Stepping Into It Again

President Obama recently held a press conference with the stated topic of discussion being his health care reform agenda.  He fielded a number of questions and gave some very long-winded, rehearsed answers.  He (for some odd reason) blamed Republicans on more than one occasion for stalling his bill, even though he could pass it without a single GOP vote.

It was a very dull, scripted performance until the end, when a reporter asked him about the recent arrest of Harvard professor Henry Gates.  Obama started out well enough by admitting that he didn't know enough about the situation to comment.  But then he commented anyway.  In so doing, he ventured off-script and he revealed his biases, and I must say that I came away troubled by the whole thing.

In case you are unaware of the back story, here it is in a nutshell.  Professor Gates came home from a trip and discovered that he has locked himself out of his house.  He forced his way into his own house, which I am sure many of us have had to do at some point in our own lives.  But in Prof. Gates's case, his neighbor - who could not see the face of Gates or his friend who with him on the porch - thought there was a burglary in progress and called the police.  Gates's neighbor was particularly concerned because the area had seen a string of break-ins recently.  The police came and questioned Gates.  According to the police report, he became belligerent, so the police officer arrested him for disorderly conduct.

When Obama was asked to comment, he jumped in with both feet and said that the police clearly acted "stupidly" and that this country has a long history of harassing black and Latino men.  For emphasis, he added "And that's a FACT."  When someone states "And that's a FACT" with emphasis, he is attempting to claim the moral high ground, declare victory and end the discussion.  There were lots of other FACTS that he could have cited, but instead chose the one that would (without forcing him to come right out and say it) turn this into another example of a racist cop acting out of line.
But it's what President Obama didn't say that is most telling.  He did not say that this particular police department or this particular officer has a history of hassling minorities.  In fact, based upon how quickly Joe the Plumber's dirty laundry was aired after he asked Candidate Obama why he should be forced to "spread the wealth around," I am pretty confident that if there were skeletons of this sort in either closet, we'd have already learned of them.

Instead of calling this what it really was - a misunderstanding that got out of hand - the President elevated it to a commentary on American history.  He tried to hang the entire weight of every racist deed committed by every police officer (white as well as black) against every minority in this country's history around the neck of this white police officer.  That is really unfair.  About as unfair as hanging every crime committed by every black man around the neck of Professor Gates.  And what did it accomplish?  What was the President hoping to gain by wading into a situation that he admitted he was unqualified to comment on?

Being a police officer is a very tough way to exist.  Strangers calling you into situations in which you are unfamiliar with the parties, and being forced to make immediate assessments and potentially take people into custody or even use force against them.  It doesn't help anybody when race is thrown mindlessly into the situation, inflaming passions over a simple misunderstanding.

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This page contains a single entry by Louis Core published on July 28, 2009 2:00 PM.

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