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Constitutional "Gates"

I haven’t really thought too much about the ongoing Gates affair other than it seemed like Gates was being a bit oversensitive but that the police officer really should not have arrested him.  This clearly shouldn’t be more than a local issue and the President of all people should not have involved himself.  Of course the issue lets both sides of the racial questions blather on about how obvious it is that the other side is wrong, racist, or race-bating.  These types of disputes don’t interest me all that much but when I saw Hitchens had a new Slate column on the issue I was intrigued to see what he had to say.  Intrigued but a little disappointed that it was this of all issues he was writing about – until I read it.  Great column; and made me think in a new way about the issue (which is why I read Hitch.)  

There is absolutely no legal requirement to be polite in the defense of this right. And such rights cannot be negotiated away over beer.

Race or color are second-order considerations in this, if they are considerations at all. […] Professor Gates should have taken his stand on the Bill of Rights and not on his epidermis or that of the arresting officer, and, if he didn’t have the presence of mind to do so, that needn’t inhibit the rest of us. 
This incident highlights the more important issue of constitutional rights, not racial politics.  Also if anything, treating this issue in terms of its more serious components, not superficial concerns over skin color, can only help us get past that national complex. 
[update]:
Radley Balko over at Reason.com also takes the constitutional tract rather than the racial one on the Gates-Gate.  
The arrest of Harvard African-American Studies Professor Henry Louis Gates has certainly got everyone talking. Unfortunately, everyone’s talking about the wrong issue. 
[…]

Police officers deserve the same courtesy we afford anyone else we encounter in public life—basic respect and civility. If they’re investigating a crime, they deserve cooperation as required by law, and beyond that only to the extent to which the person with whom they’re speaking is comfortable. Verbally disrespecting a cop may well be rude, but in a free society we can’t allow it to become a crime, any more than we can criminalize criticism of the president, a senator, or the city council. There’s no excuse for the harassment or arrest of those who merely inquire about their rights, who ask for an explanation of what laws they’re breaking, or who photograph or otherwise document police officers on the job.

What we owe law enforcement is vigilant oversight and accountability, not mindless deference and capitulation. Whether or not Henry Louis Gates was racially profiled last week doesn’t change any of that.

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