Tuesday morning’s French headline on yahoo.fr led with the story of President Obama’s beer invite to the parties involved in last week’s arrest of a prominent Harvard professor.
I don’t know what struck me as more remarkable – the lead position of the headline (to a global audience), or its content.
The original incident
For those who don’t now, this is the latest chapter in last week’s incident in which the President referred to the stupidity of a police arrest, and then was compelled to qualify his comments. In fact, a well known Harvard Professor, Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was returning home at night following an overseas trip.
It was dark; the Professor was carrying bags, and had to force his jammed door open, with the assistance of his driver. A neighbor called the police to investigate a possible break-in. (Do listen to the actual tapes. There is no particular alarm in her voice.)
In fact, unlike summaries originally presented by the media, 911 tapes reveal that the caller didn’t specify the ethnicity of the two gentlemen.
The drama really begins when the Professor produced photo ID and Harvard ID while inside his home, clearly showing he was the owner of the residence. Nonetheless, the argument that ensued wound up with an arrest on his front porch, followed by a visit to the local police station – and divergent stories on what exactly took place.
What followed has been outrage on the part of Professor Gates, and many communities, as well as the President of the United States. And certainly high profile news for a continuing discussion on discrimination in the US. And the eyes of the world watch. Pour en savoir plus, selon L’Express.fr…
It’s worthy of mention
It’s worth noting that the Professor is a man of considerable reputation. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. is a preeminent scholar and author, which certainly makes matters worse. Or perhaps – better, as a model of what can still happen anywhere, any time, depending upon the circumstances.
The NAACP calls the incident racial profiling and refers to ongoing problems in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Others think the media has blown this out of proportion, and is not taking into account the egos that may have flared on the parts of both men – Professor Gates, and the arresting officer. Meanwhile friends and colleagues, like law professor Stanley Fish, express their point of view as sad commentary on more of the same in our history of race relations.
We can’t help but wonder
- Would a white man showing proof of residence have been arrested?
- Was the problem the nature of the heated argument that ensued?
As for the beer to be shared, reports indicate that it was the Officer (Crowley) who suggested the upcoming conversation. The President thought it was a good plan, inviting the two men to join him at the White House.
The drink in D.C. will take place on Thursday. I’d certainly like to be a fly on that wall.
Want more information?
Read what the Harvard Crimson (Harvard’s newspaper) had to say on Monday, July 27.
Note that the woman who made the call to police even offered the suggestion that the problem could simply be someone having difficulty with his key. Check out the 911 audio for yourself.
Black, white, and gray
In a situation that may initially polarize, I think it’s important to remember that we can’t possibly step inside Professor Gates’ shoes, or head. How likely is temper to flare after hours of international travel, and the shock of being confronted as an intruder in one’s own home?
Similarly, we aren’t inside Officer Crowley’s head either. What races through a cop’s mind as he answers a possible breaking and entering call?
How much do the particular experiences of each man play into their reactions when confronting each other? And if ego is involved?
World view of US problem solving
It seems we have a lot more information to come, hopefully. Will things be straightened out over a beer? Unlikely. As a gesture to open the dialogue? It’s not a bad idea.
I return to what struck me when I looked at my French home page on Tuesday morning – President Obama’s invite was the lead story, reflecting a new (and more personal) way to confront the issue of discrimination. It’s certainly great PR, and hands-on engagement that comprises a new sort of problem-solving with the world stage as witness.
I’d like to believe – perhaps naively – that through this sort of civilized approach to a deeply-rooted and emotionally-charged issue, we’re shifting the global perception of our country, and its leadership.
- What are your thoughts on the incident?
- And on its press coverage?
- What are your thoughts on the two men facing off, with the President as mediator?