I listened carefully to our president's press conference held at 8PM ET on the topic of health care. I was impressed by his attention to detail and his careful and compassionate analysis of the American health care crisis. He had me. He captured my attention, until the end. He had me until the last question which [seemed designed] dealt not with health care but with an isolated incident that spoke to the arrest of a Harvard professor named Henry Gates, or "Skip" as the president calls him.

I was astonished when the President of the United States criticized the Cambridge police, calling them "stupid" for arresting "Skip." He said he was not there, so he really does not know what happened. The fact is Professor "Skip" forgot his keys, and had to "jimmy" his way into his house. A neighbor called, and cops responded, as they should. They confronted "Skip" and he provided identification. Well, so far so good, but it didn't end there. On the contrary, "Skip" chased the officers, who were satisfied that he was not a burglar, out into the yard and continued to scream at them accusing them of being racists, bigots, and etc. He was out of control, and he was playing the race card. It had nothing to do with race. The police were doing their job and the situation got out of control through no fault of their own. The only party acting "stupidly" here was "Skip" Gates. He should have been shaking the hands of the cops who risked their lives to protect people and property; in this case his property.

The police should not be expected to tolerate behavior that goes beyond the extreme. It matters not to me that Professor Gates is a black man. I am neither a racist or a bigot and my writings will reflect that sentiment, however, this is a case of Professor Gates being black. It has nothing to do with a fair assessment of the facts. The fact is if Gates were white this would not have been news. That is what bothers me about America. There is discrimination on both sides of this fence and in this case the Cambridge police were doing their job. The president should never have commented on an isolated case such as this. It does nothing but feed the right wing crazies in the country and alienate our first responders. I am disappointed in our president. This question should never have been raised and certainly should not have been answered in a forum that spoke to health care and the economy....MM


  1. "Skip?" He called him Skip? He's tight with the brother, eh? OK, so I wonder what cute name he calls Wilmer J. Leon, III, Ph.D. Dr. Leon is a political scientist whose primary areas of expertise are Black Politics and Public Policy. He has a BS degree in Political Science from Hampton Institute, a Masters in Public Administration (MPA) from Howard University, and a Ph.D. in Political Science from Howard University, where he teaches. No Harvard in those creds, but maybe Barack knows him anyway...and might have checked out his take on the incident before speaking out~~~

    Sometimes Even When You're Right, You're Wrong

  2. Let’s not forget Gates was returning home from a trip to China. If he flew all the way, without spending a night or two anywhere on the way home, he must have had one king hell case of jet lag. From China to Massachusetts? How many time zones is that? About ten or eleven, at least?

    Now I don’t know how Gates responds to jet lag. Some folks seem immune and don’t suffer at all. Others can become mighty cranky and exhausted after such a jaunt, with one’s mind and body in full rebellion against the abnormal quick change. Could that help explain Gates’ short temper? There are celebrities, too, who have a very short fuse when they suspect any disrespect. And then there is the historic relationship between blacks and white cops in this country: a field of expertise Gates specializes in.

    Though if you look at a photograph of the “crime” scene, as Gates is hollering at the cops, two on the scene appear to be black. it was not simply a white vigilante group.

    It appears that just about every black in America has had an experience of “profiling.” That includes upper middle-class blacks too. Blacks who are guilty of “driving while black,” or “walking through an upper middle-class white neighborhood at night while black.” Or of “loitering outside a jewelry store while black,” etc.

    But as one of the pundits put it last night, judging this incident appears to have become a case of “profiling the profiling.” While Barack Obama may have been the victim of racial profiling himself, and can understand what it is like to be suspect because he is black, I think he was wrong in attacking the Cambridge cops. He simply didn’t know enough to come to that conclusion. And his words were excessively hard.

    As Leon said, it is better to cooperate with the cops than confront them. That generally applies to white people too. And it applies all over the world. Gates may have been jet lagged, extremely tired, and insulted by the sudden appearance of cops at his door when he got home. But any reasonable person should have been able to see why the police might have thought someone was breaking into his house if a neighbor called them because that neighbor witnessed someone breaking in. In the dark. it appears obvious the neighbor didn’t recognize Gates, though perhaps he owes that neighbor a word of thanks for calling the police.

    But at least this incident reminds us we still have serious race problems in this country. And even prominent or upper middle-class blacks have experiences of profiling. That, clearly, is why so many blacks leapt to Gates’ defense in this unfortunate event. They could relate.

    So what actually happened? Does anyone who wasn’t there even know? Maybe the Cambridge police were right, and it’s time to forget the whole incident. Obama’s comment last night was highly unfortunate.

