"I happen to believe in the people and believe that the people are supposed to be dominant in our society. That they, not government, are to have control of their own affairs to the greatest extent possible with an orderly society." - Ronald Reagan

A teachable moment.

Posted: July 27th, 2009 | Author: | Filed under: National | No Comments »

Our president spoke recently about the arrest and controversy surrounding the arrest of Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.:

My hope is is that as a consequence of this event, this ends up being what’s called a teachable moment, where all of us, instead of pumping up the volume, spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations, we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.

Setting aside his unfortunate initial remarks, which themselves served to pump up the volume by flinging accusations, the president is right, though perhaps not in the sense he intended.

Reading Professor Gates’ account establishes several things – that his house had been vacant for some period of time; that he and his driver had been fiddling with the door and eventually forced their way in; that he admits refusing to cooperate several times; that he admits make accusations toward the officers.

More telling than retelling of the events, though, is his interpretation of them. We are told the emergency dispatch report is “the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life”. We are told that he several times “realized that [he] was in danger”. We are told that the officer clearly “had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered”.

Whether the arrest was justified is arguable, and it was possibly not wise even if justified. However the responding officer acted according to protocol, even by Mr. Gates’ account. As a single officer responding to report of an break in progress involving two men, it would appropriately cautious for Sgt. Crowley to establish identity before entering the premises. That he entered the premises without backup likely indicates he believed Mr. Gates was the lawful resident and simply wanted to confirm that fact.

There are lessons here about the danger of treating peace officers as adversaries and about the poisoning effects of presumed racism. Unfortunately those lessons are likely to be lost.

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