A reasonable change of perspective in an unreasonable situation.

It was quite a treat to come home last week and find I’d been offered the chance to write something for this website. It is certainly one I read and admire. As the week went on, I struggled though; most of what I write isn’t all that political. What could I possibly contribute? Then came the encounter between Professor Gates, the Cambridge Police Department, and the subsequent reaction by President Obama.

In short, I see the President’s handling of this as a great positive, a leap forward over what we endured over the past eight years. But first, a little personal revelation so you’ll know where I am coming from.

I’m a cop. I’m starting my 25th year of service at one of the largest police departments in the country. I’ve worked in our local school system; I’ve been a detective. I started our department’s domestic violence unit. I currently work on the street as a sergeant in an inner city neighborhood. I’m also the senior member of our Hostage Negotiation Team. I teach a mental health intervention class. I’ve been busy. The thought of my oncoming retirement makes me smile.

The facts of the encounter between Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and Sergeant James Crowley have come out in dribs and drabs. Few, and certainly none of us, know the entire circumstance. There have been no shortage of opinions floated by folks who don’t have any perspective on the situation. Sadly, one of them was the President.

On the one hand, I can’t blame him. He stood behind a person he considers a friend, whose background he knows and respects. If one of my friends ended up in hot water, my first instinct would be to rise to their defense.

On the other, I know that folks in my profession are painted with a broad brush. If Crowley and his department are painted as bumbling and racist, the reality is that that assessment and situation will color how people approach me and the officers I supervise hundreds of miles from Cambridge. Bumbling and racism are things I do not tolerate. So, I was a little frustrated with the President’s reaction. I voted for him, how could he do this to me?

Yesterday came and the President clarified his position and even changed it

More information in, different opinion out. I am digging this.

More information in, different opinion out. I am digging this.

some what. Ahhhh, sweet relief on so many levels.

First, it put the brakes on speculation and finger pointing as to who was at fault in this unfortunate incident.

You see, I believe and make sure that officers that I work with understand that while there are times when you have the legal justification to do something, sometimes it isn’t the right thing to do.

I don’t know Massachusetts law, but I understand that the elements of an offense were met and justified an arrest. Was Sergeant Crowley legally entitled to make the arrest. The answer appears to be yes. Was it the right thing to do? No.

Professor Gates is not innocent in this whole matter. Is there a legal requirement to show a police officer your identification in your own home? Certainly not. I wouldn’t want to live in a nation like that any more than Professor Gates would.

Now, if that officer is responding to a call that someone was seen climbing through your window and is trying to make sure you truly are the resident of that home, would it be reasonable to show your ID just to resolve the situation quickly and amicably? I’d hope so, and in the course of my career, dozens of people have done that for me under the exact same fact circumstance. We shook hands, wished one another a nice day and did not end up on CNN.

So President Obama modifying his position makes me very happy. “My sense is you have got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved.” Me too Mr. President, me too. Two decent men dug in their heels and made a spectacle of one another. Very sad.

The President’s modified position signals two positives to me. First, unlike his predecessor, he is capable and willing to modify his position on an issue as information develops. “The Decider” never showed that capability. Circumstances change, so does the right thing to do or say in a situation.

A sad encounter based on shades of skin tone, or shades of personality?

A sad encounter based on shades of skin tone, or shades of personality?

Second, the President’s remarks turn this to exactly what it was at its root, an encounter between two men. You see, unreasonableness and stubbornness were the cause of the problem on both sides of this event. Unreasonableness and stubbornness are not colors or races. They are unfortunate qualities that we all wish we could eliminate.

Mr. President, if you’ve got an extra beer available at that meeting you offered Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley, I’m available.



Filed under Diplomacy, Diversity, Ethics, Obama

18 responses to “A reasonable change of perspective in an unreasonable situation.

  1. Thank you for your excellent post, and your professional perspective, Oma. We humans really are all too human, aren’t we? Two human men who seem to both have reacted all too humanly.

    A man who comes home after a trip and finds he can’t easily get into his own home is probably upset before anything else happens. Remember how good it feels to be home no matter how enjoyable the trip? Remember how tiring travel can be? We don’t get to know what kind of battles Sergeant Crowley might have been through that day, but it’s always a good idea to remember that everyone we meet is fighting some kind of battle.

    So two human men took positions they may have both recognized weren’t their finest moments, but immediately the whole situation was in the news BIG TIME. Seemed at that point (to me) the two men hunkered down, were egged on by people who agreed with them, and both felt the need to defend themselves and their right to being respected. Of course, the media had hold of this like a junkyard dog and were not letting go!

    Enters President Obama. His words could have been spoken by anyone else and meant less. But he spoke them. A situation that was out of control went viral. I too am pleased that President Obama spoke out the second time, is attempting to make amends, will meet with the two men and at least for the three of them I see a resolution and an ending.

    Do you think the people who are filled with hate, filled with fear, filled with jealousy that Obama is president will ever let it go? Do you think the people who want every member of law enforcement to be the enemy will ever let this go? Do you think those who want to make it all about race will ever let this go?

    • You are right, there are a lot of people who will take this incident and shape it to fit the perspective they already have toward either of the races or professions involved.

      It’s unfortunate, because I’m convinced that, at its heart, this is about a collision of choices and temperaments. We all make them, we all have them.

      Choices and temperaments aren’t brown, white or blue.

  2. tosmarttobegop

    Yes thank you, as a former LEO i have seen both sides of this act exactly this way. One should have found a way out of it once the truth was found. The other realizing the officer was there to protect his best interests and not assume something that was not the case.

