Saturday, September 12, 2009

Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Again

Every time I think I'm out, I'm pulled back in. The Boston Globe reported yesterday that the police commissioner of Cambridge, Massachusetts has announced the names of the 12 members selected to the Cambridge Review Committee to ponder the lessons of the arrest in July by Sgt. James Crowley of Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The panel has been charged with considering these questions:

- What are the lessons learned that are unique to Cambridge?

- What departmental training should be addressed?

- How does the Cambridge Police Department take this event and use it as an opportunity to modify its operational procedures?

- How do race, class, and interpersonal conflict have an impact on engaging with the public?

- Are there opportunities for the city as a whole to learn and grow from this experience?

- What can other communities and police departments learn from this experience in Cambridge?

I would not claim to be a "liberal with sanity," as Ed Koch used to describe himself. Liberals generally are sane (at least as much as conservatives) and, anyway, no one ever has accused me of being sane. Nonetheless, as long as the power brokers have devised a set of questions guaranteed to produce the answers they desire, I can suggest several other questions, which are nearly as slanted. They include:

- Can the action of the onlooker in this matter inspire among citizens of the city a commitment to community and willingness to assist law enforcement when appropriate?

- How do notions about race and class affect the attitudes of members of the community toward the Police Department?

- What misunderstandings and prejudices among the tenured professionals of Harvard University should be addressed by training?

- Does resistance to law enforcement in the academic community derive from class envy or from an antipathy toward authority?

- Are there opportunities for the academic community as a whole to learn and grow from this experience?

- Why did the city not respond to the concerns of the minority community until such time as a distinguished member of an Ivy League institution was disadvantaged by an altercation with law enforcement?

- What can other communities learn from this experience in Cambridge about the impulse to label as "profiling" an incident completely unrelated to the concept of profiling?

It's possible that, upon examining the facts of the situation, the panel would come to the conclusions that are being urged upon them. Unfortunately, we'll never know, given the slant the Cambridge city fathers and mothers have chosen to give to this study.

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