By Dave Lindorff
The point about the arrest Monday by a Cambridge Police sergeant of Harvard Distinguished Professor Henry "Skip" Gates is not that the police initially thought the celebrated public intellectual, PBS host and MacArthur Award winner might have been a crook who had broken into Gates' rented home. Anyone capable of seeing a 58-year-old man with a cane accompanied by a man in a tux as a potential burglar might make the same mistake, given that a neighbor had allegedly called 911 to report seeing two black men she thought were breaking into the house.
But after Prof. Gates had shown the cops his faculty ID and his drivers' license, and had thus verified his identity, and after he had explained that he had just returned home on a flight from China and had been getting help from his limo driver in opening a stuck door, the cops should have been extremely polite and apologetic for having suspected him and for having insisted on checking him out.
After all, a man's home is supposed to be his castle. When you violate that sanctity, you should, as a police officer, appreciate that the owner might be upset.
But where it really goes wrong is what happened next...
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DAVE LINDORFF is a Philadelphia-based journalist. His latest book is "The Case for Impeachment, 2006). He is also author of "Killing Time" (Common Courage Press, 2003), about the death-penalty case of Mumia Abu-Jamal, surely one of the most well-known victims of police abuse of power. Lindorff's work can be found at www.thiscantbehappening.net