Like seemingly everyone, I’ve watched this incident take over the media cycle for the past several days, and sweep across the globe (as in the world, not the Boston Globe,) who seem to be doing all they can to ring the racism bell, with frightening speed. I shook my head when I saw Al Sharpton jump in. But when I saw the President of the United States not only address this incident during a nationally televised press conference, but essentially endorse Mr. Gates’ version of these events, I was truly shocked.
As a Boston criminal defense attorney who has seen his share of racially-motivated crimes and offenses, from assault and battery to rape and murder, I’m offended that Henry Gates Jr. dared to blame this incident on racism. “Racism”, by the way, is a vastly overused term, by both the public and the media. In its purest form, “racism” is a virulent, hateful belief system that regards certain categories of people (whether based on ethnic background or national origin,) to be inherently inferior – and undeserving to live or enjoy any of the dignities or freedoms that a “superior” race enjoys. The most notorious examples of this: Hitler’s death camps in World War II; the mass exterminations in Rwanda, Bosnia and Darfur. If this incident occurred as Gates described it – which by all credible accounts it did not – then it would be accurately characterized as “bigotry” or “prejudice”. But most people don’t know or care to know the difference, and the media loves the word racism.
So unrealistically sympathetic has been the overall media reporting of Gates’ version of these events, the vast majority seem dare not even suggest what all the objective facts indicate: That Gates’ overblown and bombastic ego caused him to make accusations against the arresting officer, which have no basis whatsoever in reality.
Led by the major print media in Cambridge’s backyard, the Boston Globe, most print media’s reporting refuses to acknowledge that this officer had not only a right, but a duty to verify Gates’ identity, in calling the Harvard campus police to make sure that Gates was who he claimed to be. And that, in my and many other informed observers’ opinions, is what ticked Gates off – that he wasn’t recognized immediately. That is when he pulled his “Do You Know Who I Am?” attitude. And when the officer offered to leave but was chased outside by Gates, by all credible accounts screaming wildly at the top of his lungs, that is when he was arrested – for disorderly conduct, and not for any reason whatsoever related to his color.
Honorable people like Martin Luther King, Jr., who suffered horrible injustices, gave their lives to true, actual forms of racial hatred and injustice, and to invoke their fight over something so pathetically benign, is shameful. But when you’re a black Harvard professor and you’ve made a fool out of yourself due to your own overblown ego, what better way to get out of it than to scream “Racism!”?
Claims like that ought to be reserved for real instances of racially-motivated hatred. Not overblown exaggerations like this.