CAMBRIDGE, Mass. With President Obama’s offer to have a beer with the police officer who arrested Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., the controversy over whether racial profiling was involved would seem to be over. But this is Cambridge, Massachusetts, where no point is too trivial to be argued ad nauseam.
“I think it’s kinda condescending, assuming that just ’cause we’re cops we want a beer,” says Patrolman Andy Bennix. “Personally, I wouldn’t take nothing less than an oaky chardonnay, with overtones of vanilla and/or blackberry.”
Since Gates and his Harvard colleagues are just as unwilling to back down as the police, the lines are drawn for what some observers of town-gown conflicts here say will be a long, hot summer, a prediction that comes true on a rare, sunny Saturday as off-duty police assemble outside Gates’ house.
“Come out, you petulant martinet!” says Sergeant Jim Hampy, a twenty-year veteran of the force as he consults a paperback copy of “Thirty Days to a More Powerful Vocabulary”. “Yeah, youse benighted popinjay, you!” adds Patrolman Tony di Merco, before explaining the group’s strategy to this reporter.
“These Harvard guys, you gotta hit ’em where they live,” he says, as he hands a Roget’s Thesaurus to a colleague to find synonyms for “twit”. “If you can come up with an adjective they can’t top, you got ’em.”
But Gates and his fellow academics say they’ll be ready if the cops try to get rough with them. “I used to stroll around with nothing but a Penguin Paperback Classic in my jeans,” says Armand de Borchgrave, a professor of Romance Languages and Literature. “From now on, I’m packing a Modern Library hardback edition of Goethe’s Faust wherever I go.”