Police in Cambridge, Massachusetts recently responded to a call that "two black males" were breaking into a home near Harvard University and ended up arresting the black professor living there.  Henry Louis Gates Jr., at right, an acclaimed scholar of African-American literature, had apparently locked himself out of his own home and was trying to enter it forcibly.  By the time police arrived on the scene, Gates had  entered his home.  When a police officer informed him that police were investigating a break in and asked Mr. Gates to step outside, he reportedly refused to do so, and instead asked, "Why, because I am a black man in America?"  He initially refused as well, according to the officer's report, to show any identification, although he later presented his Harvard University ID card.  He loudly accused the police of racism and warned that the police had not heard the last of him.

The professor disputes certain allegations of fact in the police report.  He states, for example, that he immediately tendered his driver's license and university identification to the arresting officer, while asking for the officer's name and badge number, but was given neither. 

Mr. Gates was handcuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct.  The charge was subsequently dropped.

President Obama, as we might expect, is a personal friend of Mr. Gates and interjected himself into this matter.  "How is that?" you may be wondering.  The President publicly stated the following:  "Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that.  But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."  The President added, "I think we know separate and apart from this incident . . . that there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact."

Everybody would probably agree that this was a nasty and unfortunate incident, of which far too much was made.  Emotions escalated out of control.  Here are a few additional observations:

First, Barack Obama had no business commenting publicly on his friend's case.  As an attorney, not to say as President of the United States, he should have known better than to take sides in a dispute where he was ignorant of the facts.  It is not at all clear that the Cambridge police acted "stupidly."  The professor was arrested not for being in his own home, but for alleged disorderly conduct in connection with the police investigation of a reported crime.

Second, Mr. Obama sounded the note of racial profiling.  How was that either helpful or relevant here?  Police were responding to a call involving "black males."  A "black male" did in fact forcibly enter the home.  He was apparently belligerent toward the police too.  Should police have assumed that the individual who forcibly entered the home owned it?  There was no racial profiling.  To contend otherwise is needlessly inflammatory and paranoid beyond belief.  It would have been just as reasonable, it seems to me, for the President to have mentioned "lynching." 

I do not disagree that there should be a debate regarding racial profiling.  Not only our national security, but also enlightened criminal investigation, yearns for a careful discussion of this issue.  Perhaps Mr. Obama's comments will serve to cast light upon a subject that is mired in demagoguery and political correctness.

I happen to think that racial and ethnic profiling in our war on terrorism is intelligent.  In view of the fact that most terrorists throughout the world are of Arabic extraction, why should we not single out Arabs and Arab look-alikes for special attention?  It makes no sense for national and international security personnel to provide the same scrutiny to Anglo octogenarians as to young and middle-aged Arab businessmen.  Go figure.

Police in this country also need all the helpful information that they can get in their investigations of crime.  According to the crime statistics that I read, most violent crimes, e.g., murder, rape, and felonies perpetrated with a weapon, are committed by African-Americans.  They are seven times more likely than people of other races to commit murder and eight times more likely to commit robbery.  When they commit violent crimes, they are nearly three times more likely than other racial groups to use a gun, and more than twice as likely to use a knife.  Hispanics likewise commit violent crimes at roughly three times the Anglo rate, but Asians commit violent crimes at about one quarter the Anglo rate.  The single best indicator of violent crime levels in any particular area is the percentage of the population that is African-American and Hispanic.  Should these facts be ignored in the formulation of "probable cause"?  If so, why?

You may respond, "All people are equal, and race is inconsequential."  While all citizens should be treated with respect and evaluated as the individuals they are, it does not follow that they are in every respect equal.  That is political poppycock, and so much hooey.  Nor are certain racial distinctions always inapposite.  The likelihood that an Anglo would develop sickle-cell anemia is negligible compared to a person of African origin.  When we look at photographs of the current heroes in professional sport, such as football, basketball, track and field, and boxing, nobody has to remind us that there are inequities between the races.  Likewise, from an examination of this country's prison population, it seems impossibly difficult to sustain the proposition that there are not marked disparities between the races regarding their inclination to abjure violence and to honor the law.  To the ideologues who would take issue with me on these matters, I simply respond, "Go ahead, and close your eyes, because reality can be upsetting at times."

If we desire common sense to prevail again in America, embracing a few obvious facts might be a good place to begin, even when doing so is sure to result in unfriendly labels and epithets.  We must consider the source, I guess.  In the meantime, let's hope that our silver-tongued President becomes the objective, fair-minded, and prudent representative of all citizens in this country.

July 24, 2009