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Obama's Political Bravery (in re: Cambridge Professor Story)


Pangloss
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Have you guys been following the story about the situation with the Cambridge professor who was arrested trying to break into his own home, and reacted by accusing the police of racial profiling? That story in itself was not one that I thought noteworthy enough to discuss here, but when the President weighed in on it it suddenly got a lot more interesting in terms of political discussion. (There's a link below that can help catch people up if they missed this.)

 

I cringed when I saw the President say that the police acted "stupidly", but I also noticed that he said that the officer in question had a respectable history. He was trying to be fair, but he really blew it with that one comment, and of course the press and the opposition launched into that big-time.

 

But what's even more interesting to me is what Obama did today. Sure, it's damage control, but it's pretty darn GOOD damage control. He called the officer and expressed sincere regret at his choice of words, and even more interesting, invited the officer and the professor to come to the White House to seek common ground!

 

That's a pretty amazing thing if you ask me. Sure, there's a side to it that we could be cynical about. We could question what the president is doing involving himself in something like this (as if he doesn't have enough on his plate already). We could say that he's just embarrassed over his choice of words (and he probably is). But -- isn't this exactly what he SAID he was going to do? Didn't he say he wanted us to have a dialog about race in this country? Isn't this a perfect opportunity to do that?

 

Anyway that's my two bits. What do you guys think?

 

http://www.reuters.com/article/newsOne/idUSN2447761120090724

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I think there will have to be time where we can't get upset about every incident of racism. I am not saying allow it to happen, but by constantly making a race an issue, it stay one. As a white person that's easy to say. Like you said there is a road of civility we all have to walk regardless if it's the most popular one. Start looking at each other as humans not races.

 

I think it a good approach for Obama to go. That you don't have to be outraged at the possibility that race was involved. Talk about it. Now everyone is on the defense. It's like walking on eggshells. It has to end at one point.

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But -- isn't this exactly what he SAID he was going to do? Didn't he say he wanted us to have a dialog about race in this country? Isn't this a perfect opportunity to do that?

 

No, it isn't. Not when it's being done at the expense of someone else. First, I voted for Obama (my first time voting for president) and given the same candidates, I would do so again. However, Obama is wrong on this because it was never a race issue. It was about a homeowner who was caught breaking into a home and refused to show his ID to the policemen to verify that he was the owner. He went ballistic instead.

 

It was only after the situation began spinning out of control did he finally do so. (at least from what's been reported). At that point the police officer had had it and arrested him for disorder. There was no race issue here no matter how much the professor wanted it to be.

 

Obama needs to apologize, verbally and in writing.

 

Bettina

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Even if you take race out of the equation, the officer acted stupidly. I've been listening to interviews with police and police chiefs all day which say the same. The job of an officer is to de-escalate situations. They are trained not to react when baited, as they are often treated abusively. They are specifically trained to de-escalate, and this cop should have walked away as soon as he realized it was the professors home. He acted stupidly.

 

I don't fault Obama for responding to the reporters question, I appreciate the fact that he is authentic with his feelings and says what he means... With the fact that he treats us like adults.

 

What a non-story this has been, and it's TOTALLY distracted everyone from the intent of his conference... Healthcare. Stupid media leading with a story which is polar opposite to what really matters.

 

In other news, Jon, from Jon and Kate plus 8, just had a cheeseburger for lunch, and washed it down with Dr. Pepper. :doh:

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I apologise in advance to Obama supporters. I admire his talents and had high hopes that a Middle East settlement would finally be pushed through using his undoubted intelligence and (up until recently) diplomatic skills. Yet you guys seem to have consensus politics in exactly the same way as the UK with no substantial policy changes from Government to Government. In other words, America is in a Butskellite quagmire.

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Inow...

 

Defusing a domestic dispute is one thing. Going postal toward a police officer is something else and shouldn't be tolerated. An officer has the right to demand personal identification from someone found forcing their way in to a house. ;)

 

Bee

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I think there will have to be time where we can't get upset about every incident of racism. I am not saying allow it to happen, but by constantly making a race an issue, it stay one.

 

I agree.

 

Did any one catch these two interesting facts from the story?

 

- This is a professor who teaches about the history of racism in this country

 

- This is a police officer who teaches courses on the pros and cons of racial profiling

 

 

I'm not suggesting that either one deliberately set this up. I'm suggesting that they may have seen what they were looking for. The professor have have known how his actions looked and expected to be racially profiled if the cops happened by. The police officer knew what might happen and expected the professor to react in that manner.

 

This may be a learning opportunity of a different nature from what people think.

