Ronnie Polaneczky: Crux of the Gates case: Men will be men

Posted: July 28, 2009

EVERYBODY says that the flap over the Harvard professor, the Cambridge cop and the president of the United States is about race.

I'll grant you this, it's about color, all right. Not black and white. Pink and blue.

Because every woman knows that if the professor, the cop or the president in this incident were female, we'd have been talking about something important last week, like health-care reform.

A female professor would've done what Gates should have done: Thanked the officer for his trouble after proving that the home was her proper residence, and then kindly asked him to leave, because "I'm a little cranky after an 18- hour flight from China. I need some rest."

I'm guessing a female officer would've walked away no matter how loud the professor got because she'd have understood that it can be irritating to have a cop in your living room.

And - ask Hillary or even Michelle - I'll bet a female president would've rolled her eyes and said, "Boys will be boys."

By now everyone knows about the Massachusetts smackdown.

White Cambridge cop is summoned to investigate a possible burglary in progress at a private home. Turns out the black Harvard professor who lives there was breaking into his own place because the door was jammed.

Testiness ensues, culminating in the professor's arrest.

Since no one agrees on who said what to whom, we don't know if the professor really was an elitist prig who made an insulting remark about the cop's mother. Nor do we know if the cop really was a racially profiling pig who saw only skin color when he entered the home.

However, thanks to the mikes and cameras at a White House news conference, we know precisely what Obama said when he couldn't resist (typical male) taking sides in this "You're-not-the-boss-of-me" kerfuffle.

The Cambridge police, Obama announced, "acted stupidly" in arresting his good buddy, the professor.

Which prompted the cop's good buddy - a black, fellow officer on the Cambridge police force - to defend his colleague as a stand-up guy incapable of the nonsense of which he was accused.

He and Obama were like members of the Sharks and the Jets, rushing in to protect their own.

Do you see the pattern here? I'm telling you, this incident wasn't racial - it was chemical. Testosterone kept everyone from keeping cool.

We'd be fools to expect it to be otherwise when men are snarling toe-to-toe - no matter how well-credentialed or respected they are by their peers.

Granted, what makes the Cambridge incident more explosive is that professor Henry Louis Gates and Officer James Crowley felt much would be lost in backing down during Gates-gate.

Gates believed his constitutionally protected rights were at stake, and he wasn't about to let them die without an argument. That he believed they were being trampled because of his skin color only committed him more to his stand.

Crowley, it seems clear, felt his upper hand as a police officer wasn't being properly

respected, and he responded by handcuffing Gates. It was a wrong arrest - since when are cops allowed to arrest people merely for giving them lip, on their own property no less? - and charges were rightfully dropped.

Was race involved here?

No doubt about it, racial profiling exists everywhere. But so does police bullying of people of every race, when they feel their badge and gun aren't affording them enough fawning "Yes, Sir, no, Sir" deference.

(Full disclosure here: My white husband, when he was a mouthy kid fresh out of college, was once locked up for four hours by white cops and threatened with a beating when he refused to smile pleasantly during a bogus traffic stop in West Philly.)

I'm thinking, in this instance, that even the president believes this incident was probably hormonally, not racially, instigated.

How do I know?

He's invited Gates and Crowley to the White House this week to discuss things - over a beer. That's what men do after they realize that testosterone got the better of them. They buzz on brews, maybe shake hands and try to move on.

Most women don't get why the silly ritual is even necessary.

It's a guy thing, ladies. You wouldn't understand. *

E-mail polaner@phillynews.com or call 215-854-2217. For recent columns:

http://go.philly.com/polaneczky. Read Ronnie's blog at http://go.philly.com/ ronnieblog.

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