Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates and Police Power

I had an epiphany last night while thinking about responses to the Gates case.

To preface, I've been talking about it on an online forum with several male Republicans in my town. All of them have in the past shown extreme concern about abuses of state power (IOW, they frequently complain about Obama being a fascist or a socialist).

This concern is reflected in the posts of older white male Republicans across the country. You can read their comments on blog posts and online articles, and you know what their political views are.

What strikes me is that these men normally come across as libertarian and anti-state. Via Alicublog I found this entry by Jonah Goldberg:

conservatives, like Americans generally, are of two views when it comes to cops. One side is inclined to distrust them, see them as potential abusers of authority — mere men with badges and guns. Another side is deferential to police. That is not to say they condone abuse or sanction cops being above the law. But they give cops the benefit of the doubt for a host of reasons.

Here's my epiphany: I look at those conservatives who distrust cops, and I see their anger at Gates. And I realize what the deal is.

They're angry because Gates did what they WISH they could do but are too afraid to: he challenged the police for invading his home. Older conservative men bluster all the time about "the state" abusing its power, coming into our homes. I had an argument yesterday with a fire fighter who was complaining that Obama's health care reform would be a "violation of the 4th Amendment"! LOL! I'm still trying to figure out that one.

This is just another version of the Yellow Elephants. These are the men who define manhood a certain way, assert their support for this construction of manhood, then fail to live up to it themselves.

It has to gall the crap out of them that an older physically disabled black man asserted the very rights they demand on a regular basis. They dream of exerting their power as citizens, the right to control their territory (their homes). But they defer to police authority because they fear the consequences.

And here's Gates, who talked back, demanded badge numbers, asserted his civil rights to be in his own house, expressed anger--all the things they wish they could have done in a similar situation.

But to assert that he acted legitimately, that he acted the way they wish they could? That would mean that a black man was a better man than they could ever be.

And we can't have that, can we?

1 comment:

Laura said...

Interesting take, and not one I'd seen yet. My husband and I are going back and forth on this issue. He's siding with the cops while I'm suggesting the cops were wrong. Actually, I see blame on both sides. It is possible that both overreacted. The cops, however, being the ones with the handcuffs and therefore, the power, won.