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President Obama was right when he said that the arrest of Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates, Jr. was handled “stupidly” by the Cambridge Police Department. Arresting a man in his own home after he showed ID because he wanted the police out should not be considered “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.”
The incident should be used to ask why our rights within our own homes are not being respected. Instead, Gates sees it as being “about the vulnerability of black men in America.” Race, not rights, is the watchword today. Radio host Kim Coleman, for example, told CNN that the arrest of Gates “just tells me we’re not in a post-racial society.” Professor Jelani Cobb of Spelman College agreed, expressing concern that “one of the most recognizable African-Americans in the country can be arrested in his own home and have to justify being in his own home.”
African-Americans are not the only ones.
This country was founded with the right to property and the sovereignty of the home as a bedrock of its legal system. The arrest of Professor Gates after showing identification for challenging the right of police to remain in his own home is extremely disappointing. It is true that Gates could have reacted better to the police’s presence, and accusing the officer of racism upon arrival was completely inappropriate. That said, you have the right to free speech in your own home. The police do not have a right to be there absent some compelling reason.
If a man’s home is his castle, then its walls are crumbling and its gates have been forced open. Municipal governments have seized private property to turn it over to developers in thousands of cases since the Supreme Court decided that the rights of governments and megamalls override those of people in Kelo v. New Haven. Homeowners can be arrested in some states for defending their homes against intruders. Many lives of police officers and homeowners are needlessly lost in surprise drug raids.
What happened to Professor Gates was unacceptable, as are so many more senseless intrusions on the sanctity of the home. Americans must see more than just race in this case and protest the pointless arrest of a man in his own home. If we do not, then the scariest outcome of the Cambridge police’s decisions may be that the home becomes, as the charges brought against Professor Gates put it, “a public space,” where speaking rudely and rejecting the unneeded presence of police become crimes.
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