Perhaps the most inconsequential, yet attention-grabbing, piece of last night’s presidential press conference came at the very end. That would be the part of the presser where President Obama – asked a question about the arrest for disorderly conduct of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates – first admitted he didn’t know all the facts surrounding the arrest and then proceeded to say the police involved in the incident “acted stupidly” and blew the incident up into an indictment of cops throughout America for racial profiling.
So much for our racial healer president. What did that last, six months?
Obama’s answer to the question – which was in no way a surprise; after all he had the names of his questioners scripted and if you watched the press conference it was impossible to believe those questions weren’t vetted in advance – was extremely revealing.
Is what happened to Gates suggestive of a troubling phenomenon of police mistreatment of blacks reaching into America’s past? On the surface, probably. And in the absence of the facts of this case and his situation, Obama-the-friend-of-Henry-Gates might have offered a reasonable opinion in decrying the action of Sgt. James M. Crowley of the Cambridge, Massachusetts police with respect to the arrest.
But Obama’s problem here is that upon further investigation of the facts his “acted-stupidly-and-cops-profile-us-black-folks-all-the-time” riff just doesn’t wash.
The arrest report has made it onto the internet, and you can see it at The Smoking Gun here. Naturally, that report is Crowley’s side of the story, and I will absolutely stipulate to the fact that what shows up in an arrest report is by no means to be automatically deemed the gospel truth.
But Crowley’s background and history definitely seems to lend credibility to his statements. After all, this is an extremely well-respected law enforcement professional who at least according to initial reports has no history of racism as he was accused by Gates. Further, Crowley has for the last five years taught a class to Lowell and Cambridge cops on how NOT to racially profile suspects. He’s also remembered as the first responder on the scene who unsuccessfully attempted to resuscitate Boston Celtics star forward Reggie Lewis 16 years ago, and generally regarded as something of an all-around hero cop in Cambridge.
Crowley’s union has come out strongly against Obama’s statements, with the local head predicting he’ll regret what he said. The police commissioner in Cambridge has also taken Crowley’s side, and Crowley himself said on television today that he’s not going to apologize.
As I said above, it’s entirely possible that Crowley’s arrest report isn’t the whole story. I don’t know that it has to be for him to rise above Obama’s “stupidly” charge.
After all, if you read the arrest report the way Crowley sees it he arrived on the scene of what was reported by the next door neighbor as a burglary. He met the next door neighbor at the scene and was told two black males with backpacks were shouldering their way into the back door of what turned out to be Gates’ house. Crowley then approached the house he saw Gates through the glass panel of the door and asked him to come out and speak with him. Gates refused, then demanding that Crowley, who was in uniform, identify himself. Crowley did, adding that he was investigating a report of a burglary at that address.
At this point, a normal human being would say something along the lines of, “Ahhhh, I see what’s going on here!” and then come outside and explain he forgot his keys and had to force his way into his own house, sorry about the confusion and the inconvenience of the police having to come out for no reason.
But not the president’s friend.
No, instead, Gates’ response to Crowley’s statement of his business at the residence was “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”
It apparently got worse from there. Gates was abusive, loud and in Crowley’s words, “tumultuous” as he repeatedly declared Crowley to be a racist as the officer attempted to leave, making threats against him.
And this isn’t some Crowley-vs-Gates narrative. There were several other police officers and at least seven civilian witnesses on hand at the time of the arrest; perhaps we’ll hear some divergence of opinion of what was going on, but so far we haven’t.
Now, were Gates’ actions disorderly? I’d agree that it’s debatable, and the fact the charges against him were dropped probably means he was borderline at worst. According to Massachusetts law, though, a disorderly person is defined as one who acts:
– with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or;
– recklessly creates a risk thereof;
– engages in fighting or threatening, violent or tumultuous behavior, or;
– creates a hazard or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose.
I think you could argue this either way. Verbally abusing a police officer in the presence of a small crowd – at your own house or not – scratches the surface of that definition if not piercing it. As such, I think it’s a real mistake to made a blanket accusation of “stupidly” as Obama has done.
What about Gates’ side of the story? He calls Crowley a liar and flat-out denies he called Crowley a racist at the time of the arrest. He also makes the rather bizarre point that his “DNA is 56 percent white.”
OK, fair enough. We know a little about Crowley’s bio – he’s a guy who teaches police officers how to handle cultural and racial differences. So what’s Gates’ history?
