Thursday, July 23, 2009

More On: Skip Gates

So much for this issue dying a quick death.

President Obama fielded a question about the Gates arrest at a press conference earlier this evening and, somewhat shockingly, he deigned to go ahead and call the actions of the Cambridge Police Department "stupid." He issued the usual caveats about "not having all the facts," and that he may be biased because Gates is a friend, but he nonetheless used the arrest as an opportunity to remind us that race is still an issue in America. I have no problems with the latter part, but I do take great issue with the President using this incident as his gateway into such a serious discussion. It's not that it's irrelevant. As I said in the last post I made, Gates's reaction is understandable when viewed in a broader, historical context. The problem here is that the President is speaking more like a blogger than a dignified leader. I love that Obama is willing to speak off-the-cuff on important issues, but passing judgment on the entire Cambridge Police Department is irresponsible. He admitted he doesn't have the facts. So...get them. And be mum on the issue until you do! In fact, not only does he not have the facts, he pretty much simplifies it to a level that even Gates's own version doesn't support! Verbally attacking police officers without having the facts doesn't play in Peoria. And it doesn't play with me.

One of the main ways Obama was able to be "post-racial" was through demonstrating an understanding of how whites view issues of race...and expressing empathy for those views without saying everything was fine and dandy as is. The clip below doesn't show that same understanding. I expect the conservative blogs to murder Obama on this, and they won't be entirely wrong to do so. Again, the issue of racial profiling is an important one. This just isn't the entry point to that discussion.


Blogger travisneal said...

He was asked about it. Answering an impromptu question does not serve as an attempt to enter into a conversation.

What are the facts he does not know? Could Gates have produced his driver's license immediately instead of verbally berating them? Sure. But it was his own house and that was part of the rant and the police made no attempt to verify that claim until after he was arrested. Sounds fairly stupid.

Gates' neighbor called the police because an unrecognized black man entered the house through the front door. Sounds pretty stupid.

All of these allegations, none of which have been disputed, make for a scenario which can easily be considered stupid. If anything Obama shouldn't have waited for the question. Holder was correct about the cowardice of America to deal with these questions. This scenario better demonstrates Obama's conservatism instead of his radicalness.

July 23, 2009 at 9:47 AM  
Blogger Kraig Smith said...

Hey Travis,

Good to hear from you. And good to have some dissent for a change!

A few points:

1) Yes, he was asked the question, but that doesn't mean he has to answer it...nor does he have to answer it in the manner he chose. Questions like this usually are answered along the lines of, "this is a local police matter and it would be inappropriate for me to comment." Don't get me wrong, I do like that no topic is sacred for Obama, but I think a prime-time press conference is not the right format for a ponderous answer about a case which may or may not have anything to do with racial profiling. I also suspect he wanted that question to be asked. I'm not suggesting he arranged for it to be asked, but he was certainly ready for it.

2) Obama himself said he didn't have all the facts. That's not my assertion---that's his. He alludes to "things were said", but words matter, don't they? Context is absolutely vital if people wish to view this incident through a racial lens. The only person who brought up race was Gates. Gates doesn't say that the officer mentioned race. Only Gates referred to the color of his skin.

Certainly one's actions can be racially motivated without racist words accompanying them, but the absence of racist language from the cop is not insignificant. Also, I'm not sure what you mean when you say "the police made no attempt to verify that claim until after he was arrested." Maybe I missed that part, but in reading the report and Gates's account, it sounds as though the officer was satisfied that it was his house BEFORE he was arrested. No?

3) "Gates' neighbor called the police because an unrecognized black man entered the house through the front door. Sounds pretty stupid."

If you choose to misstate it that way, then yes, it does. It was two men, not one, and they didn't simply "enter" the house. They were trying to break the door down for fifteen minutes. It was jammed...from a PREVIOUS BREAK-IN ATTEMPT. Are you suggesting the neighbor's action in calling the cops is stupid? Is there ANY reason to believe the neighbor is NOT acting in good faith? Even Obama didn't seem to have an issue with that aspect.

3) "All of these allegations, none of which have been disputed, make for a scenario which can easily be considered stupid."

Travis, they're disputed. Assuming you read my previous post then you know I'm not backing the cop's actions as just or correct. I'm simply suggesting there's not evidence to consider this a racially motivated incident. Was the cop's actions stupid? Probably. But is it for Obama to say? I don't believe so. At least not at this point. And it's not because Obama should be afraid to deal with questions of race, it's just because you don't go around talking off-the-cuff about police matters when you ADMIT you don't have all the facts.

I'm all in favor of dealing with issues of race head-on, but I think it should be done in a way likely to yield results. This was just not the forum. Unless there's evidence of race playing a role here, you don't use this as the entry into that discussion.

July 23, 2009 at 10:27 AM  

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