When Judge Clarence Thomas was in front of the Senate Judical Committee during his confirmation hearing for the Supreme Court, he was vigorously questioned about allegations made by a subordinate that Thomas had subjected her to inappropriate harassing comments of a sexual nature. In the context of those allegations, Thomas said "This is not an opportunity to talk about difficult matters privately or in a closed environment. This is a circus. It's a national disgrace. And from my standpoint, as a black American, it is a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks who in any way deign to think for themselves, to do for themselves, to have different ideas, and it is a message that unless you kowtow to an old order, this is what will happen to you."
Fast forward to a July 16 at a little after 12:30 pm when Distinguished Harvard Professor Henry Gates, Jr. was arrested at his own home during an investigation about a break in called in by one of Gates' neighbors by Officer James Crowley "after exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public space directed at a uniformed police officer."
The facts as laid out in the police report and the facts as described by Dr. Gates in an interview in the Root are in conflict. As the charges were later dropped, there may never be a clear understanding of what actually occurred unless a civil suit is filed by Dr. Gates or if the officer is subjected to disciplinary action.
What is impossible to know is if it was merely a misunderstanding that quickly became a battle of wills between two proud men; one exerting his authority as a police officer, the other his position as a well thought of scholar at a prestigious University. It is likely that both men acted "stupidly" in the face of fear and bravado.
Did race play a part in how the events turned out, from Gate's perspective, absolutely. His own words belie the fact that he felt threatened because of his race. With the police officer it is less clear.
Police officers often ask for identification during the course of investigating a reported incident. In many cases people comply with their requests. Based on the officer's report he said that Gates' behavior led to his arrest, not his race.
I am not in the position to take sides. What we can agree to is that earnest black men in the United States feel and are targeted for persecution based on their race and earnest police officers feel and are damned for doing their job.
As there were witnesses and the court of public opinion, there will no doubt be sides being taken. The sad thing is that two adult men could have chosen to act civilly toward each other and didn't. That is a legacy that we can not abide. It is a national disgrace.