Henry Louis Gates Jr.: victim or provocateur?

The recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., the African-American scholar and author, has become a frenzy of accusations, recrimination and good old political spin. Just as the fire was dying down — and it seemed Gates could get back to writing more books such as Colored People: A Memoir and In Search of Our Roots — President Barack Obama’s comment about Cambridge, Mass., police acting “stupidly” stoked it again. (Obama later backpedaled, implying that the word "stupidly" was subject to varying interpretations. Huh?)

As a former Boston resident, I’m well aware of the area’s history of racial tension. The school busing crisis (here's a 1974 protest) stoked passions, leading to the horrible scene of a white teen assaulting a black lawyer with an American flag — a moment caught in a photo that won the 1977 Pulitzer Prize. And though I’m a Red Sox fan, I’m sadly aware that the team was the last to integrate — Pumpsie Green joined the Sox in 1959, more than a decade after Jackie Robinson broke the color line.

In this episode, there seems to be enough blame to spread between the police officer and Gates. Both men took what should have been a minor incident and blew it into a nationwide debate on race relations. Read Streeters have taken both sides of the issue, with the most poignant comments coming from those who have also felt the sting of a police inquiry on suspicion of Homeowning While Black. 

Here's a pro-Gates sampling:

Come on, there are so many reality tv shows where we have seen height of moronic unharmful comments in front of cops, and the cops just ignore it — truthbehld

Many people have blamed Dr. Gates’ behavior for being arrested. But ... there is no law against becoming agitated, particularly when one is accused of being a robber and thief in one’s own home. — Walter

I live in one of the most exclusive villages in a gated community in [suburban] Chicago. ... I have been asked to show ID, twice, in the foyer of my home. ... Until you walked a mile in Henry Louis Gates’ shoes, you don’t really know what was going through his mind. — etoile

And a sampling backing James Crowley, the Cambridge officer who arrested Gates:

Treating cops who risk their lives to protect us in anything other than a deferential way is callous &, well, stupid. — Marie

When Gates implied that the officer was a racist, he crossed a line. To me that’s JUST as bad as using the ‘N’ word — Jerry T

Gates behaved like a Leona Helmsley. He harassed the policeman (one of the “little people”) because he could. — Ted

Photo from AP

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