Saturday, July 25, 2009
Obama Apologizes - But Shouldn't Have
One of the most recent furors on the internet is the arrest of African-American Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. A neighbor saw him trying to force open his own front door (it had become stuck) and called police. Police arrived to investigate, and even after being shown proof that the home belonged to Gates, they arrested him for "disruptive behavior".
Now Gates was angry at being made to prove he was not burgling his own home, but he did show the police that proof. At that moment, the police could have apologized for bothering him and left (as they probably would have done with a white person), but they did not do that. They continued to feed in to the situationby demanding Gates calm down. I have to wonder why he had to do that in his own home when he wasn't hurting anyone or anything (except the policeman's feelings).
Instead of leaving (as he should have done), Police Sgt. Crowley arrested Professor Gates. It was a stupid reaction and a blatant mishandling of situation by the police. Sgt. Crowley should be disciplined for the poor way he handled this delicate situation.
During a Wednesday press conference, President Obama addressed the incident by saying, "The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. There is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by police disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
But the right-wing acted as though the president had snatched the Cheetos from their orange fingers and called their mamas "fat". They were incensed, and have done their best to create a furor over the president's remarks.
Sadly, President Obama has now apologized. The president said, "Because this has been ratcheting up and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear in my choice of words I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt Crowley specifically. I could have calibrated those words differently."
He went on to say that Sgt. Crowley was an "outstanding police officer and a good man", and that both the police and Gates had "overreacted". I don't think the president should have apologized. He didn't say anything that wasn't true.
Police are trained to calm volatile situations and use their arrest powers only as a last resort, especially when no real crime has been committed. Arguing with Prof. Gates in his own home, and then arresting him was indeed a stupid way to handle the incident. Whether racist or not, this was an egregious violation of police powers and a blatant display of incompetence.
"Acting stupidly" is actually a nice way to phrase it.