Well, he’s a professor at Harvard and the Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research there. He’s made a pair of documentary films for PBS on the genealogy of prominent African Americans. Gates’ curriculum vitae doesn’t mark him as an out-of-control race hustler like one might expect; as Wikipedia says:
As a literary theorist and critic, meanwhile, Gates has combined literary techniques of deconstruction with native African literary traditions; he draws on structuralism, post-structuralism, and semiotics to textual analysis and matters of identity politics. As a black intellectual and public figure, Gates has been an outspoken critic of the Eurocentric literary canon and has instead insisted that black literature must be evaluated by the aesthetic criteria of its culture of origin, not criteria imported from Western or European cultural traditions that express a “tone deafness to the black cultural voice” and result in “intellectual racism.” Gates tried to articulate what might constitute a black cultural aesthetic in his major scholarly work The Signifying Monkey, a 1989 American Book Award winner; the work extended the application of the concept of “signifyin(g)” to analysis of African-American works and thus rooted African-American literary criticism in the African-American vernacular tradition.
Gates is no Al Sharpton, but he’s not exactly Bill Cosby either. This is a guy, for example, who testified at the rap group 2 Live Crew’s obscenity trial that the shocking vulgarity expressed in their lyrics has important roots in African literary tradition.
This video of an appearance Gates made on the Tavis Smiley PBS program in March of 2008 after Obama’s “throw-grandma-under-the-bus” race speech gives you a little more information on who he is:
And then there’s this short clip of him speaking about education, which as it turns out doesn’t help his cause much:
Again, I don’t see this guy as a radical black separatist type. He’s not a Louis Farrakhan and it doesn’t appear he wakes up every day hating white people. But from the information available, it’s not unfathomable to think Gates would lose his cool and drop a deck of race cards all over the floor – in fact, it’s perhaps a little more likely given some of his past public statements that the arrest report is accurate than that a racist, liar cop ends up in the position Crowley is in without some history of controversy immediately available to a national media interested in this story.
Which brings us to Obama. The president prefaced his statements by saying he was friends with Gates – and that would indicate a familiarity with some of his more pointed statements on race relations in the past. In other words, if you’re Obama and you hear about this incident you might well think “I’ll bet Gates went off on that cop and that’s why he got arrested.” At least, that’s what you would hope a guy who is America’s chief executive would think, rather than “the damn racist white cops took another brother down.”
Obama’s statements fairly obviously fall on the latter side of the equation, however. “Unpresidential” is a good way to describe it; after all, you simply can’t have the guy in the White House calling police officers stupid and insinuating that they’re all racist if your interest is in promoting the general welfare – it’s a pretty standard idea that the president is supposed to say nice things about the cops every chance he can. Denigrating the cops is what people like Maxine Waters, Sheila Jackson-Lee, Al Sharpton, Farrakhan and their ilk do – not somebody in a job which requires him to represent Americans of all ethnicities.
You’d think this would be obvious to Obama, and yet he can’t seem to help himself. The easiest thing in the world for him to say would be that the Gates incident was “unfortunate all around” – or even a simple “no comment.” Instead, the ACORN community organizer burst out of that suit.
Obama said today he was “surprised” that his statement ended up a controversial one, which was a bit reminiscent of his previous surprise that the 20 years he spent in Jeremiah Wright’s church would be controversial. He might be surprised, but it’s difficult for the rest of us to be surprised. If our readers wish, I could detail all the incidents of disharmonious racial statements surrounding Obama and his cronies/mentors/associates/relatives – from Wright’s myriad tirades to Michelle Obama’s having never been proud of America before her husband’s political ascendancy to the anti-American and anti-white writings of Obama’s Communist childhood mentor Frank Marshall Davis. Clearly there’s an undercurrent of black rage with this man, and we have to ask ourselves whether a predominately white nation which elected him president deserves to have racial daggers hurled at it time and time again.
Obama’s election, as disastrous as it may have been from the standpoint of economics, foreign policy, law and liberty, should have marked a real advance in terms of race relations in this country. With that victory, it is past time for him to seek rapprochement with those whom he has spent much of his life at odds. That he seems unable and even unwilling to do so is unfortunate, unwise and, ultimately, inconsistent with the progress of American race relations. Obama’s statements will have the effect of alienating white people in America – and that’s not something he or his party can afford.
But more than that, this incident proves once more that this man simply isn’t qualified to be president. These issues should have been fleshed out a year ago and he should have long since been found wanting.