  3. Maybe...ah, lemmesee...uh...perhaps the President was not "politically correct" enough about all this?

    I don't know. Here is what Obama said (the original, unabridged, unadulterated cut):

    Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. I don't know all the facts. What's been reported though is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house. There was a report called in to the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so ... it probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago.

    Here, I'd get shot.

    But so far, so good. They're — they're reporting. The police are doing what they should. There's a call. They go investigate what happens.

    My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is, is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house and, at that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

    Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there's a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact.

    As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

    That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that's been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

    And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.

    And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody is going to be.

    WOW that was pretty inflammatory---Get a rope! I mean, "the Cambridge police acted stupidly"?!? Who says things like that?

    Clearly Obama should have said instead something mildly generic about "emotionally charged situations," and "boneheaded things people say or do when temper flares," and deliver some PC comment about "how unfortunate it is that the Cambridge police, in this situation, had found itself unable to use its knowledge and experience to diffuse what all things considered was a rather trivial confrontation." Obama might have wondered privately, how equipped these same police forces are under pressure to diffuse some of the far more serious situations they are likely to encounter in a day's work, but the President of the United-States of America would not of course ever say something like that aloud---or use the word "stupidly," that wouldn't do at all.

    I do so like
    green eggs and ham!
    Thank you!
    Thank you,

  4. Thanks to all who have taken the time to respond to my post in such an intelligent and respectful manner. The bottom line: The incident will be forgotten but what the president said will not be forgotten. He condemned America's cops and seriously pissed them off. He didn't have to do that. I will be writing an article on the far reaching effects of this extraordinary statement tomorrow. I hope you tune in. Like Rachel M. I need to be talked down from time to time:-)

  5. Obama commented on the case again earlier this afternoon, saying he was "surprised by the controversy surrounding" his criticism:

    "I think it was a pretty straightforward commentary that you probably don't need to handcuff a guy, a middle-aged man who uses a cane, who is in his own home."

    "I think that I have extraordinary respect for the difficulties of the job that police officers do. And my suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officer and Mr. Gates and that everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed. That's my suspicion."

  6. Obama should have perhaps simply admitted he was a friend of Gates, knows Gates is a good guy, wasn't there, didn't know what happened, and should have remained politely neutral. Since, after all, he admitted not knowing what happened. And, in fact, got some of his facts wrong as he winged it at the press conference, getting a few laughs.

    He could also have taken the opportunity to speak on "profiling," how it happens and how common it is to black Americans, including upper middleclass black Americans. Blacks in suits and ties who are pulled over to the side of the road in their BMW's because a white cop (or even a black cop) thinks only a black who stole such a car would ever drive one. Or poor blacks out on the street who are the first picked up when a liquor store is robbed at three o'clock in the morning. He could have used this opportunity to educate us and bring up important issues regarding black/white relations in this country. For we still have a long way to go.... healing wise, that is. And, yes, the right (including Clarence Thomas) would have us believe race is a thing of the past. It’s not.

    But instead he took a most public and open condescending broadside at the Cambridge police. Is there a town/gown adversarial relationship there? I bet there is. And Obama may have taken his alma mater's side. But that, on my part, is pure speculation. And I would bet more on his past memory of the streets as an indication of how he behaved at the press conference.

  7. 2037 comments so far on the article MM is referring to in his post.

    Some of the comments are very telling:

    I am a white man, also a Harvard graduate, arrested by a power-centric Cambridge cop in 1978 when I asked for his name and badge number. The cop, Bennie "The Hook" Capella, had ordered me back into line at the bus stop after I asked the bus driver when his bus was scheduled to leave the station. Benny "The Hook" was chewing the fat with the driver and resented the intrusion into his private time, even though he was on duty and supposed to be protecting the public. As soon as I asked him for his name and badge number he arrested me and had me taken away in a police van. My wife had to come in from Belmont to bail me out. At the trial my arrest was thrown out by the judge, who admonished the cop for excessive force. A young Harvard Law School student who witnessed the incident (and who happened to be black), offered to come to court for me as a witness. He did and although he was never asked to testify, I to this day appreciate his selflessness. He saw capricious use of police power when he saw it, perhaps attenuated by his racial background. The Cambridge police have a long way to go before they achieve professionalism. Whether racist or not, they are out of control when it comes to dealing intelligently with situations. I agree with the President that they acted "stupidly" and I guess in the intervening 29 years since my arrest in Harvard Square nothing at all has changed.
    ---Posted by Disestablishmentarian July 23, 09 11:30 AM

  8. Harvard's at one end of town, and MIT's at the other. In between, Cambridge is a tough, poverty-stricken place. When I was at the Divinity School, I suggested to Krister Stendahl, who later became Dean, there should be a service group of students to help out in those neighborhoods. He looked askance at me, above his starched Lutheran collar, and said, "Harvard is not the church."