 

 

No, it isn't. Not when it's being done at the expense of someone else. First, I voted for Obama (my first time voting for president) and given the same candidates, I would do so again. However, Obama is wrong on this because it was never a race issue. It was about a homeowner who was caught breaking into a home and refused to show his ID to the policemen to verify that he was the owner. He went ballistic instead.

 

We don't actually know that any more than we know that the professor overreacted. We have no video, just second-hand statements. So in some way we're all seeing what WE want to see in this event as well.

 

But Obama was wrong to leap to a conclusion and I think he has come to agree with that point as well.

 

 

Even if you take race out of the equation, the officer acted stupidly. I've been listening to interviews with police and police chiefs all day which say the same. The job of an officer is to de-escalate situations. They are trained not to react when baited, as they are often treated abusively. They are specifically trained to de-escalate, and this cop should have walked away as soon as he realized it was the professors home. He acted stupidly.

 

Perhaps, though I think you're making the same mistake Obama made, for the same reason. You're right about what's supposed to happen, though. But I think you're also ignoring what's supposed to happen by the other party. Put another way, the officer may not be the only one who may have acted stupidly. But I won't leap to the conclusion that either party did.

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Um, no. Gates showed the officer two different IDs upon request. The problems started when the cop didn't let it go after that.

 

That depends who you believe. The link you supplied has two versions. I tend to believe the officer's version based on his outstanding record and the fact that another policeman on the scene...who is black...also supported Gates being arrested.

 

Bee

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I agree.

 

Did any one catch these two interesting facts from the story?

 

- This is a professor who teaches about the history of racism in this country

 

- This is a police officer who teaches courses on the pros and cons of racial profiling

 

 

I'm not suggesting that either one deliberately set this up. I'm suggesting that they may have seen what they were looking for. The professor have have known how his actions looked and expected to be racially profiled if the cops happened by. The police officer knew what might happen and expected the professor to react in that manner.

 

This may be a learning opportunity of a different nature from what people think.

 

I find it difficult to accept that a person who has invested that much time to a specific cause would use it for something so cheap. How long has he been at that house, how do the neighbors not see he lives there? Asked for two forms of ID and called the university. Would these police have done the same to John Finley Jr. Who know. Maybe they all were having a bad day. His door was jammed after all. I could see the issue if he broke in, but his door was jammed.

 

That could be the case too that he saw an opportunity. Controversy does help in one way. It does open up for dialogue. Police brutality does happen and race is an issue too much of the time.

 

The ends justify the means sort of thing.

Edited by GutZ
Consecutive posts merged.
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The ends justify the means sort of thing.

 

First, Pangloss does not subscribe to that philosophy.

Second, none of us know whether or not that is the underlying motivation (it is an unfounded speculation that the parties involved desired to artificially flare an event to begin a dialog on race in our country). We now find ourselves building speculations on top of previous speculations, and are drifting farther and farther away from reality and logic.

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Um, no. Gates showed the officer two different IDs upon request. The problems started when the cop didn't let it go after that.

Read the arrest report. The problems started when Gates didn't let it go. Gates went after the police, not the other way around. This is corroborated by multiple witnesses and a backup police report. Gate's counter claim sounds ludicrous in comparison and is uncorroborated.

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Read the arrest report. The problems started when Gates didn't let it go. Gates went after the police, not the other way around. This is corroborated by multiple witnesses and a backup police report. Gate's counter claim sounds ludicrous in comparison and is uncorroborated.

 

Two words: First Amendment.

Three words: Freedom of Speech.

 

This guy got arrested for... what exactly? For being pissed off that a cop thought he was breaking into his own home? For expressing his frustration that the cop was ignorant? For wondering why this had gone on despite him proving he lived there?

 

First amendment guarantees freedom of speech. That supersedes any statutes which state that we citizens of these United States cannot engage in "contempt of cop."

 

These officers were in no danger. Only their egos and their the sense of pride were harmed. The arrest was specious, and no claims to the contrary about "playing race cards" or "he went ballistic" or "Gates didn't let it go" can change that FACT.

 

It was his house, and our first amendment protects his right to openly express his frustration with the police force as long as he is not expressly threatening them or other citizens in the vicinity. Case closed.

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There are plenty of indications that the man hindered police in their effort to determine whether or not he was, in fact, the owner. He was charged with disorderly conduct, but it's all about the same underlying issue -- we need the police to be able to investigate a situation without being hindered, verbally abused, accused of racism without foundation, and so forth. We need to wait for the full information before determining which side was right (and it's possible both sides have merit). I wonder if you realize, iNow, that the result of President Obama's meeting with the two men is not going to be a unilateral condemnation of that policeman. Short of him pulling a Mark Fuhrman, the President is going to support him, even if he also supports the homeowner.

