Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Louis Gates has a Mug Shot?

Still basking in the happy glow of The Diva's welcome baby shower about a week ago, I received a call from our home security company: the alarm had been tripped. My first thought was that it was an accident. That calming thought only lasted a moment, though. I knew what had happened; someone was in our home. Someone unclean and uncouth. Someone who was, at that very moment, rambling through our clothes and knocking over my children's playthings. Someone who was leaving dirty footprints on our carpets, where there were already chocolate milk stains. We were out of town and there was almost nothing we could do. I was horrified and frightened.

Thankfully, the scenario in my head never fully materialized. The criminals must have been scared off by the alarm and the minor security deterrents we had in place. Although they broke a window, scattering glass all over our family room and our children's toys, they didn't actually enter the house and nothing was taken.

When I saw the reports that well-respected scholar Henry Louis Gates had been arrested

in front of his own home, I thought of the stories of men I knew: "mistaken" identity, ill-placed suspicion, overzealous police officers, assumptions of guilt. My husband, for example, delivered pizzas in college and was put in handcuffs repeatedly because he was driving in "suspicious" neighborhoods with "too much" cash. He was also robbed repeatedly, but I'm not sure that anything ever became of that. Gates' work on the African American experience made him a rock star in his field. Reports that he was yelling, "This is what happens to a black man in America!" seem sad and appropriate.

What strikes close to home for me is that there were several police officers at his home, it seems, in response to his "erratic" behavior. I'm wondering if several officers would show up only in response to his break-in. That certainly was not the case for us. One officer showed up--after 30 minutes and repeated phone calls. He called several days later to ask if anything was missing or if we had any information to offer. It wasn't much, but we appreciated the time and attention. Last year, we had another break-in at one in the afternoon while I was upstairs alone. There were at least four dirty criminals who rammed my door open that day, but when I called 911 it still took more than 20 minutes for an officer to show up. We never got a follow up call and there were never any leads. I was so scared, and stayed locked in the guest room upstairs talking to the 911 operator. I saw the stinking criminals burn rubber out of my driveway, but I had no idea if one of them was left downstairs in my house, waiting to beat me to death while the police moved like molasses. I've also had my car broken into twice and--nothing.
I'm not saying that the police should have gone all CSI because my CDs were stolen while my car was on the side of the expressway. But I do really wish that somebody would get excited about the loss of my sense of safety and the money it costs us to fix the damage. I certainly felt like yelling, and I'm sure I would have if I hadn't been so scared (the officer practically laughed at me when I burst into tears); so Gates' reaction to being arrested--I'm sure that's why they wanted him to step outside in the first place--seems right on the money to me.


Ink said...

First of all, I'm so sorry that someone broke into your home but am glad they were scared away by the alarm. And am especially glad that you weren't home at the time, too. Hugs!!!!!

Second, the Gates story is awful...I read somewhere that the officer wouldn't identify his badge number and name, as Prof. Gates requested, either. How is someone supposed to feel when being arrested for getting into your own house by law enforcement people who aren't following protocol? Terrified and enraged seems about right to me.

ck said...

That is awful - I'm so sorry you've had to experience such fear and violence. I don't think I'd handle being alone in the house very well after that.

evenshine said...

I think there were possibly quite a few other words exchanged, mostly on the part of Prof. Gates- and the police are absolutely within their rights to arrest someone making a public disturbance. As much of a fan of Gates as I am, I think he probably stepped over some lines here. Possibly the police did, too, but we'll never know, since it's just a he said/he said at this point.

The Steel Magnolia said...

Thanks for the sympathy! "Awful" is just the right word for all of this.