Guest Editorial: Ward Connerly
A “teachable moment” indeed!
By Ward Connerly | August 19, 2009
On July 30, President Barack Obama, Harvard professor Henry Louis “Skip” Gates and Cambridge police officer James Crowley knocked down a few beers in a “by invitation-only” White House “Beer Summit.” For the president, this was an opportunity to do a little damage control for an off-the-cuff remark that angered a substantial segment of the law enforcement community and inflicted a little political damage on Obama’s standing with the American public.
For Gates, the occasion afforded a chance to restore a little lost respectability for having lost his temper and “talked trash” to Crowley, a fact that resulted in Gates’ spending about four hours in the Cambridge jail. And, for Crowley, the event was an opportunity to receive an apology for having been called a “racist” by Gates and accused of “acting stupidly” by America’s Commander-in-Chief.
By way of background, on July 16 professor Gates returned home after spending some time in China. When he tried to enter his home, he discovered that the door was jammed. He, then, entered through the back door. After depositing his baggage in the house, Gates and his driver returned to the front door and attempted to forcibly open it. A neighbor, Lucia Whalen, saw this happening and did what most good neighbors should do; she called the police department and reported that someone “might” be trying to break into a house in her neighborhood.
Sergeant Crowley arrived on the scene and did his due diligence, according to the police report filed by Crowley and which other officers have confirmed. In that report, Crowley contends Gates was uncooperative and instantly accused Crowley of being on the scene because Gates was “a black man in America.” Gates called Crowley a “racist” and followed Crowley outside the house, at Crowley’s request, whereupon the scene became louder. The result was Gates was arrested for “disorderly conduct.”
This incident should have ended as a local confrontation between the Cambridge Police Department and a well-known Harvard professor. Such was not to be, however, when Obama’s instincts as a community organizer took over and he injected himself into an issue that has been of personal concern to him, according to accounts in his book “Audacity of Hope.”
Speaking at a news conference about his health care proposals, the president was asked about the Gates incident. His response tells us much about his unscripted views regarding race.
“The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home,” he said. Continuing, the president said, “There is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. And that's just a fact.”
In that same press conference, the president admitted that he didn’t have all the facts. If he had all the facts, the president would have known that it was ill advised to leave the impression that Sgt. Crowley, who conducts racial-sensitivity training at a local police academy, was being guided by racial factors.
In the days immediately following Obama’s comments, the Cambridge Police Department and law enforcement across the nation reacted angrily to being characterized as “acting stupidly.” For years, law enforcers have been made to appear as bigots by racial advocates, especially the American Civil Liberties Union, who single out blacks and Latinos for intense scrutiny and, sometimes, brutal attacks. Therefore, the president’s response triggered a “we are mad-as-hell-and-we-are-not-going-to-take-it-anymore” moment for the national law enforcement community.
The White House realized it had a major political problem on its hands. In response, its number one salesman, President Obama, made an unannounced appearance at a press conference to admit he could have more properly “calibrated” his words. He added the entire Gates incident was “a teachable moment.”
This brings us to the "Beer Summit" arranged by the White House so Crowley, Gates and Obama could tone down the rhetoric and rationally discuss the specific incident as well as race relations in general.
Yes, this was a teachable moment, especially for the president. The incident should have taught him he doesn’t need to express an opinion about everything that happens in America. He is our national leader; he does not need to be some omnipotent force that is expected to be everywhere presiding over the entire kingdom he surveys. It should have taught him not to speak without having the facts and having studied them carefully. It should have taught him that the issue of “racial profiling” is not as clear-cut as it might appear at first glance. This is a lesson from which all Americans can benefit, especially black people whose antenna is often in search of racial implications.
Finally, the Gates incident should have taught the president not to criticize law enforcement unless there is an abundance of evidence to justify such criticism. Every minute of every day, we rely on our police officers to put their lives on the line to protect us.
Regrettably, neither Gates nor the president apologized for what they said to and about Crowley. As far as a "teachable moment," it does not appear anyone was teaching nor was anyone studying. Certainly, nothing of benefit to the American people resulted from this beer-guzzling event. The only beneficiaries seem to be the president, who was able to deflect attention away from his colossal faux pas, and the beer industry which received untold publicity as a result of this incident.
There is a self-identified "black" man in the White House. If I were him, the last thing I would want is for the Secret Service detail protecting my rear-end to worry about whether I would ever accuse them of "acting stupidly."