The proper ending to the controversy over the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. should not be an apology or a sit down for beer at the White House. This no longer is a private affair, so Prof. Gates’ desire to “move on,” while understandable, is irrelevant.
The public is entitled to the evidence so that we can determine whether Sgt. James Crowley was a rogue, racial-profiling cop as Gates claimed, or whether Prof. Gates made false accusations of racial profiling.
While differing perceptions clearly contributed to the reactions of Prof. Gate and Sgt. Crowley, perception cannot change the truth of what actually happened. The best evidence as to the truth will be the recordings of the 911 call which precipitated the police going to Prof. Gates’ house, Sgt. Crowley’s radio calls once on the scene, and the accounts of eyewitnesses, including neighbors, passers-by, and the two other policemen on the scene.
We need to get to the truth of what happened in order to learn from this incident. If Prof. Gates is revealed to have made accusations without justification, then that will be a teaching moment for sure in the context of discussing racial profiling.
“Driving while black” racial profiling certainly takes place. But less discussed is the related phenomenon of “policing while white,” in which white police officers sometimes falsely are accused of racial profiling, either because they have been falsely profiled as inherently racist, or because accusations of racism are an effective defense tool. If we are to understand and condemn racial profiling, we should understand and condemn false accusations of racial profiling.
Exposing this incident as “policing while white” will be an important part of the conversation, if indeed the evidence supports such a conclusion. Alternatively, if this really was a case of racial profiling, we need to know that as well and to use that knowledge in implementing effective changes.
What we do not need is a whitewash or a refusal to reach a conclusion as to who was right and who was wrong.
I have nothing against Prof. Gates and Sgt. Crowley sitting down for some beer with Barack Obama at the White House. But while a “let’s all just get along” moment may be necessary, it is not sufficient. Let’s all just get along after we know who was right and who was wrong.
An apology from Prof. Gates, Sgt. Crowley or Obama also may be necessary if insufficient, but first we need to know who should be apologizing. Faux expressions of regret will simply perpetuate misconceptions of what happened, and deepen not lessen the hard feelings.
I know that Obama does not like to use the word “victory.” But the public needs a victory of truth here. Based upon what I have read, I do not believe that this was a case of racial profiling. But if the truth is that there really was racial profiling going on, then Sgt. Crowley needs to handle the truth, as do I.
But if the truth is that Prof. Gates made a false accusation of racial profiling, and Obama accepted that false accusation without due inquiry because of Obama’s own profiling of the police, then Prof. Gates and Obama need to handle that truth, if they can.
We need a winner and a loser, based on the evidence of what actually happened. No one truly can move on, and we can’t just all get along, until then.
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