I see that Bob has just written a similar post. But I was working on this when his went up, so I’m posting it anyway. 😉
Around here, things seem to be going from bad to worse.
Police unions today called on President Obama and Governor Deval Patrick to apologize to “all law enforcement personnel,” saying they “deeply resent the implication” of their comments about racial profiling and the arrest of an African-American scholar last week at his home near Harvard Square…. “As far as the president’s comments, the governor’s comments, and comments that I did not hear that our mayor made, I think when the time is right they should make an apology to us,” [union president Steve] Killian said. “I think the president should make an apology to all law enforcement personnel throughout the entire country, [they] took offense to this.”
First, I don’t see why they are dragging the Governor into this. Whatever one may think of Obama’s “acted stupidly” remark, the Gov’s comments have been measured and respectful, while also recognizing what Gates experienced. Here’s the Gov:
“In some ways this is every black man’s nightmare and a reality for many black men…. I guess I would say you ought to be able to raise your voice in your own house without risk of arrest.”
You know what? I find it hard to argue with that. Racial profiling does happen — that’s why people like Officer Crowley do training sessions to try to avoid it. And once it was established that Gates was in his own home, there was no reason to radio the Harvard police for backup, and no reason to continue the conversation. The cops should’ve swallowed their pride as Gates yelled at them from inside his house and left, instead of getting him out on the porch where they could cuff him. Further, Patrick specifically declined comment on Obama’s “acted stupidly” remark. BMGer (and Republican) Kevin Sowyrda is right: Governor Patrick’s take on this incident has been “measured and mature” — and, I would add, constructive.
Which leads to the second point: apparently the unions think the charges shouldn’t have been dropped. Here’s police union lawyer Alan McDonald:
“That was a decision that was made without our input,” said McDonald, the lawyer. “We think in retrospect given the publicity that has transpired it would have been better to let the matter go forward to a trial of fact so that the truth could have been disclosed by means other than debates in the media that we’ve seen over the last few days.”
Oh, great idea, Alan. Let’s have a trial on a charge with a maximum penalty of a $150 fine that will become a media circus the likes of which Massachusetts hasn’t seen since Louise Woodward. Especially given the highly dubious legal basis for a “disorderly conduct” charge for what Gates did, even assuming the police report is entirely accurate, dropping the charges was the right call.
Meanwhile, in a very constructive move, the President personally called Officer Crowley. He had this to say about it:
“I want to make clear that in my choice of words I unfortunately gave the impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and the work of Sergeant Crowley specifically. I could have calibrated those words differently,” Obama said in a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room. “I told this to Sergeant Crowley. I continue to believe that there was an overreaction in pulling professor Gates out of his home and to the station. I also continue to believe, based on what I’ve heard, that professor Gates overreacted as well.”
Let’s hope that Obama’s respectful call and comment will be enough to ratchet things down over at CPD HQ, and that all the players — Professor Gates, Officer Crowley, the Cambridge cops, and the politicians — are more interested in a constructive dialogue than scoring points going forward.
UPDATE: This just in from the White House (email, no link):
The President called and connected with Professor Gates at 3:15 this afternoon. They had a positive discussion during which the President told Gates about his call with Sgt. Crowley and statement to the media. The President also invited Gates to join him with Sgt. Crowley at the White House in the near future.
FURTHER UPDATE: Gates has accepted the offer.
“My entire academic career had been based on improving race relations, not exacerbating them. I am hopeful that my experience will lead to greater sensitivity to issues of racial profiling in the criminal justice system. If so, then this will be a blessing for our society. It is time for all of us to move on, and to assess what we can learn from this experience,” he said.