So a few months ago my husband and I came across a distressed,possibly injured, greyhound dog stumbling down the middle of a busy road. We got behind it and followed it into a side street. Not having our cell phones with us, I went up to a door with a porch light on (thought it would be less threatening than if my husband went) and asked the woman(she would not open the door and as it turns not the best house to have chosen),to call the police as there was an animal in distress that was threatening to cause an accident. Five minutes later three cop cars roll up from two different directions. I left the porch, to speak to the responding officer nearest me and my husband stepped out of our Camry. The officer nearest my husband approached him and stated loudly "stay right there,don't move".
Turns out the woman had called 911 and said there was a woman trying to enter her house and she was in danger. No mention of the dog, even though she had said
"I don't do dogs" when I explained why I was at her door?
After minutes of confusion and explaining about the dog,the officers softened in their response and we were no longer explaining we had done nothing wrong.
The officers never looked at our ID, and the officer who had been aggressive with my husband nicely stated " I'm sorry I came on so strongly, but the call we got made us believe we were responding to a crime in progress with no mention of an injured dog". It ended cordially, and we left with the police following up with animal control.
Yes, we had been the recipients of a misinformation police call. And yes though of similar age to Professor Gates and socioeconomic background, we are of caucasion descent. And yes I believe if we had been people of color, we may well have been sorting it out down at the station, providing ID, etc and experiencing the saying "that no good deed goes unpunished".
Upon discussing Professor Gate's situation bounced up against my own, with The Central Virginia Progressive's guest blogger, Mr. Robert House I received the following to share with you:
What the "whole connected world" now knows, the renowned Professor Henry Louis Gates, of Harvard Univ. was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Mass. It is reported that Prof. Gates felt that he was being disrespected in his home by the police officer who was there responding to a possible "break in". Prof. Gates "spoke up" with indignation to the police; (is it because I'm black) and was arrested for "loudmouth and tumultuous behavior". There is an "unwritten law" in America that was instilled in me as a child (I'm 72) for my protection and survival: "There is no law, or rights that a negro has that a white person must respect". I can recall my gran'ma telling me that the "graveyard is full of you black boys and men who were right .....dead right". It can be argued that Prof. Gates was lucky not to be one of those unknown, young black men.
To conclude,I was standing on someone else's front porch and it resolved cordially.
Prof Gates was on his own front porch and his encounter ended in arrest. Which brings me back to the core issue,exploring how similar situations yielded such different outcomes.
Aside from disecting the behavior of the officers in our comparative tale and how training or cultural expectations may have affected their handling of the situation consider:
Professor Gates's cultural expectation was that he was being treated as a potential criminal in his own home b/c he was a black man in a high end neighborhood. A defensive and yes angry response ensued.
My response of complete surprise,on the other hand, showed my lack of expectation I could ever be mistaken for a criminal.
Which brings us back to Mr. House's mother's caution:
There is no law, or rights that a negro has that a white person must respect".