Obama’s conclusion on Gates arrest: Can’t we all just have a beer?
At the White House press briefing this morning, Obama made a surprise appearance to tamp down the controversy regarding the arrest of Professor Gates and to announce that he had invited both Gates and Crowley to the White House for a beer. So apparently the lesson is: arrest a hobbled elderly man in his own home on trumped up charges of disorderly conduct and get invited to the White House for a beer with the president. Awesome.
A few days ago, I wrote that if you have a serious conversation about race and you walk away feeling good about it, something got sugarcoated. Beers at the White House is presumably Obama’s way of getting everyone– the police, the media, the African-American community, the talk radio circuit– to walk away feeling good about this situation.
From a political standpoint, it’s a brilliant move. Obama needs us all to shift our attention away from the firestorm he went out of his way to throw gasoline on and back to health care reform. What better way to do that than a photo-op at the White House showing a power-abusing white cop and an angry black man drinking out of the same pitcher of beer with our biracial, post-racial president?
I don’t know, maybe I’m being too cynical. Maybe Obama, Crowley, and Gates will sit down not for a photo-op but for a serious discussion about what occurred and what next steps we can take to curb police abuse of power, whether race is a factor or not. But my sense is that the deference and benefit of the doubt that Obama is giving to Sgt. Crowley shows that he either doesn’t get it or is choosing not to get it for political reasons.
I don’t know whether Sgt. Crowley is “racist” or not. Honestly, I don’t care. I do care that he believes it’s okay to arrest anyone at any time for any reason. I do care that the police report— the one Crowley himself wrote– reads as though Crowley baited Gates into stepping outside his home so that he could be arrested for causing a public disturbance. I do care that the Cambridge Police Department and the local police union are vigorously defending Crowley’s right to detain, fingerprint, mug shot, and humiliate someone for the charge of hurting a police officer’s feelings. I do care that so many people believe that because the job of a police officer is hard and dangerous and heroic (and it is all those things), that we should look the other way— or worse, invite them to the White House for beers– when they occasionally abuse their power.
I didn’t see Obama’s press conference today, but I did read the transcript. Without getting too deep in the weeds, let me take issue with one thing Obama said:
I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.
The problem with this statement is that it puts the two people involved on equal footing. They are not. One of the people in that situation has a badge and a gun and the power to detain and kill you with minimal or no legal consequence. The other has the power to raise his voice and hurt your feelings. I think it’s safe to say the guy with the gun has significantly more power and should be held to a significantly higher standard of not overreacting. This isn’t about two good people who weren’t able to resolve the incident. This is about a police officer who is trained and paid to resolve incidents not resolving the incident (i.e. apologizing and walking away the minute it was clear that no burglary was in progress and Gates was the homeowner).
The fact that Obama thinks this situation is about two people with a misunderstanding rather than one person with vastly more power than the other using that power to shut the other guy up and teach him a lesson about sassing the police gives me little hope for what will be accomplished at that White House beer.
- Obama and Gates: Black men in big houses
- Boston police officer’s “jungle monkey” e-mail on Gates speaks volumes
- Collective v. Individual; Where Does Racism Lie
- Officer Barrett apologizes while lawyer defends racist e-mail
- Glenn Beck: Obama is a “racist” with “deep-seated hatred” for whites