07/24/2009 (6:26 am)
It’s a tempest in a teapot, but it’s a tempest created personally by the President of the United States, so it’s worth a few words.
Police arrested noted intellectual Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside his own home in Cambridge last week when he became disorderly upon being asked for his identification. Police were investigating a report of a black man attempting to force the door of a home; Gates was, in fact, forcing the door of his own home because he had forgotten his keys. Gates apparently yelled at the police repeatedly and accused them of racism, and after being warned, was arrested for disorderly conduct. Charges have since been dropped.
A reporter fishing for a race story during the President’s press conference on Wednesday asked the President what the incident said about race relations in America. If the President had simply answered the question generally, none of us would be talking about this a week after the incident. However, this President Knows All, and gave his view of the actual incident, claiming “The Cambridge police acted stupidly.” The arresting officer, who teaches a course in racial profiling at the Lowell, MA Police Academy, refuses to apologize, but also will not comment on the incident.
What strikes me is the contrast between the maturity of the two individuals — and it’s the local cop who’s showing up the President of the United States.
If the first words out of a man’s mouth are “I do not know the facts of the case,” the next words must be “so I cannot comment.” After saying “I cannot comment,” the speaker should not comment. Our leader does not possess the maturity to discipline his speech in this manner. As a consequence, policemen across the entire nation now know that the President does not value their professionalism, and does not trust them to execute their jobs properly. Wags and fools across the entire nation have now been vindicated in their ill-informed critiques of trained law enforcement professionals exercising proper procedure. A good day’s work, Mr. President.
The President’s attempt the next day at winning the argument that he started does not help matters. “It doesn’t make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he’s not causing a serious disturbance,” lectured He Who Knows All. It is the job of the officer on the scene to judge whether the citizen is causing a serious enough disturbance to warrant arrest; and yet, our President feels competent to second-guess this experienced officer, even without investigation. “I think that I have extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers do,” the president told ABC’s Terry Moran. I think he does not, and I think every policeman in America knows it; if he did, he would be deferring to the judgment of the arresting officer until the matter had been investigated.
Can anybody imagine any prior President, including the appropriately-maligned President “Jimmy”, who would have gone on record as saying “the police acted stupidly” without investigating first? or who would have the bad grace to defend his criticism?
15 Comments »
Comment by RM
Two points. You are the POTUS; you know your words are heard, parsed and digested by tens of millions of people. You are a Harvard trained lawyer. You presumably know enough not to weigh in and take sides until you have the facts and have made an informed judgment.
We were told Obama would be the first post-racial President, and that if he was not elected it would be a sign that racism is still alive and well in America. Well, here was an opportunity dropped in Pres. Obama’s lap to demonstrate that new, post-racial tone by using his moderate, thoughtful temperament that has been praised by so many. With a few well chosen words (no sarcasm here) he could have defused the situation and made most of the country breathe a little sigh of relief and maybe, just maybe, given everyone something to ponder in a positive way. Instead he quickly defaulted to the liberal stereotype, ramped up a relatively minor local situation into a national controversy, and reinforced everyone’s worst expectations. And this morning (Friday) he continues to dig the hole deeper.
Well played, just what the country needed, thanks a lot.
Comment by suek
“It doesn’t make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he’s not causing a serious disturbance,”
He’s right, of course. The problem is that the police didn’t _know_ it was his own home, because the man didn’t want to show his identification. Perhaps Mr.Obama is unaware of the fact that people who break and enter have been known to lie. And of course, “serious” is a judgment call. At what point does it become “serious”? The police had a gun – the man ignored that fact. That says “serious” to me, right there.
There’s a Chris Rock clip out there that’s pretty funny – on how to respond to an officer of the law when you don’t want trouble.
Part of the problem is that we’d all like for officers of the law to be like Sheriff Taylor in Mayberry, but the facts are that the inner cities are not just larger versions of that small town. In fact, officers lives may be at risk in any and every encounter they’re called on – it’s foolish to assume that they should treat everyone as completely innocent until proven guilty. That’s what you do in a court of law – but not on the streets.
