As the Gates incident starts to drift away from center stage, it is still quite reasonable to discuss the incident and the issues it raises.
Race, of course, was a major factor in the incident. Gates seems to have over-reacted because the cop was white. The incident got the coverage it did, in part, because of concerns about race. However, it is important to keep in mind that everything isn’t about race.
As a friend of mine often points out, white people can treat each other badly. The same for people of all the other colors. After all, it is not like whites are universally saints with other whites or that blacks are eternally sweet angels with each other. People can do mean or hateful things for reasons that have nothing to do at all with race. For example, I’ve had white folks throw things at me from moving cars when I was running. I’ve also had white folks try to start fights with me, for no apparent reason. Some people, as my friend says, are just assholes.
On a more moderate level, people get upset and angry with each other for reasons that have nothing at all to do with race. After all, we can do all sorts of things to annoy each other.
Going back to the Gates incident, it has been suggested that Crowley arrested Gates because Gates is black. Now, even if it is assumed that Crowley did not have adequate legal grounds to arrest Gates, to assume that Crowley arrested him because of racism would be quite a leap. The way Gates acted was no doubt very annoying to Crowley and this probably contributed to the officer choosing to make the arrest. However, this would hardly be racism. After all, white cops sometimes arrest (and sometimes taser) white people that sufficiently annoy them. Of course, cops should only arrest people when it is warranted, but sometimes what annoys the cop also warrants arrest. In the case of Gates, he seems to have acted in a way that would rather annoy Crowley and also in a way that warranted his arrest. If Gates had stayed calm and discussed the matter with Crowley, there would have been no incident. While there are racist cops, Crowley certainly does not seem to be one. In fact, he seems quite the opposite.
Like most folks, I have had a few encounters with the police. In some cases, I was stopped for what seemed to be no good reason. For example, while on a training run for the Columbus, Ohio Marathon, a friend and I were stopped by an officer. We were doing nothing illegal nor acting in any way that was suspicious. Well, other than running. Of course, my friend was black, and he later suggested that he was stopped for RWB (running while black). However, I have also been stopped while running alone by white cops, so perhaps race was not the main factor-maybe it was a bias against runners.
While I could have gone off the handle and accused the cop of harassing us and even of being a racist, I instead stayed calm (running helps with that) and answered his questions politely. I talked a bit more with him, made a few jokes about running, and we parted with smiles. In fact, he wished us luck in the marathon. Perhaps he did have a legitimate reason to stop us, perhaps not. However, I knew that being confrontational would only lead to needless escalation, so I avoided that.
Of course, people should not be expected to simply back down and let it slide if the police act improperly. However, it should be remembered that a cop is also a person and interacting with him or her in a calm and polite way has the same effect it has on anyone else-it lowers the chance that things will go down badly. Likewise, starting a conflict and being needlessly confrontational will elicit the opposite response.
Yes, race can play a factor in how people react to each other. But it isn’t everything. How we act is also a major factor in how people respond to us.