Monday, July 27, 2009

Police acting stupidly? NEVER!*

*Except when they do.

Jon Stewart recently (rightly) pointed out how ridiculous it is that the mainstream media has been focusing so heavily on President Obama's response to one of the final questions he received after his recent press conference pushing health care reform. After all, the purpose of the meeting was supposed to be to put heavier focus on the state of heath care in our country, an incredibly important--and often dire--issue for most, if not all, Americans.

The latest U.S. census placed the number of uninsured Americans at 45 million. 9 million of those uninsured are children. Half of all bankruptcies are caused by medical bills. Three-quarters of those filings are people with health insurance (you can include my own family in that statistic). It goes on and on.

Yet despite all of that, we're bickering about Obama's comments regarding the recent arrest of Harvard history professor Henry Louis Gates at his own home, even after he had presented proper ID to police.

Asked what he thought about the situation, Obama made the perhaps impolitic but no less honest remark that the Cambridge police responsible for the arrest "acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."

Unsurprisingly, a chorus of righteous indignation (mostly by white, conservative voices) has risen to condemn the statement and accuse both Obama and Gates of racism and anti-police sentiment.

The Village Voice has put together an excellent rundown of the frothy-mouthed antics of the rightwing blogosphere here, and I highly suggest taking a look. It does a nice job of highlighting just how outrageous and ridiculous many of the pro-police/anti-Obama arguments are (it even highlights one of the lowlights of the Wisconsin blogosphere, Freedom Eden). One choice example:
Actually, rejoined Debra Moore of Exposing Liberal Lies, that may have been Obama's plan: "Could it be a lingering resentment for white people that Obama has carried since his youth?" She asserts that his book Dreams of My Father proved that "Obama was obsessed with the issue of race. Add that to his twenty years as a student of Jeremiah Wright, and the result is one angry black man. Isn't it interesting that Obama is friends with a Harvard professor who is clearly a racist himself?" (This last bit proven, presumably, by Gates' arrest.)
But something deep down inside tells me that if police came to any of these bloggers' own homes, accused them of breaking into it, asked for their ID, and then insisted on arresting them even after they produced it for "disorderly behaviour", they wouldn't exactly shut up and take it.

And if they did--if they're so unquestioningly loyal to every police officer in the country no matter what--then where on earth do they get off calling themselves patriots? Apparently a police state is no problem so long as it's only used against their political and ideological opponents.

As imprudent as Obama's remarks may have been, I'm still inclined to agree with them. I am not a police hater, and I don't know Sgt. Crowley and therefor cannot pass judgment on his actual character. Still, based off all accounts of the incident, I can say that I think his actions were stupid. A trained police officer should better know how to deal with an instance like this. So Gates was supposedly talking back - he was being (falsely) accused of breaking into his own home and threatened with arrest even after proving he was who he claimed to be! It should be obvious, then, why he might be a little bit annoyed. Arresting him for said annoyance is ridiculous, not to mention illegal.

I have a lot of respect for cops in general for doing a job that is, by all accounts, incredibly difficult and often dangerous. There are, I believe, more fine, upstanding police in this country than not. But I'm also not so naive as to believe that no bad apples, or just apples that sometimes make poor decisions, occasionally make it onto the force.

In fact, I've dealt with them personally over my lifetime. One instance was so abhorrent that it soured me on an entire city's police force for many years, and intensely strengthened my resolve to speak up and act out on improving how sexual assault is dealt with by authorities.

Point is, like any stereotype or generalization, labeling all police officers either perfect and infallible or piggish and fascist is a fool's errand, and one that's liable to lead us toward ruin as a society.

Further, I have no idea if race played a role in this particular incident - but to write off the very possibility is to do a great, ignorant disservice to the hard lessons of our country's history. The sad truth is that we still have a long way to go before anyone can claim that the mistakes of the past have no bearing on our present. It's not "white liberal guilt" to admit to that, either. It's just honesty.

(h/t illusory tenant)


Jesse said...

"asked for their ID" Reportedly he was asked multiple times for an i.d., was indignant, but finally produced a Harvard i.d. which doesn't have his address on it. I think the whole race issue here is the wrong track. This sounds more like competing machismo.

Gates had returned home from a trip from China, most likely a lonnnnnng flight, to find he couldn't get into his home. He was probably very tired and irrational when the cops showed up.

Could Gates have handled himself better? Yes. Could the officer have handled himself better? Yes.

illusory tenant said...

Gates was arrested for "tumultuous behavior."

Emily said...

The initial 911 call apparently made no mention of the men's race, either, as the Sgt. claimed in his police report. The woman who called also made it clear that she wasn't sure if they were breaking in or if they were actually supposed to be there.

Briane P said...

As I read, I kept thinking of comments I wanted to make, but you hit each point I had in mind. Well said

Anonymous said...

Heavier focus on healthcare is needed..
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