 

Free speech has limits. This is one of them. You do what the police tell you to do first. You question their tactics and reasons later. That is how you behave around law enforcement, and the reason why you do so is as much about the benefit to you as it is about the benefit to their safety, their search for the truth, etc. If you don't like what the police tell you to do, you STFU and you hire a lawyer. The African American community has determined that a different set of behavior is acceptable under certain conditions. The African American community is mistaken. And every time they display this behavior or support it they demonstrate immaturity.

 

 

 

Incidentally, something similar to this happened to me once. I was parked on the street outside a friend's house just off the Georgia Tech campus (this was around 1985) and I was parallel parked and the cars in front of and behind me were really close. It was very late (after midnight) and I was tired so I wanted to be careful and just get as close as I possibly could to the car behind me before pulling out, so I backed up as far as I could see from inside, then I got out and walked back to look and see if I'd contacted his bumper or not.

 

Suddenly the night lit up and I turned around and there was a bright light shining in my eyes from the parking lot across the street. It was a police officer who'd stopped at the gas station there and had been filling out his paperwork and he'd just happened to notice what I was doing, and he thought I had actually hit the car behind me and was checking for damage.

 

Well I was like 19 and tired and it was just a stupid cop, right? So instead of calmly answering his questions, I tried to make him listen to my explanation, and when he didn't listen I was impatient and rude towards him, because I knew I'd done nothing wrong and therefore he had no justification for questioning me. (Just exactly like being questioned about breaking into your own home.)

 

Big mistake. It took ten seconds to realize I'd screwed up, but two hours to fix it, listening to him ask me questions, sitting in his car, watching him fill out paperwork, most of which probably had nothing to do with me (but it sure looked terrifying). I knew I'd screwed up, and I knew he was letting me know it, but it STILL scared the hell out of me. I'm lucky I wasn't arrested. Thank GOD I hadn't been drinking. But I'll tell you this -- I'll never question a cop again.

 

And the man never even raised his voice. Not once.

 

I don't care what the color of your skin is. If a police officer tells you to do something, you do it. It's not about race, it's about safety (yours and theirs) and it's about upholding the law so that we don't live in anarchy.

Edited by Pangloss
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Two words: First Amendment.

Three words: Freedom of Speech.

Three words: Disturbing the peace.

Two more: Disorderly conduct.

 

Freedom of speech is not an absolute right. You do not have a right to be a loud obnoxious asshole in public. (You can be an incredible jerk in private, so long as it truly is in private.) Laws on disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace are not unconstitutional.

 

This guy got arrested for... what exactly?

This guy got arrested for disorderly conduct. Just like this guy, or this guy. The latter case made it to the Massachusetts Supreme Court, which said

Consequently, the Massachusetts disturbing the peace law which applies a normative standard and requires individual harm in fact is not unconstitutionally vague. ...

 

In Cohen, particularly, the Supreme Court emphasized that speech, which in most cases will be constitutionally protected, can be forbidden if it is likely to provoke a violent reaction by the hearer, Cohen, supra at 20, or if it invades a "substantial claim to a recognizable privacy interest," id. at 21. The Court offers as an example of such a privacy interest, the interest in "being free from unwanted expression in the confines of one's own home." Id. at 22.
Certainly loud and abusive speech, whatever the content, at 11:45 P.M. near dwelling places may invade the privacy rights of persons asleep in their homes.

 

These officers were in no danger.

If they were in danger Gates would be in big, big trouble. Gates was acting exactly like drunkards who are picked up off the street, put in jail overnight, and released. These arrests are not specious, and neither was Gates.

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The African American community has determined that a different set of behavior is acceptable under certain conditions.

Well, that's a pretty bold assertion there. Do you have any actual objective evidence in support of this point, or is it informed merely by anecdote and your own personal biases?

 

 

 

I don't care what the color of your skin is. If a police officer tells you to do something, you do it.

That's part of the problem, Pangloss. There truly are some cops out there who are NOT looking out for your best interests, and when they demand compliance at all costs... even when you've done nothing wrong... then we start to get into trouble and venture away from the ideals of our free society.

