If the Gates controversy is a “teachable moment,” what’s the lesson?

Today President Obama will get together with police Sgt. James Crowley and Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr. for a beer. Crowley is the officer who arrested Gates, a noted African-American scholar, inside his own home. Obama has said he hopes the affair can become a “teachable moment.” What lesson do you think needs to be learned?

The episode with Gates reveals we have a long way to go before we can overcome being a racialized nation. -Jann C. Weaver

It is not about blaming at this point. It is about talking about ever-present institutionalized racism and white privilege in the United States. -Jane Lee, St. Paul, MN

Know your neighbors! Be safe, but don’t call police without checking to find it may be your neighbor! Let the neighbors know you are home and locked out! -Sally, Eden Prairie, MN

Lessons learned: 1. Black people’s behavior will be perceived and presented in the worst possible light, 2. Angry white reactions will force black perspective to be silent so white people don’t have to learn any lessons. -Marj, Burnsville, MN

The lesson should be that once the officer ID’d the man as the owner of the house they should have respected his constitutional rights and apologized and left his property. It doesn’t matter how verbally belligerent he became. He should not have been arrested. -anonymous text message

The lesson to be learned is one of Tolerance. Tolerance for the differences we have and an understanding that all people have more similarities than differences. -anonymous text message

The lesson may end up being that even large conflict can be addressed by everyone sitting down at the table without the benefit of legal intervention. -anonymous text message

That the police have a superiority complex that insults many people, and they need to address that. -anonymous text message

Share your reply in the comments: If the Gates controversy is a “teachable moment,” what’s the lesson?

  • Mike

    I think we can all look at this situation and see what happens when we jump to conclusions and don’t take the time to evaluate our options. For Mr Gates, could he have reacted differently? For the police, could the officer have approached Mr Gates about the disturbance in a more productive way? For the rest of us, should so many people assumed the worst in the actors?

  • Daryl

    President Obama should have gotten the facts prior to judging the officer(s) on the scene. His apology on this point could possibly teach the rest of the country how important that is. Why didn’t he condemn the Iranian police when they attacked protesters after the recent election?

  • Julie

    It would be sad if this caused people to stop watching out for their neighbors. The 911 caller did the right thing, reporting that someone might be breaking in – we’d want our neighbors to do the same. Too bad she didn’t recognize her neighbor. President Obama should comment on this aspect of the case. Let’s get to know our own neighbors, and next week’s National Night Out on Tuesday is a good opportunity to do that.

  • Chad

    The lesson is that issues surrounding race, social injustice, and cultural differences still peak public interest and cause unneeded turmoil. Just 50 years ago race threatened to rip our country apart. Now is a time to reflect and truly look at what kind of culture we want to build for ourselves moving forward.; one where our children live in a world truly devoid of prejudice and discrimination, or one that pays lip service to those ideals. . .

  • JackU

    I haven’t been following this story that closely, so I my understanding of the facts may be a little off.

    I think what Prof Gates and Sgt Crowley will probably find out is that they are more alike than they are different. Both appear to be good men concerned about how we see each other. Both seem to have been caught in traps set by stereotypes.

  • Alpha

    NOTHING HAS BEEN LEARNED. There is nothing to be learned. Some people have a chip on their shoulder. Gates is one of them. Lesson over.

  • Michelle

    I think the teachable lesson is to calm down and not to jump to conclusions; this goes for both sides of this controversy. If we don’t want racism to be an issue, everyone needs to make it a non-issue. Professor Gates, it seems could have been more cooperative, as I understand from listening to the officer, that he was not certain that someone ELSE was not in the house, hence asking Gates to step outside. However, once he realized that Gates was the person in question and after finding out it was, indeed, his house, all should have been left alone. If both parties could have reacted, perhaps, calmly and rationally (Gates realizing the officer may have had his safety in mind; and the officer realizing there was no burglary), this would not have been a problem.

  • Kellen Bonner

    The lesson is to keep your door from jamming and people won’t call the police.

  • kennedy

    For me the teachable lesson here is that we all tend to follow thinking ruts (stereotypes being an example). Many people who know very little about the situation are ready to pronounce judgement based on past experiences.

    It is easy to say that “Cops are prejudiced against black people” and see this situation in that light. It is easy to say that “Gates has a chip on his shoulder” and see the situation in that light. My judgement is that a late night police visit is a tense situation for everyone. This was a simple misunderstanding. Everyone could have reacted better, including the media that is trying to draw viewers.

  • Greg

    The lesson is that even educated black people use race card whenever they can and look like are way most racist that white folks who are trying to do their job.