  9. What a reply!

    Whenever I've visited Cambridge I've noticed some tension there. I gather a lot of characters hang out around the Harvard campus, same as Berkeley. And that the Harvard students pretty much comprise a community of outsiders there, people who come from all over the world. And they're not there, of course, for the locals, or "townies," as students sometimes indelicately put it. And the locals may resent the sense of superiority and entitlement some of the students have.

    I still think Obama's response was thoughtless, or poorly thought out as he extemporized. What old memories influenced him? Even if the Cambridge cops have a history of brutality Obama, unless he could be certain of his currency, should not have taken sides. He wields too much weight and power and to open up without even knowing the facts was a major lapse on his part.

  10. The gentleman is so wise about this. I was talking with the Wulfshead's barber---you remember the Wulfshead's barber, don't you, sir?---and he was just telling one of his customer about the exact same thing the gentleman is saying.

    As Mr. Burns said, sir, "too bad all the people who know how to run the country are busy driving taxi cabs and cutting hair."

    Anyway, Mr.Obama is a man after my own heart, sir: he suggested that the whole incident could be worked out over a drink, and there has been some discussion about him and Professor Gates and the police officer who had arrested him all having a beer together in the White House. I hope they do, sir.

    The President is a human being, and not a programmed robot or a protocol droid like C3PO or Al Gore. People like that in a President. It is maybe a good thing that the president doesn't think that he "wields too much weight and power" to take a chance and extemporize on an impromptu question. It is a rare thing nowadays in politics. This is not the Vatican or Iran and the president is not the Pope or Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri, and he was not addressing a foreign dignitary or making some final pronouncement about some far reaching question about China or Russia. Maybe there is some comfort to be had in the fact that people don't have to be afraid to "talk" in this part of the world, even the President of the United States.

    The President's original comment about the "stupidity" of what happened might have been a mistake. I wouldn't know, sir. But if mistake there was, maybe it was the right mistake and a step in the right direction. The country could use more mistakes of that kind.

  11. Hmmmm, it looks like I disagree with the bartender.

    Well, old Harry Truman used to behave at times in a most undignified way. Hollering at music critics and the like. Using demotic words. Giving 'em hell.

    Obama, on the other hand, is the height of dignity. In fact, watching his presidency is like watching a protracted tightrope act, as he, the president, slowly makes his way across that narrow line way up there. It is a long perilous journey. Beneath him there are rapids, boulders, spikes, a very rough and jagged terrain. One hope he keeps his balance, doesn't misstep or get suddenly caught by a violent wind. So far, Obama has been a maestro. Considering the skills involved it has been a suspenseful journey up to now. The unfortunate incident in Cambridge has been a lapse, the largest public lapse, perhaps, Obama has made so far. Though he still holds tight up there on top of that long thin rope, stretching out over the jagged rocks below. Slowly, methodically, making his way across.

    Let me make a prediction. Obama brings a unique understanding about race in America we have rarely seen among top government leaders. Even among many intellectuals, black and white, over the decades. If all works well, if the various balls Obama is juggling as he makes his way across the long thin rope finally fall into place, he may actually find the time and inclination to take on race. Maybe two or three years from now. Race is a lingering, huge problem in this country. Maybe President Barack Obama will be able to finally move this country ahead on that vitally important social problem? He certainly appears to have the necessary understanding.

    What a legacy that would be, not to mention the others he’s working for.

  12. Hurray, sir. A very rousing speech. I can see that the gentleman has a great deal of respect and admiration for Mr. Obama---as we all do, sir---many patrons here feel the same way the gentleman does, and share the same hope, I am sure.

    Er... If maybe the gentleman would step off the counter now... People are staring, sir.

    There, I'll pour you another drink. On the house, sir. Or would the gentleman prefer a glass of water?

  13. LOL

    Did anyone happen to catch Bill Maher's take on the story?

    It just hits the spot!

    I'll see if I can find some youtube copy of the sketch!

  14. Hmmmmm. Woke up this morning in a stovepipe hat with a wooden soap box by the bed. I wonder where that came from?

  15. Though staring at the glitter through my hangover at the bright morning light I did take exception to Maher's reaction to that event.

    A case of laissez majeste?

  16. Or should that have been lese majeste? Deference to the king. Hmmmmm, pull down the shades. The light's too bright in here. Let me sleep. Go away. I don't care if I have to go to work. I'll call in sick. Better yet, you call in for me. A man should enjoy his hangover in peace.

    That's better, thanks. That is, for pulling the curtains.

  17. Aha! Here it is: Real Time With Bill Maher July 24, 2009 Opening Monologue

    The man is brilliant!

    You're asking the wrong questions. If you want to make the world a better place, tell funnier jokes!
    ---Woody Allen