Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Know Thy Neighbor

First, I wish to refer you to two excellent posts over at Choosing a Soundtrack regarding the recent spat between Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and an officer from the Cambridge PD. From a non-ideological point of view, its author rightly calls out where BOTH sides may have acted foolishly (I say 'may' because none of us were there).

There will no doubt be endless blog posts, journal submissions, Ph.D. thesis proposals, and talk show call-ins regarding this situation and its deeper meaning for America. But last night on NECN, I heard something that cut through all of that, was truly non-racial and seems unassailable from a logical point of view:

Maybe we should get to know our neighbors better.

Admittedly, Cambridge is a transient city with a high student and young professional population, so in some ways that's just much easier said than done. But at the same time, it does have its long-term residential core, of which Gates could be counted as a member (he's been on the Harvard faculty for many years now). The lady who was walking her dog in the neighborhood apparently had no idea who he was.

On the one hand, that woman deserves a lot of credit -- if it appeared someone was breaking into my house (even if that someone was me!) I would WANT someone to call the police if they were even slightly in doubt as to what was happening. The caller also did something a lot more honorable than the Queens residents who basically witnessed the Kitty Genovese murder back in 1964 and just stood and watched while no one reported it.

But on the other hand, the frustration of not knowing neighbors and the demise of social capital is an almost-universal lament in modern America. Besides the apparent two-way shamefulness of what happened between Gates and Crowley (Why was Gates belligerent, and why couldn't Crowley have just left him after ID'ing him as the owner?), it's also sad that the caller didn't know Dr. Gates, and didn't feel comfortable enough to ask the suspected perpetrators (at least one of whom was an aging man with a diminutive frame) as to what was going on.


C R Krieger said...

I agree with Kad Barma that both sides walked into this problem, but I also agree about getting to know one's neighbors.  In support of that, I am a pretty shy person but one day I was getting my shoes shines at Logan Airport and so was Dr Gates.  I asked him a couple of questions about the "Middle Passage" and he answered me graciously.  While having Dr Gates in the neighborhood is not as good as having Dr Victoria Fahlberg, I bet he is normally approachable and interesting.

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...


Thanks for adding...I'm sure Dr. Gates is normally that way, so it's unfortunate there was no audio/visual capture to help set the record straight on all this. I had something happen yesterday at work (of the 'no, that's not what I just said' nature) that made me realize why some people tape record their conversations.

Or why a lot of what police do these days (i.e. pulling over drivers) is now recorded...not just to *police* their own actions, but to protect them from people's claims afterwards..