The arrest of Professor Gates by a Cambridge police officer has been viewed by many as simply the latest incident in a long history of racial profiling by law enforcement officers. But rendering this episode as a case of racial profiling obscures more than it illuminates.
There is no question that the officer overreacted. Professor Gates should never have been handcuffed and taken to jail. But if we are to understand not only this disturbing incident but more tragic interactions as well, we need to look beyond the question of racial profiling. We need to appreciate the myriad historical and contemporary factors that too often poison relations between African Americans and law enforcement agencies.
We would all benefit if law enforcement officers were better trained to de-escalate such volatile encounters and defuse the understandable anger of those citizens whom they are pledged to serve.