Of course, you’ve heard the saga of Henry Louis Gates, the Harvard professor who was arrested in his own house for (depending upon your perspective) either

  • Being black
  • Being belligerent

I’ve never experienced Gates’ degree of police-sanctioned drama. Of course, like most males who are ethnic minorities, I’ve had some uncomfortable interactions with cops (go ahead, ask your minority friends; most of them will have a story or two). However, none of these scraps have risen above slight inconvenience or principled annoyance.

And I’m not in a hurry to condemn President Obama, although he clearly developed a chip in his legendary cool when he said that the cops “acted stupidly.” Let’s give him a break on that one.

At the very least, however, we can agree that an enormous misunderstanding took place in Cambridge, and that this communication breakdown had a lot to do with race. After all, it’s very unlikely that a white officer and a white homeowner would have such mutually high levels of distrust and suspicion that this scene could be replicated with Caucasians all around:


As I said, my negative experiences with cops have been limited to the occasional unprovoked traffic stop or snide question. I’ve certainly never been handcuffed in my own home by a gun-toting officer. But if I were in Gates’ position, where a cop busted in and accused me of burglarizing my own place, I would have an automatic out that the professor clearly does not.

“Don’t shoot,” I could say. “I’m actually Italian.”

It would probably work.