Thursday, August 06, 2009



It’s the time of the year when it comes back to mind, that frisson of foreboding encapsulated in the great shark movies of yore: “Just when you thought it was safe to go back …”

In this case, though, it’s not sharks. An old script is being hauled out and revved up yet again, where I imagine its creators will hope to repeat the success it had back in the days of the great shark movies, now so long ago.

The Henry Louis Gates brouhaha has died away, though not for Gates’s lack of effort. After returning from that photo and feel-good op there in the White House picnic zone, he had himself photographed a few times with “well-wishers” and “supporters”, just to make sure the ‘story’ ended with a nice shot of him. Teddy Kennedy wrote the book on it in the age of the great shark movies (though Teddy has capped it all not with a few well-wishers drinking lemonade, but with the Presidential Medal of Freedom – and perhaps in these straitened times We might save the expense of having the government medal-makers strike a new one, and just get back the ones given to those other national paragons, Tommy Franks, George Tenet, and L. Paul Bremer, III).

Suddenly (cue ominous thump-thump, dum-dum beat) a new fin cuts the waves of the national beach: yet another black Harvard professor has reported racism and police brutality (or abuse, more nicely). A shocking example of it – though you might not want to go much further into it if you like your stories the way they were back in the day.

It was almost three years ago. But he’s just getting around to going public with his feelings and concerns now.

Repressed memory? That’s worked for some rather well. You’re so traumatized that you repress the memory. Although it usually has to do with sex; it doesn’t seem to operate in other areas of life experience; Holocaust survivors, to take one rather glaring example, seem to have no problem remembering that experience. And upon them be peace.

But no. This wasn’t about sex. This gentleman, “head of the Harvard Foundation for Intercultural and Race Relations” – no doubt a classic product of the old days – is “considering his legal options” because he too was treated outrageously by cops who also came into his home.

But as with the Gates saga, things don’t work so well as certain inconvenient facts start to emerge.

His former wife had called the police after – she said – the honorable prof “had tried to push their teenage daughter out of a moving vehicle during an argument”.

So hold the outrage for a bit: this was a case of a reported Domestic Violence a-n-d assault and battery on a child – so Child Abuse.

And rather than the vision of racist storm-trooper cops prowling the streets of bosky Cambridge looking for black men of status to harass – in the Year of Grace Two Thousand and Six – the local police were responding to a glaring double-red-flag call. Because in these enlightened times Domestic Violence and Child Abuse are matters that the Law takes rather seriously. Indeed, there is little doubt that a cop who displayed the least amount of indifference to a victim’s call would wind up trolling the backstreets handing out parking tickets for the rest of a short career in law enforcement.

The prof claims that “he was not told why the police were at his home or why he was being arrested”. Rather recently having committed one and possibly two felonies – one of them triggering the almost automatic Domestic Violence protocols – don’t seem to have occurred to His Worship as valid possibilities as to why the police might suddenly appear at his door primed for the serious business required.

Domestic violence protocols err almost too much on the side of caution when it comes to providing an alleged “DV” with information right there at the scene about who made the report; there is a Hearing within 10 days where it all comes out in the controlled circumstances of a courtroom.

But it is impossible to conceive of officers arresting anybody – especially in the bosky precincts – without telling them why they are being arrested. A more credible possibility is that His Worship did not consider trying to toss his child out of a moving vehicle an arrestable offense and kept challenging the officers to prove to him there at the scene just why it might be. Which is not the job of police officers in an arrest situation. They will tell you what laws you are being arrested for having broken, but they are not required to biddy-biddy-boom about whether it’s a good law or whether you are actually guilty; that’s where the court stuff comes in.

It’s disturbing to think that His Worship is so ignorant of how things work. And surely “a black man” – as he styles himself – would be, in his historical vision, more than familiar with police and arrest procedures by the time he had reached adulthood.

So something doesn’t add up here.

Unless one imagines the prof is trying to run some other game-plan. Say – oooh, for instance – that he’s counting on ‘the black community’ (as he envisions it) to be thoroughly knee-jerk in imagining that what happened to the prof is the same thing that happened to so many black adult males in the Old South, back in the old days of the Old South.

Or, worse, the prof really isn’t figuring his race-brothers into his calculations at all, and is simply counting on the media to dust off the old scripts and see him as – with no further consideration – ‘the victim’ in all of this. Hell, even if he just gets ‘balance’ from the media – they won’t discredit his story and will maintain a shy here’s what he said/here’s what they said sort of ‘reporting’ – he still comes off looking better than if folks knew the facts.

But again, what good is this going to do anybody? Except the old war-horses and their old script, and ‘the black community’ who will find itself once again called upon to provide a ‘crowd scene’ in support of this or that dubious story. Surely, the community deserves better than that, especially from one of its own reputed paragons.

Although then again, clearly Harvard has been too generous in judging the maturity of its faculty. Gates was a prima donna, and a bit of a slippery one, but this gent is into some serious stuff here, trying to toss his kid out of a moving car.

Nor does his effort to spin his story say much for either his psychological and characterological maturity or his integrity. This man teaches?

People are shelling out almost 70K a year, students are taking on tuition loan debt, to listen to this guy hold forth about … whatever it is that he teaches?

In his own support, he reveals that “the black community at Harvard” has “in recent years” (italics mine) adopted a policy of “never stepping outside your house” with the police. This is frankly jaw-dropping. Why would the police come to your house unless there was some need? Are We to imagine that they’re just driving around looking to bother folks in their own homes?

Or is it that there are so many situations which involve members of “the black community at Harvard” that the police find themselves having to go knock on certain doors or risk not following through with an investigation. Or a report of assault and battery on a child.

After all, this is not some informal policy left over from the 1950s and 1960s. This is a policy developed “in recent years”. Are We to believe that the Cambridge Police have institutionally brought ‘the bad old days’ baaaack? And that all those black police officers and sergeants and senior command staff are in on it? In the hometown of Hahvahd?

Nope. I’m not buying it.

But there are clearly some problems under the surface here; you can just make out the tips of their fins.

First, the Harvard professoriate appears to be peppered with notable immaturity, and is also integrity-challenged.

Second, this extends even to senior faculty who are responsible for the administration of programs precisely designed for the mission of giving capable black youths the opportunity to develop into mature, competent, leaders. And for the administration of programs tasked with embodying the best of the past decades’ worth of racial change and re-structuring, which have been implemented at vast societal cost. (And how in the blessed frak has that come about, and unnoticed, in the past forty years?)

Third, it all seems to many of these worthies to be, really, not much more than a game. Which is a lethal – not improbably fatal – infection that has reached pandemic proportions inside the Beltway. And worse, an insiders’-game; no non-elites, regardless of race or religion, need apply.

If this is what American ‘elites’ – black or white, academic or political or cultural – have become, then all the more reason for Citizens to embrace True Grit and take back their rightful role in the affairs of this Republic.

And whoever said he’d trust the first fifty names in the Cambridge phone book rather than a committee of the Harvard Faculty needs to be sent a nice card telling him he was right.

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