Saturday, July 25, 2009

Thoughts on the Prof. Gates arrest incident.

I will start with the disclaimer that I don’t have all the facts but also observe that having been in a position of authority for investigation, one rarely has indisputable facts to work from. Based on what I’ve seen reported the incident was one of two strong wills butting heads and taken from the respective points of view, both are probably 'right' within the context of their own perspectives on the incident.

Again, having worked in a capacity of bureaucratic authority I can see where the training and procedures lead the police officer to the action he took. On the other hand he had the discretionary authority to overlook the professor’s anger over the intrusion into his home, to exercise diplomacy in the conduct of his verifying the professor’s identity and that he was in fact in his own home, not a burglar. He could have recognized that here was an older man, tired from travel, who was understandably upset and annoyed over having his right to be in his own home challenged. He chose instead to react in a strict bureaucratic way and as the President observed, that was stupid. Procedurally correct perhaps, but not necessary and stupid.

Professor is not without blame either. The police were simply responding to a report which they had no way of knowing whether was or was  not a crime. The reasonable course would have been to respect their need to verify the facts and cooperate. As the John Mellencamp song observes, “authority always wins” and while it may feel good at times to challenge authority, that too can be stupid.

The fact that one is intelligent, is a good person, a good officer, etc. does not mean that one is immune from occasionally behaving stupidly. There was some stupidity on both sides. The best solution would be for the two parties to meet, admit to acting stupidly and forgive each other for an all too common human failing.

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