Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama moves to dampen uproar over comment on race

From the AP via the Houston Chronicle:

"This has been ratcheting up, and I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up," Obama said of the racial controversy. "I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department and Sgt. Crowley specifically. And I could've calibrated those words differently."

The president did not back down from his contention that police had overreacted by arresting the Harvard professor for disorderly conduct after coming to his home to investigate a possible break-in. He added, though, that he thought Gates, too, had overreacted to the police who questioned him. The charge has been dropped.

Obama stirred up a hornet's nest when he said at a prime-time news conference this week that Cambridge police had "acted stupidly" by arresting Gates, a friend of the president's. Still, Obama said Friday he didn't regret stepping into the controversy and hoped the matter would end up being a "teachable moment" for the nation.

"The fact that this has garnered so much attention, I think, is testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America," Obama said.

Obama, who has come under intense criticism from police organizations, said he had called Crowley to clear the air, and said the conversation confirmed his belief that the sergeant is an "outstanding police officer and a good man."

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs refused to say whether Obama had apologized to Crowley.


Cambridge police moved to drop the disorderly conduct charge on Tuesday — without apology, but calling the case "regrettable."

More here.

A couple of observations.

First, racial profiling, disproportionate arrests and convictions of African-Americans, and straight-up police brutality toward blacks continue to be commonplace, despite this post-racial era in which we now supposedly live. In this context, the arrest of a black man for "disorderly conduct," inside his own home, after it had been proven beyond any doubt that the supposed crime for which the police were called had not taken place, has all the appearance of being racially motivated in some way, if not actually an instance of racial profiling. That is, at first glance, this bust doesn't pass the stink test, and the burden of proof falls on the cops, who declined to pursue prosecution, to show how race was not a factor.

The President has nothing for which to apologize.

Indeed, I'm glad he showed his solidarity with African-Americans on this issue. While I fully expect policemen throughout the nation to react in lockstep against Obama's heartfelt remarks, if we're lucky, they'll take this "teachable moment" seriously. Cops should think long and hard about how race may or may not affect the decisions they make out in the field.

Second, even if race played no role in this incident whatsoever, a notion I find dubious but unprovable one way or the other, there's still a big problem here: apparently, it is against the law to bitch at the police while you are inside your own home. Everybody knows the old "yes sir, no sir" routine you're supposed to fall into when the guy with the badge and gun starts fucking with you. But asshole-cop power extends into your own fucking living room? As Digby wrote over at Hullabaloo:

Indeed, it is very little different than exercising your right of free speech to tell a gang of armed thugs to go fuck themselves. It's legal, but it's not very smart. But that's the problem isn't it? We shouldn't have to make the same calculations about how to behave with police as we would with armed criminals. The police are supposed to be the good guys who follow the rules and the law and don't expect innocent citizens to bow to their brute power the same way that a street gang would do. The police are not supposed wield what is essentially brute force on the entire population.
That is, the entire concept of having to kiss cops' asses is extraordinarily fucked up, all the more so when no crime has been committed and you are standing in your own fucking living room. Even though it is technically legal to say anything you want to a cop, in practice you can't get away with it. Well okay. I've been putting up with that my whole life. But shouldn't this brand of anti-American humiliation end at your front door? I mean, what good are the first and fourth amendments if we can't say whatever we want inside our own homes?

This is really an issue that conservatives and liberals ought to be united on. The government can't just come into your home and bust you for being rude. In your home. It's not about law and order or respecting authority. It's about where the state ends and your home begins.

This is some fucked up shit.