Monday, July 27, 2009

Tyler Cowen on Henry Louis Gates

Marginal Revolution's Tyler Cowen on the Henry Louis Gates arrest:

On the substance of the altercation I do not know the details but some time ago we decided, for better or worse, to give policemen a lot of discretion in intimidating individuals, including innocent individuals and especially African-Americans. I don't think we chose an optimum but it is disingenuous to be suddenly shocked by what happened.

I agree wholeheartedly. The real issue is the proper balance between individual rights and police power. Since 9/11, we've elevated the status of law enforcement personnel from well-compensated civil servants to heroes. As a result, many Americans believe police can do no wrong, and citizens must be highly respectful to law enforcement at all times--even in their own homes. Prof. Gates' arrest should have been an opportunity to re-examine this shift in values; however, by focusing on race rather than how police ought to behave in another person's home, we've lost a chance to discuss a topic important to all Americans.

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