Saturday, August 1, 2009

Bob Herbert is a racist.

His Op-ed today contains the following:

Mr. Gates is a friend, and I was selected some months ago to receive an award from an institute that he runs at Harvard. I made no attempt to speak to him while researching this column.

Nosirree, Bobby, don’t you get yourself all confused by the facts. Just join the list of liberals who are most proud of not having had to be there to know what went down there. Only an idiot would actually have had to see what happened at Gates’s house to know that the man was a victim of racist cops run amok. He was doing nothing wrong (disorderly conduct being a civil right, not a misdemeanor), and he was black. Res ipse loquitur.

There is a metamessage in every complaint about race. Every such complaint reveals that people are still complaining about race under the circumstances being complained about. My guess is that most white Americans see what happened at Gates’s house as unexceptional and unexceptionable. All Gates had to do to avoid this mess was behave the way any white man would have behaved in the same situation. Maybe, a white man would have been cut more slack for behaving badly, but then, charges or implications of anti-black racism are, one hopes, uniquely obnoxious, so maybe the reaction it allegedly provoked is the best evidence of its untruth. (Do you think a black man could have pissed off a white cop fifty years ago by accusing him of racism?) But even if Gates were allowed a bit less slack than a white counterpart might have been, that’s the sort of thing one should want to know more about before assuming to be the case. Is Bob Herbert really spilling all that inky bile to say “Crowley should have cut my hotheaded friend some more slack”?

Herbert calls Gates’s offense “being angry while black.” Compare that to “being unjustifiably angry and verbally, race-baitingly abusive while black to a man who is risking his life to protect your home from reported burglars while white.” Do I know that’s what happened? Nope. I wasn’t there!!! Does Herbert know it didn’t? Yes, because he. like Gates, is black for a living and so didn’t have to be there.

DWB stops are unacceptable because the victims are not doing anything that a white person wouldn’t ordinarily do under similar circumstances. Driving is not some misdeed a white man might get away with, and stopping a black man for doing it (and not also exhibiting other antisocial indicia – pimped-out ride, darkened glass, etc.) is racially motivated police action. But in the Gates situation, race may have at most been an unconscious element in a loss of patience. Or maybe not; maybe the accusation of racism, terrible thing that the accuser routinely tells us that it is, more than the race of the accuser, was the accelerant to this particular conflagration.

Such distinctions – the difference between having a short fuse for black citizens and being called a racist by a black man whose house you have come to protect – are lost on racists like Herbert, for whom not inquiring further is a badge of honor. After all, how could an event be symptomatic if it is idiosyncratic? The details can only detract from the outrage. Sometimes, the devil wants no part of the details.


  1. Larry- come on. Herbert a racist?? He is no more racist than you or me.

    It seems to me that you have decided to completely absolve Sgt. Crowley for his actions, without any regard to he conscious and subconscious feeling about being a policeman, and his relationships with minorities. Herbert's example of the 30 minority kids who were improperly arrested, and the fact that it took two years, and lawyers fees, to get the arresst expunged, and to get a settlement from NYC. is the norm and not the exception. As I have said before, when looking at all the facfts and circumstances, Crowley had the "last clear chance" and he blew it. (By the way,I find it interesting that Sgt. Crowley was wrong about being told that a "black man" was breaking in". It seems that his memory is perhaps not perfect.)

    As Maureen Dowd pointed out in her column last Sunday;

    "As we reflect on the arc of civil rights dramas from Jim Crow to Jim Crowley, my friend John Timoney, the police chief of Miami, observes: “There’s a fine line between disorderly conduct and freedom of speech. It can get tough out there, but I tell my officers, ‘Don’t make matters worse by throwing handcuffs on someone. Bite your tongue and just leave.’ ”

    As the daughter of a police detective, I always prefer to side with the police. But this time, I’m struggling.

    No matter how odd or confrontational Henry Louis Gates Jr. was that afternoon, he should not have been arrested once Sergeant Crowley ascertained that the Harvard professor was in his own home.

    President Obama was right the first time, that the encounter had a stupid ending, and the second time, that both Gates and Crowley overreacted. His soothing assessment that two good people got snared in a bad moment seems on target.

    It escalated into a clash of egos — the hard-working white cop vs. the globe-trotting black scholar, the town vs. the gown, the Lowell Police Academy vs. the American Academy of Arts and Letters."

  2. Irwin -

    I'm wondering what I said that leads you to conclude that I "have decided to completely absolve Sgt. Crowley for his actions...." A quotation would be the best way to do that.

    I have consistently taken the position that I was not there and have no opinion whatsoever on whether Crowley acted correctly. I still don't.

    As for the last clear chance argument, I think that's logically bogus. Every arrest ends with action by the cop, and so every arrest includes a "last clear chance" for the cop not to make the arrest. So, the only way to make an argument from the last clear chance is to assume going in that the arrest was bad, in which case nothing as subtle as the "last clear chance" claim is necessary. It may be that the arrest was bad, but you can't prove it was bad merely by saying that it occurred, which, because a "last clear chance" is a feature of all arrests, is what the last clear chance argument says.

    I disagree with your saying that Bob Herbert is no more a racist than I am, certainly on the public record. Are you defending him or attacking me? If the former, you are thinking wishfully; if the latter, defendant denies each and every allegation and demands full proof thereof at trial.

    I will admit that the title of my post was intended as a bit of psychodrama. I wanted Gates's defenders to get some sense of the greeting Sgt. Crowley received when he went to protect Prof. Gates's house from a reported intruder. How'd I do?

  3. If you go back to your original blog, you had no problem immediately condemning Gates' actions ("Gates is almost certainly lying about how things went down"),even though you weren't there. Yet later information seems to indicate that it was Crowley who at least had a faulty memory(if not a lie)when he said that the dispatcher told him there were 2 black men involved.

    Herbert's article was informative in pointing out the speed by which Gates was arrested. (6 minutes from entry to arrest.)I would expect a cooler head from an experienced police officer

    Dowd's article was also informative, in that at least the police commissioner of Miami agrees with my view as to the last clear chance.(What did you think of her column?)

    My recap of the situation is as follows;

    1. Both parties overreacted,
    2. Crowley as a trained (and trainor)policeman in handling these types of incidents should in my opinion be held to a higher standard of conduct.
    3. I think the actions of both parties were driven by their upbringing, and their life experiences.
    4. While it is true that neither you or I were there, there are many instances where conclusions (and even jury verdicts)can based upon "he said/she said", and circumstantial evidence.
    5. Given all that has been written and disclosed (including the transcript of the 911 call), Obama was correct by stating that Crowley acted stupidly by arresting and handcuffing Gates .As both Jim Timoney and I have said, Crowley had the "last clear chance". He should have risen above the fray. He was the person who trains and was trained to handle such episodes. Here he blew it.
    6. I was defending Herbert, not accusing either you or me with being a racist
    7. By the way, according to the lady who made the call, she stated that she had doubts as to whether the people were "intruders".

  4. Irwin -

    I did not condemn Gates's actions; I said he lied about what his actions were. I did not claim to know what happened, only that certain things almost certainly didn't. No condemnation of Gates's actions at the scene, and no endorsement of Crowley's response.

    I'm admittedly prickly about having views attributed to me that I have not expressed or implied. Otherwise, I'm content to see the matter drop.

  5. OK. By the way, suggest two very good books to you;

    Packing the Court- James MacGregor Burns
    A Failure of Capitalism- Richard Posner

    Bo0th have interesting premises on two good subjects


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