The incident reminds me of a case near my home in Georgetown a while back. After a robbery and murder, a senior police officer advised residents to be alert to black men in the area--his point being that very few live there, so their mere presence should arouse suspicion. The comments attracted wide attention and caused an outcry.
For the police (or anybody else) to be suspicious of somebody on grounds of race alone is unjust and unacceptable, and it is surely plain bad policing too. I don't doubt that it happens all the time, and the anger of many black Americans over this seems entirely justified. I do find myself wondering, though, whether the Gates case really fits the same pattern, and whether Obama was right to react as he did.
Certainly the outcome was absurd. To cart Gates off in handcuffs for disorderly conduct after he was confronted in error in his own home is preposterous. But everybody, including Gates, is just taking it for granted that this could only have happened to a black man. Based on my admittedly limited encounters with the police, I find it easy to imagine them doing exactly the same thing to a white man.
Conforming to the pattern of learned brainlessness which seems pervasive through many US bureaucracies, public and private, the police seem obsessively preoccupied with "following procedure". If a person, black or white, becomes angry and unruly when being interviewed by an officer, I can well believe that the procedures call for handcuffs and detention. Whether the procedures cause crazy outcomes is no concern of the officer on the spot. The training seems to induce limitless tolerance for absurdity. These are the procedures. The officer has no discretion. It is all by the book.