more than facts and regardless of what the facts are, those people screaming the loudest now will be unlikely to have changed their position even after all the facts are out.