 

There are some things which a police officer will request of you that you have every right to refuse. Further, the professor DID provide identification, so that's where it should have ended. He had every right to express his frustration openly (a very natural reaction, I must say), and he was well within his rights since he was not endangering the community or the officers. This seems plainly to be an issue where the cops wanted nothing more than to control and to dominate... The police had every opportunity to end the situation and walk away, but instead chose for compliance at all costs. The man should never have been arrested. This is supported by the fact that ALL charges were reversed after the fact (if there truly were a case with merit, the arrest would have stuck).

 

I respect police officers. I recognize they have an incredibly difficult and dangerous job, and I also note that they are right the vast majority of the times, and that citizens need to listen to them for the greater good. That's not the issue here. The issue is that the officers need to reciprocate and offer that same respect to the citizens.

 

As you keep mentioning, it truly goes both ways.

 

Sure... they both acted stupidly... the cop AND the professor... however, the cop was the only one in a position to carry the issue to a new level, which he did, and now we're all here arguing about this total non-story instead of talking about the merits of the healthcare plans. Beware the weapons of mass distraction.

 

 


Merged post follows:

Consecutive posts merged
Three words: Disturbing the peace.

Two more: Disorderly conduct.

Which many police laughingly use to arrest people for "contempt of cop." As I mentioned above to Pangloss, all involved parties acted stupidly, but the cops seem to have placed "compliance at all costs" over "common sense."

 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Contempt_of_cop

 

 

This post I found is not put forth as evidence, just to add context. It also speaks a bit to Bee's comment above about how the cops story was supported by his partner at the scene:

 

 

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2009/04/contempt-of-cop.html

I think [contempt of cop] is a great term that summarizes a whole class of actions that many police officers treat as crimes, but in fact are no such thing. People are getting arrested in public spaces committing no crime every day in this country for charges like “failure to obey” or “photographing a police officer.” Police like to feel like they have absolute authority on the streets, that they are mini-dictators of the patch of ground within their field of view. This is a fantasy, but as with all fantasies, folks get really upset when other folks try to dispel their fantasy.

 

The scary part is that the few who get off quickly are generally the ones who have had their incident video-taped. Which is probably why police are working so hard to try to make photographing and videotaping of police illegal. Because they know that in situations of he-said-she-said, the cop will win down at the station and among his buddies at the DA, particularly if
his fellow cops will, as is typical, fabricate corroborative stories.
Citizen video tends to break this power imbalance.

Edited by iNow
Consecutive posts merged.
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To me, this all hinges on what Gates did as the officer was exiting his home, presumably ready to let the matter drop. I'd like to know if Lucia Whalen and the University police corroborate that Gates continued to scream at Officer Crowley as Crowley was leaving the house, and if Gates really did ignore Crowley as he warned him he was becoming disorderly and took out his handcuffs. If Gates continued to yell at Crowley when Crowley was willing to drop the matter, then Gates is the one who "acted stupidly".

 

As Pangloss said, law enforcement, at that level, requires complete cooperation so they can control potentially dangerous situations. De-escalation tactics are for inside the house, but when you're outside in public, even if it's on your property, raising your voice in anger is not something the police tolerate for very long. It's the kind of thing that can quickly stir up a mob of people (either for or against the one yelling), and the police are NOT fond of riots.

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I've seen enough cops on power trips (and covering for each other), and enough people freaking out at them for trying to do their jobs, that really either version of events is totally plausible. (Yeah, yelling at a cop is a good way to get arrested for disorderly conduct no matter whether it's justified or not. Whether that is right or wrong is a larger issue than whatever happened in this case.) I really doubt race had much to do with it, but I don't think it's an unreasonable suspicion, either. We'll never know exactly what happened, and it doesn't really matter: all charges have been dropped.

 

As for the subject of this thread, Obama's reaction, I agree with Pangloss. I was disappointed that he, apparently on impulse, called them "stupid" without knowing the facts. He shouldn't even have commented on something like that (but hey, he was asked about it). However, as far as I'm concerned, he set it right. A genuine, non-squirmy apology, and an invitation to civil dialogue. That's a classy way to handle it.

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I don't care what the color of your skin is. If a police officer tells you to do something, you do it.

 

Yeah, because it's not like cops ever shot young black men in the back when they're handcuffed on the ground.

 

Or beat the crap out of and arrest a 12-year-old black girl for 'prostitution' on her own front lawn

 

Or

 

Or beating an already-restrained suspect

 

Or dragging people out of car and beating the crap out of them

 

And who can forget

?

 

or callously dumping a paralyzed man from his wheelchair

 

Or brutally beating a 15-year-old girl for malicious shoe-kicking.

