President Obama said last night that “the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting [Henry Louis Gates] when there was already proof that [he was] in [his] own home.” But the president himself is acting stupidity by weighing in ignorantly on the matter.
As I explained here, according to Gates’ own account, the police officer was satisfied once Gates proved he was merely trying to break into his own home. The arrest occurred because Gates persisted in harranguing the officer for alleged racism.
Obama admitted that he doesn’t know the facts surrounding Gates’ conduct and doesn’t know whether there was any racism of the part of the police. Obama also knows, or should know, that the arrest was in connection with Gates’ conduct once the issue of the break in had been resolved, correctly, in Gates’ favor. Accordingly, Obama should have declined to address the issue, which is a local police matter in any event, and certainly should not have opined that the police acted stupidly.
It is sad, though not suprising, to see our president fall into the familiar trap of ideologues, namely basing their view of what happened in a highly individualized event not on the facts of that event but rather on their prejudices.
UPDATE: You can read the detailed report of the arresting officer, as well as a report by a fellow officer on the Gates arrest, here. If the reports are substantially true (and little Gates reportedly has said contradicts the police account) then Gates should be very embarrassed.
THE PRESIDENT CONTINUES TO ACT STUPIDLY: Today, Obama said that with all that’s going on in the country with health care and the economy and the wars abroad, “it doesn’t make sense to arrest a guy in his own home if he’s not causing a serious disturbance.” This is idiotic. Whether a person was justly arrested in connection based on a given incident has nothing to do with what’s happening with health care or in foreign wars. Is Obama trying to say that the arrest would have been okay if everyone had health insurance, the economy was prosperous, and we were out of Iraq and Afghanistan?
Obama also said: “My suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officer and Mr. Gates and that everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed. That’s my suspicion.” But why should the president articulate mere suspicions about a local police matter? And how can the president justify declaring, based on “suspicion,” that a police officer acted “stupidly”? The answer, I think, is that he can’t and should stop trying to.
Indeed, one could turn Obama’s argument around and say that with the president trying to push through a health care bill, deal with the economy, etc. it doesn’t make much sense for him to devote attention to a simple dispute between one citizen and the police.
MEANWHILE PROFESSOR GATES KEEPS DIGGING: Law enforcement sources have told ABC News that the conversation between Gates and the police officer was transmitted over Crowley’s open police radio and that Gates can be heard yelling. As I said yesterday, yelling at police officers who are trying to do their job is a low percentage move, and it’s likely that the more Gates presses this matter, the worse he will look.
It’s also true, to be sure, that most of us would have been quite upset if, after returning from a long trip, we were required to prove that we live in our own house. Nonetheless, if Gates’ anger pushed him across the line, he should not blame the police for responding accordingly.
Gates, though, refuses to let the matter rest. In a phone interview from Martha’s Vineyard, he stated: “I believe the police officer should apologize to me for what he knows he did that was wrong,” Gates added that if the officer “admits his error,” then “I am willing to forgive him” and “to educate him about the history of racism in America and the issue of racial profiling; that’s what I do for a living.”
I guess that’s what you call mixing business with displeasure.
The police officer, James Crowley is having none of it, though. He insists he “acted appropriately.” As he describes the incident,
Mister Gates was given plenty of opportunities to stop what he was doing. He didn’t. He acted very irrational he controlled the outcome of that event. There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother, something you wouldn’t expect from anybody that should be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor.
Perhaps Officer Crowley will forgive Professor Gates if he admits his error and enrolls in charm school.
A FINAL NOTE: Apparently Officer Crowley has taught a course on racial profiling at the Lowell police academy. So maybe he can instruct Professor Gates, a latecomer to this crowded field.