There are the things you can try when confronted by a cop, and there are the things that you can't—or had better not. Last Memorial Day, I was going in a taxi down to Washington, D.C.'s Vietnam Memorial when a police car cut across the traffic and slammed everything to a halt. Opening the window and asking what the problem was and how long it might last, I was screeched at by a stringy-haired, rat-faced blond beast, who acted as if she had been waiting all year for the chance to hurt someone. (She was wearing a uniform that I had helped pay for.) I often have a hard time keeping my trap shut, but I saw at once that this damaged creature was aching for trouble and that it would cost me days rather than hours if I supplied her with any back chat.
Back chat sounds so much more innocuous than back talk.
Gates has a limp that partly accounts for his childhood nickname and is slight and modest in demeanor. Moreover, whatever he said to the cop was in the privacy of his own home. It is monstrous in the extreme that he should in that home be handcuffed, and then taken downtown, after it had been plainly established that he was indeed the householder. The president should certainly have kept his mouth closed about the whole business—he is a senior law officer with a duty of impartiality, not the micro-manager of our domestic disputes—but once he had said that the police conduct was "stupid," he ought to have stuck to it, quite regardless of the rainbow of shades that was so pathetically and opportunistically deployed by the Cambridge Police Department. It is the U.S. Constitution, and not some competitive agglomeration of communities or constituencies, that makes a citizen the sovereign of his own home and privacy. There is absolutely no legal requirement to be polite in the defense of this right. And such rights cannot be negotiated away over beer.