A Few Wise Words on GatesGate

As Richard Thompson Ford writes in Slate today, many of the reactions to the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Cambridge home—and of President Barack Obama’s discussion of the incident at his press conference last night—have been “swift and predictable.” Leaving aside ways in which political advocates have tried to spin the story, it’s worth noting that in Boston, the largest local papers have both seen fit to point out that Sgt. James Crowley, the white officer who arrested Gates, has, indeed, had positive interactions with African-Americans—a fact that should be unsurprising, and that doesn’t really illuminate what happened in this particular incident.

Out on the Web, though, a few commenters have had interesting things to say. Over at TNR’s group blog The Plank, Jason Zengerle noted the shifting power dynamics of the situation:

Even if you’re white, any time you have an encounter with a police officer, the officer has the upper hand in terms of power, since he’s the guy who has the power to arrest you. After that initial encounter, however, that power dynamic can be reversed—at least if you’re sufficiently rich, accomplished, and connected, as Gates is. (If you’re not those things, that power dynamic will probably never change.) Which is why, at this point, Gates clearly has the upper hand over Crowley in terms of power. The irony is that Crowley’s initial abuse of power has now put him in the position of being largely powerless.

And in a post at his blog at The Atlantic, Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote:

I think the source of a lot my reasoning is the cop’s own response to Gates. A lot of us here believe that is possible that Gates was, at least, rude. We also aren’t sure what—if any—role race played in all this. That said, the cop not only thinks Gates was rude to him but he handled the situation exactly right. Given that dude thinks police should be arresting citizens for rudeness, he is not the guy I’d want dealing with the kids in my neighborhood—even the ones who need to be in custody.

Seen any other good takes on the non-health care story of the day? Leave a link in comments.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.