Many moons ago in the Washington D.C area, the motto of a man's home being his castle amounted to fighting words for a long while, during a fracas, the exact nature of which I don't recall, though it was centered just outside of D.C., in Maryland, and had something to do with civil rights, real estate, property sanctions, or the like. This was in the Spiro Agnew era, even back before he ascended from being a Maryland governor to being an equally hapless Vice-President of the United States, before he ran badly afoul of the Watergate mess.
In the continuing erosion of privacy and property rights since then, has that concept of a man's castle also fallen by the wayside?
In the community in and around the U.S.'s most esteemed university, a member of the Harvard faculty had a bad day recently. But then any day that police officers enter a man's home uninvited is automaticaly going to be one of the worst days of that man's life, if his melanin count exceeds a certain level. This is a bald fact that never seems to occur to the tens of millions in the American public who blissfully and unconsciously wallow in the assumption that the police are protectors and never tormentors and terrifiers.
This man, Henry Louis Gates, was proud of himself. He was a graduate of Harvard's competitor, Yale, with a Phi Beta Kappa key also to his credit. And since then he had gone on to become the head of a department at Harvard that specialized in Rainbow ("black" or "African-American") issues, and so he probably also saw himself as being a credit to his race, which had been a very big thing in the days leading up to integration.
So it shouldn't be too hard to imagine how Professor Gates felt after the bad day he had already had, having just gotten back from a long trip overseas, and at last he comes to his own domicile, his Home Sweet Home at prestigious Harvard University -- only to discover that he has misplaced his key, and, being apparently on the prematurely feeble side at age 58, he has to get his driver to help him effect a forced entry into his own house.
And then once inside, who should come barging in behind him were none other than some singularly unwelcome visitors, one or more police officers, who demand that he identify himself and establish that he has a right to be there, which he does, but that turns out to be just the beginning of it.
--I know a young lady who in her teenage days had great aspirations to be a ballet dancer, and she was notable in having absolutely zero tolerance for nonsense of any kind, and I kept resisting the temptation of telling her that, should one of her ballet slipper straps break during a performance and the slipper comes off, she should prepare herself not to be upset for even a moment but instead to think, "Now how can I take advantage of this bullsh-t?" I don't know why I hesitated. She had probably already readied herself for that eons earlier.
It seems certain that this moment also came to Professor Gates, in the midst of the indignity of being forced to identify himself and to justify his presence in his own home, when he was so highly regarded in the Harvard community and thus in national and world academic circles. Instead of demurring to an officer who clearly was short in the respect department, he would use this moment as a theme, showing his solidarity with the legions of his Rainbow brothers who had had similar encounters with the law, that had led to disasters up to and including being shot dead.
From that point of view, the resulting spectacle of the professor, a man who depended on the use of a cane, being led away from his own home in handcuffs and being held in prison for several hours played right into that concept.
It was a clearly bad arrest that was quickly disavowed by the arresting officer's higher-ups. But by that time too many other characters saw roles that they could also play in this encounter, and so this obvious tempest in a teapot is still boiling and roiling around the country, mainly because it furnishes so many pretexts for those who would leap to defend the officer, though, as the U.S. President, who used to teach at that same institution, said and should never have considered retracting in the least, it clearly did
look stupid and was
stupid, to go into a house to check on a possible break-in and to emerge moments later with the homeowner, a physically feeble individual and one of the university's professors, whom the officer then proceeds to clap into handcuffs and takes away, merely because of a strong difference in opinion between the two of them as to who rated respect and who did not. Good police work is supposed to amount to more than something like that, especially up there in and around the highly rarefied atmosphere of Harvard University.