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
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.
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.