The President of the United States of America just called the Cambridge police "stupid." Awesome.
Note to readers of all races: do not, under any circumstances, attempt this at home. Just because the President or Skip Gates got away with insulting the Cambridge police, this is not a guarantee of your future success in a similar endeavor. For instace, if you were to tell a Cambridge police officer "I'll see your momma outside" when he asks you to step outside, you should not automatically expect the New Yorker to come to your defense (and toss in a plug for your books), or your daughter to suddenly interview you for Tina Brown's web magazine, or the President of the United States to verbally bitch-slap the dude who locked you up.
Nor should you interpret our sarcasm as being in any way sympathetic with the Cambridge police, who are stupid. (What do you want from us? The PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES SAID SO.) We're amused, but not at all surprised, at the politicization of what seems to us like a burlesque of racial conflict in America more than a symptom of it.
It seems evident that 1) that Henry Louis Gates
would not have been arrested on his porch if he was a white guy, and 2)
that Henry Louis Gates gave the Cambridge cops an earful. If you've
ever heard Skip Gates speak, you know the man gets his swag on. And you
know he don't take no mess. Nor should he
First of all, it is difficult to imagine a Cambridge police officer who has not seen Skip on television. But it is far more difficult to imagine that one of Professor Gates's white neighbors did not know that the most famous black intellectual in America lived on her street. To quote a tired SNL trope: Really? In the People's Republic of Cambridge?! What, do all those "dangerous" black intellectuals look alike to you, woman? Let's forget about the cops for a second (promise, we'll come back to them in a minute), because at first, at least, the Cambridge cops did what cops do: they responded to a complaint of someone breaking into a house. We want the scaredy white lady's Cantabridgian citizenship revoked, and we want her deported back to Revere or Newton where she belongs.
Back to the cops, and to what happened after they showed up. Honestly, we have no idea what the fuck went down at that house -- if you compare the accounts given by the Cambridge Police and by Skip's lawyer, you come away with the impression that both parties are lying, and the only anecdotes that ring true are the ones the other most vehemently denies. We believe that Skip Gates probably told that Cambridge police officer what he could do with his racist self, and walked out front and made a scene, because that is exactly what we would expect the badass Skip Gates we love to do. We also believe that after spending a couple hours in jail, Skip realized he'd acted like a bit of an ass, and in a statement released by his lawyer/friend/colleague Charles Ogletree, he denied talking back to a cop -- there was even a brief detente yesterday when Skip and the cops agreed to let bygones be bygones, and it seemed, for a whiff of a moment, that everyone would hug it out and avoid turning a dick-swinging contest into an international incident. That, of course, evaporated the moment Skip started talking big-man talk to every microphone stuck in his face.
Skip Gates is a badass motherfucker. Seriously: street-smart. A vicious, powerful intellect. Ambitious. Wise, most of the time. Charismatic, even when he isn't wise. Brave. Not a dude you want to be on the other side of. All qualities we are in awe of, never more so than when he is in his element, which is the astoundingly singular sanctuary that he's built more or less with his own hands at Harvard. To walk into the DuBois institute and witness the array of black intellectual firepower there -- to glimpse the department's mix of fierce love and ambition and community -- is a deeply humbling experience. Part of what makes Skip tick is that he's arrogant: he always has got his swag on. Always. And look -- no one thinks this is an anamoly. We understand that America is not fair enough yet that when Skip Gates gets arrested on his porch that it's not going to become a SYMBOL. But can we also cut through the bullshit and say that maybe Henry Louis Gates got arrested because he was acting like a fucking asshole? And that, because of the domino Skip knocked over, he is about to cause political damage to America's first black president?
Point being, we would not be horribly surprised to find out at the
end of the day that two things are accurate:
Scene: Skip Gates's porch, Ware Street, Cambridge, just outside of Harvard Square.
Policeman: Will you step outside, please?
Skip Gates: No, I will not.Who are you?
Policeman: Sgt. Crowley of the Cambridge Police. White lady over yonder reported a --
Skip Gates: Why, because I'm a black man in America?
Policeman: Is there anyone else in the residence?
Skip Gates: None of your business, Mr. Racist Police Officer.
Policeman: [On the radio to HQ] I'm in the residence with a man who appears to be the resident, but he's being very uncooperative.
[On the telephone] Get me the chief. What's the chief's name? I got a
racist police officer in my house. [To policeman]: You have no idea who
you're messing with.