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Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., President Barack Obama and Cambridge Police Sergeant James Crowley may all soon sit down at the White House for a beer to discuss old times. It’s a shame that get-together didn’t occur before the President spouted off last week about the arrest of Gates, his long-time friend.
Before he had the facts, the President decided to defend his friend at a news conference by stating that Crowley and the Police Department “acted stupidly” for arresting Gates, who along with another man, had been attempting to break into his own house because he didn’t have his keys. The facts make all the difference in this case, most importantly that the police involved were responding to a call from a neighbor about a possible break-in at the house.
This wasn’t about racial profiling. But you wouldn’t have known that last week by listening to the President.
When asked a question about the case, President Obama — after calling the arrest stupid — attempted to justify the alleged unruly actions of his friend and then injected racial profiling into the discussion by stating: “there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately, and that’s just a fact.”
That may be true, but it had nothing to do with this case. For the President to intentionally inject this incident into that debate was reckless, unjustified and divisive. At a time when race relations would appear at their best in this country, President Obama chose to look back and pull from past failures instead of at recent successes. All he needed to do was look in the mirror to see that this country has come a long way in the area of race relations.
Does this mean that all has been solved? Certainly not. But there is certainly more to be encouraged about now than in the past. To dredge up the past in light of that simply muddies the waters and creates division. So why did he do it?
At first President Obama said he was surprised that his comments created such a stir. He’s a smart man so that’s hard to believe, given the fact that numerous stories have been written on such trivial subjects as how much his wife’s handbag costs. When the leader of the free world chooses at a national press conference to weigh in on such an issue, and expound on it by bringing up the issue of race, folks tend to notice. He knows that.
So more had to be involved. But President Obama miscalculated how people would react. So now he’s stepped back a bit from his remarks by stating: “In my choice of words, I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sgt. Crowley specifically, and I could have calibrated those words differently.”
He did more than give the impression; he did malign the department and the officer. The officer deserves more than a trip to the White House and a beer — he, and the department, deserve a public apology.
But don’t expect one to be offered.
Upon further review President Obama stated — while still questioning the officer’s actions — that quite possibly his friend Gates might have played some part in the incident, and “overreacted.” He could use that term to describe his own initial statements as well. Even better, President Obama could have quoted the 44th President of the United States and said he “acted stupidly” when he made his own comments about the case.
That’s not likely either.