The breakdown of the 24 hours following the presidential press conference requires a closer look.
First of all, President Obama controls the press unlike presidents
before him. Whereas they looked over the raised hands in the press pool
and called on someone to ask a question, Obama comes with a prepared
list of names in the pool and reads from that. Very odd. Very
controlled. The press act like schoolchildren remediated in classroom
Second, after taking questions from the chosen few who teed up cues
from which Obama could launch his talking points on healthcare reform,
he saved the last minute for one more, from Chicago’s hometown veteran
Lynn Sweet. It was a presser about healthcare, it was about 56 minutes
long. And oddly, Sweet’s final question was about a police incident in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, that most Americans were probably unaware of
in the first place. How this fit into a presidential presser on
healthcare reform is…suspect.
The “post-racial” president launched on racial tension in America.
And he injected himself in an incident with very large ramifications.
Was this set up? If so, bad strategy. If not, still badly handled.
One overt thing it accomplished was to re-direct attention away from
the healthcare debacle and onto racial tension. Which saturated the
news shows from morning to night.
But a supposedly unintended consequence was to inject a new and inexperienced president into matters of law enforcement with personal judgment against….law enforcement.
President Obama told the NAACP last week that he
believes there is less racial discrimination in America today than ever
in our history. So it was passing strange this week to hear Mr. Obama
draw a negative national racial lesson from a recent police incident
involving black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.
The subsequent two paragraphs lay out more details of the incident than we heard in that snap judgment in the White House.
Mr. Obama said Mr. Gates is a personal friend, and then
scored the local police for “acting stupidly for arresting somebody
when there was already proof that they were in their own home.” The
President also went on to see in the incident echoes of “a long history
in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law
Mr. Obama has a point about history, but we’re not sure that an
episode in an upscale neighborhood involving one of America’s most
privileged individuals illustrates anything except a misunderstanding.
Mr. Gates lives in a city with a black mayor, a state with a black
governor and a country with a black President. The dispute was arguably
about town-gown relations rather than race. If this is a teaching
moment, one lesson is that it’s usually better to cooperate during
encounters with law enforcement so that matters don’t escalate
needlessly. And if a cop asks you to step out on the porch, or away
from your car, it’s probably because he’s concerned for his own safety.
Mr. Obama’s broadside against local cops sends the wrong message to
Americans of every race about how to respond to misunderstandings with
police. His comments may also do more to aggravate than alleviate
tensions between police officers and the minority communities they
That became evident in the next 24 hours. The Cambridge police chief defended his force on this incident and took it as an opportunity to re-examine their policies and procedures.
The incident sparked a firestorm of controversy and a
national debate over racism and racial profiling. Gates demanded an
apology from Crowley on Wednesday and Crowley refused. President Barack
Obama inserted himself into the controversy Wednesday night by saying
police had “acted stupidly” in the incident.
Asked about Obama’s comment, Cambridge police commissioner Haas said that “this department is deeply pained.”
President Barack Obama plunged his presidency into a
charged racial debate and set off a firestorm with police officers
nationwide by siding with a prominent black scholar who accuses police
Saying he was unaware of “all the facts” but that police in
Cambridge, Massachusetts, “acted stupidly” in their arrest of Harvard’s
Henry Louis Gates, Obama whipped up emotions on both sides of an issue
that threatens to open old wounds.
“The President has alienated public safety officers across the
country by his comments,” said David Holway, president of the
International Brotherhood of Police Officers, which represents 15,000
public security officials.
In a letter to Obama, he sought an apology. “You not only used poor
judgment in your choice of words, you indicted all members of the
Cambridge police department and public safety officers across the
It has grown into a national debate, overnight.
Pressed on the matter Thursday, White House spokesman
Robert Gibbs said the president “was not calling the officers stupid,”
but he declined repeatedly to say the president regretted his words.
To this point, he hasn’t.
But in all the media frenzy over this latest distraction from the derailed healthcare reform proposals, there’s this interesting analysis about that Cambridge incident, which dares to say what others haven’t.
I don’t know all the facts of the Dr. Henry Louis Gates,
Jr. case- indeed, one side says one thing and the other side says
But, if you follow the rule that usually the truth is somewhere
“in-between”, you could probably come to this conclusion: The good
Professor might have acted in a way most of us know NOT to act and the
police might have been a little touchy when they arrested him.
But, I also had another thought as I read the reports. Who yells at
a police officer? In my experience only two types of people yell at
police officers: drunken people and those who are “privileged”. By
privileged I mean people who feel they are “above” the law. People who
can afford expensive attorneys. People who are “connected”.
These people have attitudes and aren’t afraid to show them. Maybe
it’s a part of my upbringing- but my first instinct when dealing with
the police is cooperation.
Whose isn’t? The privileged.
But, in my experience, those with privilege don’t think
like that. They say things like, “you don’t know who you’re dealing
with” and “wait until I call my lawyer”. Another quote that I’ll add to
that list now is: “this incident will help me make a movie about my
field of study.”…
I don’t know and we’ll never know. But, it wouldn’t be the first
time someone turned an innocuous incident into a headline in order to
gain some notoriety. The one thing I do know is that 99.9% of the
people I am familiar with don’t provoke the police…
I think our elites have always been a little out of touch, and maybe
it is a perverted sign of progress that some African-American people
today are able to do what their White counterparts have been doing for
a long time: take advantage of their social status. The good doctor is,
after all, a professor in one of the country’s most elite schools who
counts the President as a friend.
Surely the “average” guy yelling at the “average” American police
officer would have spent the night in jail. Maybe the real question is
why a higher-class citizen was released with the charges dropped while
a lower-class citizen would not have received the same treatment.
So we’re back to tensions between race and class, and meanwhile,
healthcare reform efforts have been derailed. It has practically gone
under radar that politicians demanding the most urgency on
healthcare have suddenly flip-flopped.