  • Anonymous

    Why did Professor Gates provide his Harvard University ID card instead of an approved state ID card or his drivers license? I believe this is where the arrogance and problems started!

    Kudos to the neighbor for calling 9-1-1 to report a possible burglary. I want that neighbor living near me.

  • Cedric

    Remember that the officer has a gun and to keep your cool. I’m a 35 y/o black male and I had been in a similar situation when I was a teenager. Get the officer’s name and badge number, then immediately document what happened and what you were doing. Then file a complaint against the department afterwards if you feel wronged.

    In my situation the officers were in the wrong and my friends and I got an apology from the Sherrif’s department afterwards.

    BTW, racial profiling does exist. Please move past any of your closed beliefs and analyze the situation in whole instead of the soundbyte. Just like the terrorist put Muslims in the negative column, there are some black and others (white, latino, asian, etc) that put their respective groups under the microscope to other groups also, but it doesn’t justify treating all of that group as criminal suspects.

  • VanS

    From the Gates incident, we might learn a profound lesson, or a trivial lesson.

    The profound lesson might be that racism is alive and well in America; and that it works both ways. Dr. Gate’s ire might not have been so vitriolic if he did not immediately assume that he was a victim of racism, if instead he perceived himself as the subject of a misunderstanding easily cleared up. To perceive oneself in racial terms is itself racist. According to media reports, it was Dr. Gates who brought race into the discussion, and started shouting about it.

    To which the officer overreacted, the other side of the racially based misunderstanding.

    Or maybe we are all making too much of an isolated incident. Perhaps what we should learn is that one should not talk to anyone about anything after traveling for 24 hours.

  • Wayne Wick

    The lesson to be learned here is that not every situation involving law enforcement and minorities is driven by prejudice.

    The 911 caller reacted appropriately. She was concerned about a neighbor’s welfare and should be commended for reacting.

    The police reacted appropriately. They were called on to confront a burglar and by asking Professor Gates to come outside they were simply following the law and looking out for their own safety.

    For whatever reason, Prof. Gates appears to have handled the situation poorly. And as a friend of Prof. Gates Pres. Obama should never have weighed in.

    As it appears that race was not a motivating factor in his arrest, Professor Gates should apologize for the way he acted.

    However, Bias will continue to be suspect unless Police Departments around the country are diligent in screening and removing officers who have shown to treat minorities unfairly.

  • James

    My tax money going for a beer party + flying every body around….. lead the country don’t try and make friends with everyone.

  • NonPartisan

    Seems Gates was unruly, and the cops overreacted. Nevertheless, Gates and his crybaby buddies missed the real teachable moment. Professor Gates just returned from China, tyrannical, totalitarian, oppressive, COMMUNIST CHINA, where the regime just killed a bunch of Uighurs, treats Tibetans like trash, and never has apologized for Tiananmen Square. If Gates were a professor in China, and had been unruly with the cops, he could be simply “disappeared” into a grave or the gulag. Enough of this whinging, already!!

  • Jon M. Jacobs

    Teachable? Well, yes perhaps, but a large part of the problem is the police state’s failure to realize that the authority of the police should NOT extend beyond the idea of stopping and preventing crime, and creating conditions that are safe. Arresting Prof. Gates in his own home for entering his home via force is questionable. I doubt very much that it is a crime to break into your own home.

    The real problem is the arrogance of the POLICE. It would seem they believe that they are untouchable.

  • Robert

    My dad, a very smart white man of the South, now gone, gave me a very good piece of advice as a young man.

    Rules for the road… and respect for the law. Regardless of skin color. Forget the messenger. If you are stopped by an officer of the law. Say yes sir, no sir, and “do as you are told”. Keep you mouth shut and take the ticket or the directions.

    The road (or ones own yard) is no place to settle a dispute, with an attitude. That is shy we have the courts.

    I wonder if Gates would have been so irate if there had been someone in the back room of his house about to kill his wife or children.

    And, he should thank his neighbors for being so interested in someone trying to get inside his house. It is call “neighborhood watch.”

  • Tracey

    I know I’m a little late but anyway: I think there is too much focus on the “racial” side of this. By inflaming the issue you only perpetuate the emotions, reactions and stereotypes. When I was young and fighting with my sister (2yrs difference), my mother used to make us hug, even though we were both still angry. She would tell us to move on and not turn this disagreement into a life-long grudge/resentment. Being the elder sister, I also recall getting told that sometimes I need to step up and set the example (walk away) instead of reacting to my sister’s antagonism. This is what this scenario reminds me of (and this has nothing to do with race). My sister and I are very good friends now (although very different people leading very different lifestyles) and I carry these lessons (and many other ‘Mom’ wisdoms) with me daily.