Obama: ‘Cambridge Police Acted Stupidly’ in Gates Matter
In last night’s press conference, President Obama weighed in on the disorderly conduct arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates.
“The police are doing what they should,” he said. “There’s a call. They go investigate. What happens?
“My understanding is that Professor Gates then shows his I.D. to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct.”
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” Mr. Obama continued. “But I think it’s fair to say, No. 1, any of us would be pretty angry; No. 2, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home; and No. 3, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by police disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
I’m surprised and a bit disappointed that the president would weigh in so strongly against a local police officer on such sketchy evidence. He concedes that Gates is a friend but, still, president’s traditionally stay out of such matters until they develop. This isn’t a Rodney King situation where we have video. Further, Obama is eliding some steps in the incident; I guarantee Gates wasn’t charged with disorderly conduct for simply showing ID.
Dave Schuler and I discussed the incident toward the end of last night’s episode of OTB Radio. We agreed that 1) the specific facts of the case are fuzzy, with Gates and the arresting officer releasing accounts that put themselves in the best light and 2) Cambridge is a small community and police should know who its most prominent citizens are.
I think it’s probable that Gates went into outrage mode quickly and that the officer felt disrespected and wanted to assert his authority and basically goaded Gates into a situation where an arrest was possible. Henry Farrell‘s explanation on that score strikes me as quite plausible.
As I’ve written numerous times before, police, especially in urban areas, have adopted a militaristic attitude toward their jobs, viewing the citizenry as hostiles to be pacified rather than as the community they’ve pledged to serve. It’s a dangerous and lamentable development.
This is by no means universal. Dave, who lives in a suburban-style community within the city limits of Chicago, has a much more pleasant experience with the police. The police and citizens have a cordial, cooperative relationship.
UPDATE: Jules Crittenden has some interesting background on Officer James Crowley that will likely reinforce whatever view you already have on the matter.