The President acted stupidly, not the Cambridge police

Jul 24, 2009 by

In an incident heard around the  world President Obama accused the Cambridge police of acting “stupidly” in the arrest of a prominent black scholar and Harvard professor. The arrest of Professor Henry Gates followed a report of a possible burglary. A neighbor reported that two black men with backpacks were forcing open the door of what later turned out to be Gates home. Gates had apparently forgotten his keys and was jimmying the door to get inside. According to the testimony of Cambridge police officer Carlos Figueroa, who responded to the call along with officer James Crowley, when he arrived at the scene officer Crowley was already inside the house. The filed police report says Crowley had asked Gates for some identification and Gates had shouted that he would not give any information and called the officer racist. According to the report, Gates then yelled, “This is what happens to black men in America.” When Crowley tried to calm Gates down, Gates shouted, “You don’t know who you’re messing with.” The report continues that the shouting went on after Gates and the officers walked out onto the front porch. When Gates allegedly wouldn’t cooperate or calm down, Crowley arrested him for disorderly conduct.

It seems to me that this was a case of a man who has racial issues of his own losing it when a white police officer had the hubris to actually try to do his job. Refusing to show ID when asked by a police officer is not a smart thing to do. To start shouting at a police officer, calling him a racist, demanding the name of the officer and his badge number, saying things like “you don’t know who you’re messing with” are also not very smart things to do. When the police respond to a call the best thing you can do is cooperate and not lose your temper. The officers did not know who Gates was and were just trying to determine what was going on. I would think that Gates would have been appreciative of the officers, who were there after all to protect Gates home from being burglarized. Gates complained that Crowley did not have his permission to enter the house. Police do not need permission to enter a house if the owners refuse to identify themselves and the police are investigating a potential break-in and burglary.

This whole incident could have been avoided if Gates had acted rationally, like most people would have. But as I said before it seems that Gates has a giant chip on his shoulder and real issues with white people, especially white police officers. His comment of “this is what happens to black men in America” is interesting. Maybe he was referring to the fact that being black in America means you have the opportunity to become a respected scholar and Harvard law professor. The comment “you don’t know who you’re messing with” reflects someone who has a overinflated sense of his position as well as someone who knows he can play the race card effectively to say and do anything he wants. Or maybe he knew that his buddy, the President of the United States, would take his side while not even knowing the facts of the incident.

But the most troubling aspect of this whole affair is the President of the United States publicly siding with Gates without knowing all the facts (which he actually admitted) and then calling the arrest stupid. The President then went on talking about racial profiling and how it is a continuing problem in America. To quote the President “What I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of Africa-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.” Why did the President mention racial profiling “separate and apart from this incident.?” There was obviously no racial profiling going on here. Every time a white police officer arrests a minority it is not “racial profiling.” If the neighbor had reported two white men attempting to break into the house does anyone think the Cambridge police would have ignored the call? Does anyone think the Cambridge police would not have asked to see their identification? Does anyone think the police would not have arrested them if they had started shouting epithets and being uncooperative?

Everything officer Crowley did that night was standard police procedure. The issue of race was injected into the incident by Gates. If anyone is a racist it is Professor Gates. Officer Crowley teaches a course on racial profiling for other officers and gave CPR to a dying Reggie Lewis, the Boston Celtics star who had a fatal heart attack in 1993 during a practice game at Brandeis University, where Crowley was a campus police officer at the time. The next day Professor Gates felt compelled to go before a group of African-Americans and continue to stoke the fires of racial discord by continuing to blame racial profiling for the incident. It is also notable that a majority of police agencies around the country have come down solidly on the side of officer Crowley and the Cambridge police department.

President Obama even went so far as to demand that officer Crowley apologize, again without knowing all the facts of the case. In fact President Obama mistakenly thought that Professor Gates was arrested for being in his own house after showing ID. He did not realize that Professor Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct. To quote officer Crowley, ” That apology will never come. It won’t come from me as Jim Crowley. It won’t come from me as a sergeant in the police department. I know what I did was right. I have nothing to apologize for.”

The White House tried to downplay Obama’s comments by saying that the President was not calling officer Crowley stupid. I guess he was calling the whole Cambridge police department stupid instead. If anyone should apologize it should be Professor Gates for throwing a temper tantrum and calling an officer who is clearly not a racist a racist. President Obama should also apologize to officer Crowley and the entire Cambridge police department. But I would not expect an apology to be forthcoming from Professor Gates and probably not President Obama either.

Even a CNN commentator, Maria Haberfeld, wrote in her commentary that Obama rushed to judgment on police in the incident. To quote her commentary: “We teach our children to think about what others feel before they act, but as grown-ups we frequently assume we understand what others do without ever having walked in their shoes.” She further goes on to say: “I was not there. Neither was the president nor all the others who are quick to pass judgment.”  Her commentary is very enlightening and can be read here.

Another great perspective, more eloquently presented than I can ever hope to do, on the incident can be seen here. (from CNN iReport), entitled “Shame on the President and SHAME on GATES for Pimpin’ the moment.

And while I was not there either, I at least waited until I had most if not all the facts in before writhing this post. That is something President Obama cannot say.

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