A Black and White Question

NEW YORK – In the afternoon of July 16 two men appeared to be breaking into a fine house in an expensive area of Cambridge, Massachusetts. Alerted by a telephone call, a policeman arrived smartly on the scene. He saw one black male standing inside the house and asked him to come out. The man refused. He was then told to identify himself. The man, still refusing to step out, said he was a Harvard professor, showed his ID, and warned the cop not to mess with him. He said something about black men in America being singled out, and asked the cop, who was white, for his name and identification. The cop, joined by several colleagues, arrested the professor for disorderly conduct.

We now know that the professor had broken into his own home, with the help of his chauffeur, because the door was jammed. 

What was unusual here was not the cop’s heavy-handedness. Most people in the US know that if you talk back to the police, they will get nasty very fast. The fact that the man was black might or might not have made the cop go for his handcuffs even sooner than he might normally have done. That, too, would not have been unusual.

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