 

 

 

As much as it may shatter your illusions, cops are not *always* the good guys, and abuses of power are far more common and prevalent than you know. And as much as you may hate to hear it, there is a long and well-documented history of excessive abuse towards minority suspects.

 

So, tell me, how exactly are you supposed to react to cops when you have friends who've been falsely arrested or even beaten by cops? When you get pulled over almost monthly just because you're black and drive an expensive car?

 

Do they need your *permission* to be pissed off at relentless and obvious discrimination and racism?

 

Sorry, but Disney World is closed - reality isn't nearly as pleasant.

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The African American community has determined that a different set of behavior is acceptable under certain conditions. [/quote']Well, that's a pretty bold assertion there. Do you have any actual objective evidence in support of this point, or is it informed merely by anecdote and your own personal biases?

 

I stated an opinion and personal observation.

 

BTW, a subtle insinuation that I'm a bigot does not make it so. ;)

 

 

That's part of the problem, Pangloss. There truly are some cops out there who are NOT looking out for your best interests, and when they demand compliance at all costs... even when you've done nothing wrong... then we start to get into trouble and venture away from the ideals of our free society.

 

There are some things which a police officer will request of you that you have every right to refuse.

 

I disagree. You comply. Always. If they're wrong, you determine that after the fact. If a cop asks you a question that you think is inappropriate or unnecessary, you answer it and then you hire a lawyer and file charges of harassment. Screaming at the man isn't just moronic and pointless, it actually undermines your own case. This man has set his own reputation back thirty years, and may have harmed it irreparably. All because he ASS-U-ME-D he was being looked at because of his race.

 

Now, whether or not this applies in this particular case is a reasonable question, and I don't believe we have enough information at this time to fully answer that question. However, your interpretation of the sequence of events in the following quote is a perfectly reasonable one:

 

 

 

Further, the professor DID provide identification, so that's where it should have ended. He had every right to express his frustration openly (a very natural reaction, I must say), and he was well within his rights since he was not endangering the community or the officers. This seems plainly to be an issue where the cops wanted nothing more than to control and to dominate... The police had every opportunity to end the situation and walk away, but instead chose for compliance at all costs. The man should never have been arrested. This is supported by the fact that ALL charges were reversed after the fact (if there truly were a case with merit, the arrest would have stuck).

 

I agree that the issue is one of investigation and IF they were able to get everything they needed, and the ONLY issue was that they were insulted, then they should not have arrested him. I basically acknowledged that possibility in my last post, though perhaps not very clearly.

 

 

I respect police officers. I recognize they have an incredibly difficult and dangerous job, and I also note that they are right the vast majority of the times, and that citizens need to listen to them for the greater good. That's not the issue here. The issue is that the officers need to reciprocate and offer that same respect to the citizens.

 

As you keep mentioning, it truly goes both ways.

 

Sure... they both acted stupidly... the cop AND the professor... however, the cop was the only one in a position to carry the issue to a new level, which he did, and now we're all here arguing about this total non-story instead of talking about the merits of the healthcare plans. Beware the weapons of mass distraction.

 

I agree. Though I do think (and perhaps you'd agree) the issue is a good one to have in the public discourse. I would also point out that it may be that the professor is the one who escalated to a "new level". But yes, it's a distraction to some extent.

 

I think it's interesting that nobody in the mainstream media seems to walk to talk about the possibility that, as you say, the professor may have been acting stupidly in suggesting that the police not investigate someone trying to break into a house, black OR white. That's one of the reasons I look forward to this meeting with the president -- it'll give the morons in the media and the stupider parts of the public to see things more clearly.

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There are some things which a police officer will request of you that you have every right to refuse.
I disagree. You comply. Always.[/b'] If they're wrong, you determine that after the fact.

 

Excessively "colorful" example removed by Mod

 

EDIT: It would not be hard to think of requests from police with which you do not have to comply. I think you're trying to make a point that I ultimately tend to agree with, but that you are doing so in an extreme manner which ruins your argument. [/EDIT]

 

Further... You, being a relatively well-off white male, seem to have a very rosy view of the authority of police and how far we should allow that authority to extend.

Edited by iNow
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This whole thing seems like a distraction to me. Sometimes I get the feeling the news media have collective ADD, and this is some definite mountain-out-of-molehill making. Can we get back to discussing important issues like health care?

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Interesting question. It's certainly a combination of a) those who wish to delay healthcare reform, b) those who seek news stories which are sexier and edgier, and c) those in our populace who reinforce this choice of the media by tuning in all the more closely when issues like this present.

 

It appears that I'm a bit guilty of that last one, myself.

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