Comment by Phil
Actually, suek, they had been shown his ID already, and apparently had no question that it was his home. The arrest was for disorderly conduct. The accounts I’ve read suggest that Gates refused to come out onto the porch with the policemen at their request, and continued to berate them angrily and abusively.
One thing I noted from the President’s original talk was his claim “Any of us would have been angry.” That’s simply not so. Many of us would be grateful that the police were there protecting our home from burglars; and even those of us who might have been a bit disgruntled over having to prove that we belong in our own home, should have the good sense to zip it and cooperate with the police while they do their job.
That the President does not understand this is jaw-dropping astonishing.
Comment by turfmann
A slip of the mask or a peak behind the curtain at the Wizard pulling the leavers, I’d say.
I would posit that not just a few votes cast for BHO were in hopes of putting what has been a very ugly and unfortunate component of our national character, that being slavery and the long running subjugation and discrimination against blacks, behind us. It is an issue that has consumed much time, agony, blood since the very beginning of our Republic.
I will readily admit that there still exists racism in America However, that racism exists in the heart of the individual, not in the eyes of the law. Further, racism is not confined to those who are white. It is perfectly clear that there are blacks who discriminate against whites, which is equally unjust and must not be tolerated either.
The average person you encounter in America is not a racist, indeed, we go about our daily lives interacting with one another in a civil and polite manner without regard to one’s skin color. We cherish and admire people that may have different pigmentation than we just as we might loathe others – but right thinking people base these opinions upon the person’s character. Is that not what the goal should be, as MLK pronounced, to judge by the content of character? Is not the goal equal protection under the law? Blind justice?
We must realize that there are those who will not, for whatever reason, will not allow the wound to heal. When Jeremiah Wright bellows from the pulpit, I cringe because I know what he says is not true in my case, yet the President sat and listened to this oft repeated line of argument. Not only did he listen to it, he tacitly agreed with it by his continued and intimate association with his pastor, fully aware of his views and associations with people such as Louis Farrakhan.
So it was very sad to see the President (with whom I vehemently disagree based upon on political principle) weigh in with his opinion in such a clumsy manner. Mind you, this is a man who graduated from arguably the finest law school in the world, yet does not have the common sense to keep quiet and be thought a fool than to open his mouth and remove all doubt. He is factually wrong. The Cambridge Police report has been available as a pdf for days now and has to be given special credibility. Why you may ask? First, it is standard operating procedure in all police departments nationwide to document everything. What happens and what is said is fully expected to be scrutinized in a court of law at some point. The documentation was made at the time of arrest, before any of the controversy hit the media. It is corroborated by a shorter police report that was attached to the arresting officers report. The underlying facts are also corroborated by Professor Gates. I am also given to understand that an audio recording of the officer’s open radio microphone exists. If so, it is part of the public record, so it should shine a very bright light indeed upon the credibility of the officer’s testimony.
We ask our police officers to perform a very difficult and dangerous job. They must quickly and accurately apprise a situation they are called to according to strict policies, procedures and protocols, not to mention a nearly inexhaustible litany of law. Their very lives are in danger with each and every call. We must insist that they follow the law, yet we must insist that our fellow citizens treat our police officers with respect and dignity. We must follow the law as well. The law clearly states that you must identify yourself to a police officer when lawfully instructed to do so. It is for his protection as well as instrumental in the conduct of his investigation. You can converse with a police officer, but there are limits to your conduct as well. You may not create a public disturbance. I am certain from my own past personal experience as well as having read the report of this specific incident that Professor Gates was instructed and warned that his conduct was putting him at risk of arrest.
Comment by suek
Here’s a short article that says it all very well.
I did not have the impression that he showed them his ID…the accounts I’ve read seemed to me to indicate that he had not. But then…! So…why did they want him to come out on the porch? I mean – if they saw his ID and knew it was his house, why didn’t they just leave at that point?
