On Tuesday, August 11, a man, William Kostric, shows up to protest President Barack Obama in Portsmouth, NH with a loaded gun strapped to his leg, holding a sign that carried what many consider to be a threatening message. Police and Secret Service agents made the determination that under the circumstances (local gun laws) Kostric would be allowed to remain in his position alongside other protesters awaiting the arrival of President Obama’s motorcade.
On Thursday, July 16, Harvard Professor, Henry Louis (Skip) Gates was arrested in his own home after Cambridge, MA police responding to suspected break-in call, charged him with disorderly conduct for getting into a verbal altercation with Officer James Crowley. The arrest was controversial because Gates was arrested after providing identification that proved he lived at the address and was in the house lawfully. Charges against Gates were eventually dropped but not before the situation quickly escalated into a heated debate about race and racial profiling.
In both situations law enforcement officials used their discretion in deciding whether or not either man needed to be taken into custody. It should be pointed out that these two events happened in different jurisdictions. Its very likely that the Cambridge police may have arrested Kostric had they been given the responsibility of protecting President Obama and that Portsmouth police as well as Secret Service agents may have left Gates home without taking him into custody had they responded to the suspected break-in.
Who knows? But the contrast between the handling of the two incidents is extremely unsettling for many of us concerned about race relations in this country, the safety of the first African American president, who has received more death threats than any other in our nation’s history, and the increasing ugly tone in our country’s political discourse.
The fact that a Harvard professor of one race can be arrested in his own home for exercising his First Amendment rights while a man of another race who is exercising his First and Second Amendment rights while waiting on the President, is left alone raises many questions that fuel the debate of racial profiling and how people of different backgrounds are treated by law enforcement.
Kostric was not just a citizen exercising his First and Second Amendment rights. He wore that gun for a reason and the slogan on the sign he was holding was meant to send a message. The sign read “It is time to water the tree of liberty” which many people believe to be a reference to Thomas Jefferson’s quote "The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants."
It should be noted that Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh wore a shirt with the same slogan when he was arrested. It is baffling how anyone cannot see Kostric’s gun and this sign as anything but a provocative act intended to intimidate some or incite others to violence.
Many of us believe that an American citizen born of middle eastern decent, who was also a practicing Muslim would not have been allowed to protest former President George W. Bush with a gun strapped to his leg and holding a sign with a threatening slogan.
Law enforcement has discretion in these situations lets just hope they start employing a consistent standard so that we can all have confidence in their actions.