Tell me please, why did many feel like Obama was in the wrong for saying that the police officer involved in the Gates incident "acted stupidly"? Why did a whole union come out in support of the officer? Why did the officer refuse to apologize? And, for god's sake, why is Obama backpedaling now?
The police officer did behave stupidly. I don't think there's any denying that. Was he primarily influenced by race or drunk on power or both? I don't think it matters. He was a white cop interacting with a black man in the USA and if he was the great expert in racial profiling the Cambridge Police Force has made him out to be, then he should darn well have been aware of all the dynamics of white cop/black suspect. Gates' anger should not have been a surprise. And if he was this expert, he should have known how to respond in a way that attempted to validate Gates' concerns, perhaps offer an apology. Why is it that the suspect always has to be the one to lose face, particularly if he's innocent? Why can't the police officer be the one to lose face for a change, and take one for the team. There is hardly shame in apologizing or in attempting to calm an increasingly tense racial encounter. Never, never should the response to Gates' anger been the punitive power play that it was. (On an NPR show the other day, someone mentioned that "disorderly conduct" is known among police officers as "disrespecting a cop." That speaks volumes, doesn't it?)
In addition, the officer's refusal to apologize along with his public expression of disappointment in Obama's characterization of his conduct is terribly problematic. I'm sorry, but if the president of the United States called YOU on the carpet, wouldn't you hang your head? wouldn't you apologize? Wouldn't you at least PRETEND that you were wrong, even if you privately felt that you weren't? I find this behavior almost as shocking as McCain supporters' booing of then president-elect Obama on election night. And I have to wonder if race isn't a factor here, too. Because I'm having trouble thinking of a comparable incident where a public servant has corrected a president of this country. (But if you can think of something I can't, please comment--I'd like nothing better than to be wrong on this one.) Yet, Obama's response is to invite the officer to the White House for a beer.
That may be a politically savvy move, but it also seems like a kick in the gut to the next black man who finds himself slammed up against a wall for doing something--anything--that a cop has taken into his head not to like. And Skip Gates has accepted the invitation to join them--what else, really, could he do? Some will present this as an opportunity for racial healing, but I don't buy it. Healing would require acknowledgment, on the part of the officer, of mistakes, poor judgment, the unconscious influence of racism, the desire for authority above all else, and the officer appears unwilling to make such an acknowledgment. What will this meeting be like for Gates? A show, one imagines, that Gates will put on for Obama's sake, to perpetuate a myth of racial progress. I feel for Gates, and I'm not sure that if I were him, I'd be thinking of Obama as much of a friend right now.