>>That the President does not understand this is jaw-dropping astonishing.>>
Maybe it’s time for blacks – including the President – to be required to take sensitivity training. After all, it seems that sensitivity training is a method of clarifying to one group of people those statements and actions which are offensive to another group of people. So far, it’s always been what white people do that offends black people. Maybe it’s time that black people are educated about those things that black people say/do about/to white people that white people find offensive…
Comment by suek
Here’s a copy of the police report. At least in the cut that I read, it says the police officer asked for his “information” to which he responds “No I will not!”
I’m posting a link to the complete report – the cut I saw was not complete. So if he late produced the ID info, I haven’t seen it.
Comment by suek
Heh. Add this to the file…
Comment by walkercolt
What I find most interesting in all of this is the result of Ms. Stevens’ question, with regard to what the nation is discussing. This has to be Obama’s worst nightmare for his legislative agenda. Instead of raising healthcare reform to the topic of the day, we now have his “post-racial presidency” and his legendary “cool” under fire.
I love USA Today’s front page photos, with the prof, the cop, and the prez all together, and his quote “The Cambridge police acted stupidly” embedded in Obama’s picture; THAT’s what people will remember from this week, not “WE NEED HEALTHCARE REFORM” shouted from the TV pulpit.
I wonder if Ms. Stevens knew what she was doing with that off-topic question. Generally, the most remembered question/answer is the last one posed just before signing off. Did she intentionally sabotage Obama’s infomercial?
Comment by suek
>>Did she intentionally sabotage Obama’s infomercial?>>
I doubt it. I suspect she was offering some red meat for Obama’s base. Obama just forgot for a moment that even though a black man is the president, the majority of the USA is white, and he’s supposed to represent _us_ too!
Comment by Horatius
Anyone else notice that one of Pres. Obama’s biggest problems is his desire to appear omniscient and wise. He wants to be seen as “being real” and “shooting from the hip.” Evidently he has learned nothing from Vice Pres. Biden’s follies. You cannot always opine on any given subject, no matter how esoteric, and always have an answer that sounds wise and/or intelligent.
With Pres. Obama it seems to be pathological. It is not like Pres. Vlinton’s need to be loved. In any even Pres. Clinton had the quick wits to be able to speak extemporaneously and more importantly not get bogged in details. (Note: I am not a huge fan of his, but you have to admire the guys ability to speak off the cuff and appear genuine.)
Most people cannot, in the heat of the moment, come up with something witty to say all the time. This is not a fault, this ability is a gift, no matter how it is used. Pres. Obama seems not to realize that he does not have this gift, and I wonder if because of the endless adulation from the media (which seems to be coming to an end, at least to an extent) and his own inflated opinion of himself as a public speaker (which is true in a set speech) he himself does not realize it.
What is the biblical line? “A wise man listens while a fool talks endlessly”?
Comment by Nick
I think this is the Chris Rock clip suek was referring to (warning: the language is a little rough):
Comment by Nick
…guess I can’t embed video…
Comment by RM
I think you are on to something. It sometimes seems as if he is more of a good actor, one who looks and sounds good when reading from a teleprompter and reciting talking points. I cannot say I have yet been impressed with his responses when he is asked anything resembling a non-cabbage softball question. Not that he ever gets any real grilling, but that may start to come. I believe just a bit of the honeymoon is wearing off, and he cannot be happy with his polling data right now. We may be starting to see some scratches in the teflon.
Comment by John Cooper
walkercolt writes:“I wonder if Ms. Stevens knew what she was doing with that off-topic question.”
I wonder if her question wasn’t pre-coordinated with the administration and this whole episode was planned from the start.
We could very well end up with another OJ Simpson-type trial here if Gates decides to sue. That would divert the media focus away from health care for months and months.
Comment by Dr.D
This was Obama at his most unpresidential. It was incredibly foolish for him to get drawn into this at all. As Phil pointed out, he wants to appear all knowing. There is the second point that he never wants to miss a chance to play the race card, and he saw such an opportunity in this situation. He continues to push that every time he brings it up, over and over again, how African-Americans have been the victims of discrimination…. yadda, yadda, yadda. You would almost thing that Jesse Jackson had won the election, or perhaps Al Sharpton.