Friday, July 24, 2009

Should He Have or Shouldn't He Have? The Obama Press Conference

NOTE: If you have arrived here from, the quoted post is one below this.

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As the story of Henry Louis Gates, Jr.'s arrest continues to percolate, a new issue is arising regarding President Obama's comments about the Cambridge PD "acting stupidly" when they arrested Gates. The White House has since clarified that Obama's remarks did not mean that Sergeant Crowley was stupid, but that cooler heads should have prevailed. Unions and supporters of Sergeant Crowley have called for Obama to apologize for his remarks.

So should Obama have weighed in on this issue? Let's remember that Obama did not offer up the issue voluntarily, he was asked about it and he gave his opinion of the matter. We can all criticize Obama for not having been there (and thus not knowing 100% of what went down), but none of us were there, either, and yet we continue to debate the issue. Obama, in my mind, had every right to talk about it, but I would have gone about it a bit differently.

Was "stupid" the correct word choice? It would not have been at the top of my list. We have to remember, though, that being black in America is a very different experience than being white; there is no way around that. We can fantasize about post-racial America and all of that, but as Michael Eric Dyson said a few days ago, the only black man living in post-racial America lives at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. The fact is that this arrest has hit closer to home for some folks than for others.

Let's look at the facts. There is an undisputed history of racism and racial profiling in this country (just today it was reported that police down in Texas have been suspended for circulating racist emails about Obama). We all remember the whole bussing embarrassment in Boston, and who could forget Charles Stuart's unbelievable actions? All you have to do in this country to find racial undertones is scratch the surface. So when Gates was asked by a police officer why he was in his own home, is it that unreasonable for him to assume that his race may have had something to do with it?

Additionally, Obama's words are often taken out of context. He was not calling anyone on the scene stupid, he was saying that the arrest itself was stupid. Again, not the word choice I would have gone with, but don't forget that the charges were dropped at the request of the same department that employs Crowley as a Sergeant. If this were a good and legal arrest, Gates would be facing charges right now, but the fact remains that it was not. Does this make Crowley a bad person? No. He just made a mistake. What is telling is his stubbornness in not apologizing or at least backing down.

Was race a factor in Gates' arrest? I have no doubt. From the phone call from this mystery 40 year old woman who could not even recognize her neighbor (who happens to be somewhat of a celebrity), (EDITOR'S NOTE: As stated in the previous post, the actual caller seems to have just been relaying information given to her by a neighbor, who may or may not have been influenced by the race of Gates and his driver - that we'll probably never know) to the discussion Gates and Crowley had, race was all mixed in like the Oreo McFlurrys I used to make on 128. But we have to look at the facts: Crowley arrested Gates for a questionable crime and all charges were dropped at the insistence of Cambridge PD. Whether you think Crowley's a jerk or Gates is a jerk, the fact is that Crowley was overruled by his superiors; there's no getting around that. Peace.

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