President Obama in his haste to defend his friend and his race spoke too quickly. He is now appropriately back pedaling as well he should. I love his idea of toasting beers with Henry Lewis Gates, Jr. and the cop who arrested him at his home. That is the politically correct way to handle things. Do it like we did it in the 1950’s. Sometimes, we get way too serious about things.
I can sympathize with both Gates and the police officer, Sgt. Crowley. In 1967, I was pulled over by an cop for driving after the sun had gone down without headlights on my Chevy Bel Air. The reason for this was that I had no operable headlights. I had smacked into a parked car a few days earlier rendering them useless. My best friend, Mike Burke and I, were hustling down to the beach to camp out with friends before darkness fell. We failed to make it. The officer pulled us over and told me to park it. I was indignant. Upon the urging of my surfer friend, I decided to be a jerk about it. I jumped out of the car and immediately began cussing out the law. Bad move. Stupid. Unclassy.
The officer quickly reminded me there were young children in the area and to tone down my language. Nope. I had one goal in mind: to bully him into letting me drive my car to the beach since it was not yet completely dark. He asked for my identification. I couldn’t find my wallet. He strongly requested to see my car registration. I couldn’t find that, either. Now, I was in trouble. I had made the legal mistake of mixing arrogance with lack of official papers. Had I been polite, he would have let me go. But, since I was acting like a jackass, he was going to treat me like one. He handcuffed me and brought me to the station where I was booked, photographed, fingerprinted and escorted to a cell for the night.
It was humiliating. It was demeaning. I was angry, impotent and powerless. I hated policemen at that moment.
It was also one of the best things that ever happened to me. I learned a valuable lesson that night for life. Respect the law. Obey the law. Cooperate with the law. I also can report to you that he was not racially motivated. He was a caucasian. I was a caucasian. He was merely doing his job. I was in the wrong from the moment he pulled me over. I only made it worse for myself by opening my big, fat mouth! For all the officer knew, I could have been a felon driving a stolen car. I could have had drugs, weapons and a rap sheet a mile long when he encountered me.
I don’t know Henry Lewis Gates, Jr, the Harvard professor. But, I assume he is a smart guy. He knows the difference between right and wrong. He was locked out of his home and with the help of a cab driver, he tried to pick the lock to let himself back in and his alert neighbor phoned police to protect Mr. Gates and his residence not realizing it was one and the same. Maybe Gates had an attitude towards white people and white policemen. Maybe he thought the cop was stupid in asking for identification when he was the homeowner and obviously not a burglar. But, the rule of thumb is to let the policeman follow his protocol and do his job until he has sufficient proof to believe Mr. Gates does indeed live there. All Sgt. Crowley was trying to do was validate the story Mr. Gates was telling him. Seeing his I.D. would have gone a long way towards accomplishing that.
For my part the night I was arrested, I did not trust the police. At my court hearing the next day, the judge asked me, “Are you going to use nicer language and more respect for police officers from now on, Mr. Hurley?” I quickly nodded yes. With a smirk, he dismissed my misdemeanor. Lesson learned. I have not had problems with the law since. I have a feeling Mr. Gates is going to want to be friends with the police in the event a real burglar tries to break into his home the next time. I hope he will be glad he had that beer with Sgt. Crowley and the Prez if that scenario ever occurs.
Law enforcement officers are not responsible for trusting people they pull over or to be naive when checking out someone who is breaking into his own home. Give them reason to believe you. Cursing them or threatening them is not prudent nor is it effective in establishing your credibility. Drop the attitude no matter what color you are or your status in life. Be nice to the police. They are not the enemy. They are here to make sure ALL of us obey the law. Whites, blacks and even, the President of the United States.
God Bless America.
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