By saying that Herbert is a good columnist doesn't mean I agree with everything or even most of what he says. But whatever Herbert has to say, he says it well. I like reading him and thinking about his perspective.
The message that has gone out to the public is that powerful African-American leaders like Mr. Gates and President Obama will be very publicly slapped down for speaking up and speaking out about police misbehavior, and that the proper response if you think you are being unfairly targeted by the police because of your race is to chill.Those who defend police behavior (as I often do) focus on the legality of specific situations. If the sergeant's report is correct as written, I have no doubt the arrest was legally correct.
I have nothing but contempt for that message.
Those who attack police behavior (as I sometimes do) see this one arrest as symbolic of a greater pattern of racist police behavior. An arrest can be legally correct but morally wrong.
Your opinion on the Gates' arrest probable depends on which perspective you like starting with. If you say, "What in the hell does slavery, Jim Crow laws, and a history of racism have to do with Gates' arrest?!", then you're on the side of Sergeant Crowley.
If you heard about this arrest and said, "Here we go again," then you agree with Gates.
Think of it this way: police are trained to think about "the totality" of the individual circumstance.
But society is more likely to judge collective circumstances in their totality.
Later in his column Herbert says, "While whites use illegal drugs at substantially higher percentages than blacks, black men are sent to prison on drug charges at 13 times the rate of white men."
One can look at all the individual cases of men in prison and say that each one is OK. But collectively, something is wrong.
Let's assume, for the sake of argument, that all men in prison are guilty as charged. Is that enough? Is it enough to say there's no problem with the racial disparity in prison simply because all the black drug offenders behind bars are guilty? Or does it matter that blacks are 13 times more likely than whites to be in prison for the same crime?
Now personally I think it's a stretch to link, as Herbert does, Gates' arrest to institutional racism in the entire criminal justice system. But I do agree that something about our criminal justice system is racist (mostly the war on drugs) and that is terribly terribly wrong.