commentary on the arrest of harvard professor henry louis ‘skip’ gates jr.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

Harvard Professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.

here’s a very well written article entitled ‘skip, you mouthed off‘ by coolcleveland.com columnist and former newspaper editor mansfield frazier on harvard professor henry louis ‘skip’ gates jr., arrested by police for disorderly conduct after mouthing off to an officer following his response to a report of a break in to dr. gates’ house.

unfortunately, president obama ended a rather good press conference on health care by stating the harvard police acted ‘stupidly,’ thereby defending the actions of his admitted friend dr. gates. and unfortunately for the president, that’s all people are going to remember about the press conference.

the tactful and ‘obamalike’ thing to say would have been, ‘i’m not familiar with all of the details of the encounter, nor of the ongoing investigation, but any time there is a charge of anyone – african-american or otherwise – being arrested in their own home, it is cause for concern.’ that’s what he should have said. instead, he backed his friend, called the police stupid, and torpedoed his own agenda.

it was a rare oratory slip up for the president (if you don’t count the long pauses and ‘uhs’ that are the basis for many a drinking game). i believe the president to be a master debater and cunning linguist – a top-notch orator overall (especially compared to our previous president bush). but as a lawyer, president obama should know that one should not pass judgment on police during an ongoing investigation. it appears his old harvard law school ties got the best of him, and he used the presidential press conference as a kind of bully pulpit to shade the debate. this is not to say that the harvard police are not worthy of criticism, or that dr. gates’ accusations are unfounded, but to respond in a belligerent manner gives racists the excuse they are looking for to dismiss any accusation of racial profiling. in fact, then senator obama was very careful not to fuel the flames of racial tensions as a candidate for president by making incendiary statements about ‘being black in america.’ this was to his credit, and did much to allay, or at least mitigate the fears of many throughout the nation during the campaign. but by even mentioning the exchange in his press conference and siding with dr. gates, president obama gave the g.o.p. and political pundits across the nation something else to latch on to and distract the nation away from much needed health care reform – the very purpose of the press conference.

as for the encounter between the sgt. james crowley (see comments here) and dr. gates, the full police report can be found here on the smoking gun website. it is worth noting that dr. gates himself apparently stated that the front door was difficult to open because of a prior break in. did the neighbor who reported the suspected break in, lucia whalen, have this in mind when she called in the incident?

and as for mansfield frazier’s editorial, while i’m not the biggest fan of cynicism towards police, i am also not a fan of those of us who claim to understand the plight of african-americans in this country when we are not ourselves african-americans. that said, you never, ever mouth off to the police. you never ever, say ‘you don’t know who you’re messing with’ to police. that is the petulant behavior of a rock star, an arrogant bastard, or c-list celebrity, and certainly not the expected behavior of a distinguished harvard professor of dr. gates’ caliber.

the best thing that can happen now is for they charges to be dropped (as they have been) and for dr. gates to not file a civil suit. if he does press charges, he will torpedo his dear friend president obama’s agenda, and make race (and to a greater extent, the arrogance of certain intellectual elites) the fodder for banter for the duration of the law suit. i am guessing after this all subsides, there will be no lawsuit, and dr. gates will finally get that front door fixed. -bc

==update (via drudge)==

Police Officer denies he’s a racist, won’t apologize…
Audio: ‘I know what I did was right’…
Says Obama ‘way off base’…
Video…
Sgt. James Crowley is police academy expert on racial profiling!
Police union condemns president’s comments…
Bill Cosby ‘shocked’ at Obama statement…
White House qualifies president’s remark…
ABCNEWS: Obama Defends Criticism of Cambridge Police in Arrest of Gates…
*Full Arrest Report…

== update 2 ==

caller did not mention the race of the men attempting to gain entry to the house

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2 Responses

  1. i heard a great comment on npr friday afternoon. the commentator stated that while dr. gates is arguing the black/victim case (which falls flat with each new detail that is made public), the ‘class’ issue is also in play here. here you have an elite, harvard professor with titles, degrees, and an entitlement expectation of ‘knowing who you’re dealing with’ vs. a working street cop on patrol.

    in backing his friend, president obama committed a double faux pas: he brought race into play when it was not, *and* he sided with an elite professor who was mouthing off to a blue-collar cop, which does not play well with the democratic demographic that comprised much of his party and that elected him.

    the class mistake will hurt him more than the race one will.

  2. [...] of years. perhaps this is why president obama had such a visceral reaction. following his own slip of the tongue when he said the cambridge police department acted ’stupidly’ when investigating the [...]

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