I hope the Cambridge Police Department releases the 911 call which reported a burglary in progress at the home of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gate, Jr., and the subsequent radio calls from Sgt. James Crowley. Add to that, all witness accounts, including by the two other officers on the scene, and neighbors who heard and/or saw some of the events.

Based upon the police report already released, the statement issued by Gates’ attorney, and various interviews with Gates and Crowley, I strongly suspect that this confrontation will be revealed not to be about race, but about class. A supremely educated Harvard Professor versus an educated but non-academic police sergeant.

This class divide is evident in the blogosphere, including a Huffington Post blogger’s observation (italics mine):

I believe Gates did what anyone would do, he yelled at the officer, probably called him a few names and maybe told him he was not too smart. Out of wounded pride, I believe the officer decided to arrest the scholar.

Ah, the proud but dumb cop, reacting to a put down from the Cambridge elite. There may be some truth to that, without the “not too smart” part. We see this class divide in Barack Obama’s gratuitous use of the word “stupidly” when describing the conduct of the Cambridge police.

And of course, this class divide permeates our politics, in which academic credentials are used as the measure of intelligence. To quote Yuval Levin’s wonderful piece about Sarah Palin:

Applied to politics, the worldview of the intellectual elite begins from an unstated assumption that governing is fundamentally an exercise of the mind: an application of the proper mix of theory, expertise, and intellectual distance that calls for knowledge and verbal fluency more than for prudence born of life’s hard lessons.

The differing perceptions of the events are reflected in this class divide. Professor Gates, having devoted his life to studying the effects of race in America, saw the police approach as a reflection of what he had studied (but in his own words not experienced before) about how the police treat black men. Sgt. Crowley saw the approach to the doorway the way any cop views entry onto a potential burglary in progress.

A simple request to step outside is viewed by Professor Gates as an affront to his dignity and the fulfillment of academic theories. The same request likely was viewed by Sgt. Crowley as a cautious step so as not to be caught alone inside a house possibly occupied not only by Professor Gates but also by a second unaccounted-for person (what did happen to the taxi driver?).

While there may be aspects of the case which reflect a “national Rohrsach test on race,” this may be more of a national Rohrsach test on class. A member of Cambridge’s intellectual elite viewing the scene from the perch of academic smarts, and a police sergeant viewing the same events from the perch of street smarts. A real class divide hidden behind the rhetoric of race.

This incident, and a full exploration of what happened and why, really could be a teaching moment.

What others are saying:
► A Teaching Moment
►The Officer Didn’t Stereotype Henry Louis Gates — Henry Louis Gates Stereotyped the Officer
►The Gates Rohrsach
►Skip Gates, please sit down

Related Posts:
Et Tu, Lynn Sweet?
Bill Buckley Saw The “Stupid Police” Thing Coming

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