The Constitution > Race, Politics, and Beer

I usually try my best to avoid the inflated and fantastical stories that make up a majority of today’s media coverage, but this “Beer Summit” has put me over the edge. In case you haven’t turned on a television or picked up a newspaper in the last week, the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates Jr. has been making headlines all week, the finale of which culminated in the  “Beer Summit,” involving Prof. Gates, the arresting officer Sgt. James Crowley, President  Obama and Vice President Biden sitting down together over an after-work beer at the Whitehouse. Lucky for me, I was able to rely on author/journalist Christopher Hitchens to present a reasoned response to this whole situation. In his latest contribution to Slate Hitchen’s article points out that this was not a case about race but rather a police state run rapid along with the erosion of the bill of rights. Hitchens provides a recent, personal account of this type of police mentality.

More recently, I was walking at night in the wooded California suburb where I spend the summer, trying to think about an essay I was writing. Suddenly, a police cruiser was growling quietly next to me and shining a light. “What are you doing?” I don’t know quite what it was—I’d been bored and delayed that week at airport security—but I abruptly decided that I was in no mood, so I responded, “Who wants to know?” and continued walking. “Where do you live?” said the voice. “None of your business,” said I. “What’s under your jacket?” “What’s your probable cause for asking?” I was now almost intoxicated by my mere possession of constitutional rights. There was a pause, and then the cop asked almost pleadingly how he was to know if I was an intruder or burglar, or not. “You can’t know that,” I said. “It’s for me to know and for you to find out. I hope you can come up with probable cause.” The car gurgled alongside me for a bit and then pulled away. No doubt the driver then ran some sort of check, but he didn’t come back.

Citizens of a free society should be considered innoecent until proven guilty not guilty until proven innocent. Unfortunatley, our government and law force tend to side with the latter.

The article goes on to point out the real heart of this issue and that is its blatant disregard for constitutional rights. While Gates and all the other coverage of this story focused on the issue of race, the notion of civil liberties was hardly, if ever, even whispered.

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.

It’s a shame to see an event which carried out such flagrant disregard for constitutional freedoms get convoluted in an uproar about race, politics, and beer brands.

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