  3. You know that ‘bad apple’ theory? Seems in some professions the one bad apple more readily sways opinions that the entire basket of apples is rotten.

    By that I mean there are bad mothers but they don’t seem to make many people suspect every mother of being bad. But a bad cop (I am NOT suggesting Sergeant Crowley is a bad cop!) leads many people to think of every cop as being bad.

    Oma, you probably said it best when you said, “folks in my profession are painted with a broad brush.”


    Why doesn’t a bad mother make all mothers suspect to the degree that a bad cop makes all cops suspect?

    • wicked

      I’ve known a few cops and have found there are good ones, bad ones, and just ones. Most are out to do their job, to protect and help people. A small few are in it more for their ego than anything. I respect the law and those who enforce it. That’s what I was taught to do. And I’ve met some pretty nice officers, both male and female, because of that.

      It’s unfortunate that this incident was blown so completely out of proportion. Feelings were hurt. People were on the defensive. Human nature.

  4. Pingback: I get all serious. « Blurt

  5. Bad Biker

    Very good post, Oma, excellent, in fact. I too was somewhat disturbed by the “stupidly” comment from our President, but I agree, unlike the previous president, Barack had the courage to come forward and explain his thoughts.

    Far more importantly, President Obama CALLED the officer in question, explained his position, LISTENED to the officer’s side of the story and sought to make amends. From what I have gathered, it was a friendly and respectful conversation and one that was even laced with a little humor.

    I truly hope that the three men in question sit down together with that beer and truly make this a “teachable moment.”

    In my mind, this is why I admire my president – he may have messed up, but he is going to right the wrong and make something better from it.

    If we can all learn from this example, the world will be a better place.

    Thank you, again, Oma.

  6. matt

    It seems the point is being missed once again in public scrutiny. Why does the police officer have to defend himself for doing his job, responding to a call. It is not a police officers job to distinguish the priority of one call over another,the dispatcher does that. He responded, did his job, situation handled. If anything, the woman who reported a break in should be under scrutiny. Personally me, I would have thanked my neighbor for protecting my home, worked with the police to understand the situation, rather than pathetically using the race card. I say yes sir, no sir when i’ve been pulled over by black or white police. Thats what mr Gates should have done.

    • Hi Matt, welcome to Prairie P&Ps.

      I haven’t read anyone here at this blog asking the officer to defend himself for doing his job. Although some of us have speculated there may have been decisions made all the way around that could have been made differently and resulted in better outcomes.

      Thanks for your input! Come back to visit and join in the conversations.

    • Bad Biker

      Sorry, Matt, but a man’s home is his castle, whether it is rented or owned. It is his sanctuary.

      Professor Gates, when asked, produced his ID, showing that he was a resident of that home. That should have ended any conversation.

      That was his home.

      I have to disagree with the premise that police officers have some dominion over citizens. They have no legal or moral right to judge us or to pass judgment on us. They have a responsibility to treat citizens with the respect that they deserve. They are no better or no worse than we are.

      “rather than pathetically using the race card”

      Once again, sorry Matt, but that was his home – his sanctuary.

      Had I been in the same situation as Professor Gates, I would have been far less amiable than the professor.

      Truthfully, once the officer had seen my ID and verified that I was in my home, he should have left without comment.

      Black or white – it should make no difference.

      • Bad Biker

        It has become very “fashionable” recently to call progressives and liberals “racist” because they support equal rights for all people.

        The Conservatives will tell you that racism no longer exists in America. They will also say that sexism, homophobia and bigotry no longer exist, either.

        Well, look at America through the eyes of a black man or woman. Or look at America through the eyes of a 50 year old woman. Or a gay of lesbian person.

        For that matter, look at America through the eyes of any American that doesn’t fit the Conservative mold as a true American.

        Then think back a few years when we were called traitors, anti-American and terrorist lovers.

        Well, this is MY COUNTRY, too, and I will not let you take it from me and I will stand up and fight for my black, Hispanic, female and gay brethren.

  7. Thank you!
    I never understood where talking to people and changing ones perspective based on what you learn became a weakness. I’m happy to see it back.

  8. Wow, men acting like human beings . . .after Bush and his cronies, whodathunk?

  9. lilacluvr

    Someone said there is an audio tape of the entire arrest and does anyone know if this tape has ever been played?

    Maybe with the help of the unbiased electronic recording of what actually happened, we all can learn from this situation and move on?

    Or is that too much to ask in today’s political climate?

  10. omawarisan,

    Thanks for this post. According to our blog stats it was the biggest drawer in terms of reads today – so a special thank you for that.

    My background is mental health. I do crisis intervention work, so I know a few L.E.O.s where I work, staff at the jail, and nurses and docs in the local ERs.

    I work in Kansas. You did not say where you work, but I’ve noticed this summer in our state that the safety nets that are usually there are getting stretched pretty seriously by the budget problems. Do you see any of that where you are?

    Thanks again for the thoughtful post. It was well done.


    • Oh man, we have to talk! My email is on my blog, shoot me a note.

      But yes, things here are slipping. Fewer treatment options and a lot of non profits we had as referrals aren’t able to take as many folks.

      Money for training on my side of the house is very tight, that means a lot more prioritization and it is a struggle to keep mental health issues in the game, even with NAMI backing.

  11. Please note, I am not asking where you are from, but rather if there local budget resource problems?

  12. Well, the beer meeting is tomorrow and I haven’t been invited.