The White House’s brewski diplomacy between Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates and the cop who arrested him in his home should take place early this week, officials said.
President Obama, who invited the two men over for a beer to defuse the controversy, hopes to see them “in the next several days,” said press secretary Robert Gibbs.
“He understood that the debate was veering off in the wrong direction, and, as he said, that his words may have contributed to that. So he felt a responsibility to step forward and kind of cool the situation down,” Obama advisor David Axelrod said on CBS’s Face the Nation. “I think the president sees this as an opportunity to get dialogue going on an issue that’s been historically troubling,” Axelrod said. “I think the steam has gone out of this. And now, instead of heat being generated, maybe a little light will be generated off of this situation.”
It was probably inevitable that in the furor over the arrest of the Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., some people would resort publicly to the ugly racial slurs that have largely disappeared from polite conversation.
But it is hard to imagine a more incongruous place for such comments than The Root, an online magazine of politics and culture largely by and for black people, where Mr. Gates is editor in chief.
Yet there they were last week, in comments on an interview with Dr. Gates, who was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass., on a disorderly conduct charge that was quickly dropped.
A few commenters used grotesque racial epithets, others crudely parodied black speech, and some proudly called themselves racist. One used the screen name of James Earl Ray, the man who killed Martin Luther King Jr.
I’m Black. [very black] I came home one night, when I lived with my cousin, ex-patriots player. It was freezing in the dead of winter. No one was home, which was shocking, because they had two little boys and never left the home empty, either my cousin or his wife were always there. I had just finished a 12 hour shift and this was just … *sigh* great. Now i knew that next door to him was his old football coach. [white man and family] I knocked on the door, introduced myself and asked if i could use the phone or stay until my cousin returned. [ door slammed in my face ] I later learned, from my cousin, whom I now know is a total snake, was berated by the neighbor as [ some strange black man came to our door, how dare he ] And, instead of my own flesh and blood defending me [ law school educated, world traveled, foreign service, diplomatic ties ] to this middle-class neighbor, he returned the favor and berated me and asked me to leave his home.
I share this story because it reveals something in America. This neighbor accepted my football playing, Black, cousin, but TO HIM, I was still just some poor dumb negro. Which he found unacceptable. [ of course my cousin was too stupid to understand this ] What’s funny is growing up, my cousin, who is older than me, disliked me because I was stuck up. I think instead of thinking straight, he chose this time to instead stick it to me. Me, who had made him feel inadequate every time I came back to the states, telling wonderful stories of my travels over seas.
The white neighbor was forgotten the next day. But, my cousin, every time I see him, infrequently, I never acknowledge him.
Gates did not violate any law. Under Massachusetts law, which the police officer was supposedly enforcing, yelling at a police officer is not illegal.
There are clear decisions of the Massachusetts courts holding that a person who berates an officer, even during an arrest, is not guilty of disorderly conduct. And yet that is exactly what Gates was arrested for.
The Massachusetts statute defining “disorderly conduct” used to have a provision that made it illegal to make “unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display,” or to address “abusive language to any person present.” Yet the courts have interpreted that provision to violate the Massachusetts Constitution’s guarantee of freedom of speech. So police cannot lawfully arrest a person for hurling abusive language at an officer.
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