Obama and the Police

Subtitled: What President Obama’s remarks about the Gates tells us about him and how he views the world.

I watched the press conference on health care this last week like a good political junkie.  I was more interested than not this time for several reasons: a lot of my family is in health care, it was starting to look like the President was losing some of his charm, I wanted to see how he handled an issue where he was losing in the polls, etc.

Like probably most of the law enforcement world that saw his stating that the Cambridge Police acted “stupidly”, I was shocked at his willingness to pass judgment on the actions of the police despite his admittance of not having all the facts.  Especially since even the undisputed facts that were available at the time were not favorable to Professor Gates.  And to then segue into racial profiling, which is completely unrelated to what happened in Cambridge, is just laughable.

What happened in Cambridge is very simple.  The police got called to a location to investigate a burglary.  Upon arrival, when Sgt. Crowley saw Gates inside the house and asked for his identification, Gates replied “Why, because I’m a black man in America?”

Let’s pause right there.  The above facts are no in dispute from either side of the story.  You clearly have an officer legitimately investigating an offense, and a suspect being a douche.  Being a douche is not illegal, but being uncooperative is not helpful.  Especially since an officer at that point has no idea what he is dealing with.

Fast forward a bit, namely because Gates hasn’t spoken to what else transpired, so we will give the suspect the benefit of the doubt.  But we know that Gates ended up on his front porch, still being loud and belligerent, and causing a scene.  Which is the definition of disorderly conduct.  Which, after being warned by the officer to calm down, Gates gets arrested for.

As an officer who has been in those sorts of situations before, where you have someone who is committing a minor disorderly offense, you have a hard choice to make.  A misdemeanor arrest solves the problem immediately by ending the situation, and by sending the message to the bystanders that being disorderly gets you nowhere.  Because one of the purposes of law enforcement is to maintain order.

And the fact that charges were dropped does not reflect poorly on the arrest.   Dropping the charges is typically a choice by the prosecuting attorney, who in addition to having to weigh the seriousness of the offense against the cost of prosecution (both financially and politically, since most of the prosecutors are elected), they have to look at whether there is proof beyond a reasonable doubt to convict.  See, an officer only needs probable cause to arrest, which is a far lower standard than proof beyond a reasonable doubt.

But I digress.  When you examine the facts that are not in dispute, its obvious that the person with the problem in this scenario is Gates, not Crowley.  But that’s not how our President saw it, his knee jerk reaction was to condemn the police.

Overall, this episode tells us a few things about President Obama:

  1. That he is a political amateur.  His meteoric rise to the top in politics has left him with little real experience on how to handle problems.  The smart thing to do when presented with a racially charged situation that you don’t have the facts on that involves a friend of yours would be to state “No comment”.  Look at what a mess he made by wading into things like he did.
  2. That President Obama did hear what was being said in Reverend Wright’s church.  That, or his own life experiences have bred a large distrust of law enforcement.
  3. That he is incapable of apologizing.  His “apology” was worded something to the effect of he needed to “calibrate” his response better.  Seriously, what is wrong with saying “I’m sorry” for going off half-cocked?  Its a sign of elitism, arrogance, or whatever you want to call it.
  4. That when President Obama goes off script, he’s liable to gaff as bad as Joe Biden.

Finally, what disturbed me most about the whole conference was that President Obama seemed pretty subdued in his responses, UNTIL the police issue was brought up.  It was almost as if someone had woke him up at that point.  Whether it be the race angle or something else, there was something about the question that generally got him excited to answer.  And that bothers me, a lot.


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