Obama was right in the real world, (maybe not politically) the police officer certainly did act "stupidly."
But Professor Gates acted stupidly as well.
The fact that the charges were dropped proves, in and of itself, that the cop acted stupidly. Think of the tens of thousands of dollars this idiotic arrest has cost Cambridge taxpayers.
From all accounts, the Police Officer, James Crowley, taught a class in racial profiling, and otherwise has a good record, so I have no reason to think that he acted as a racist.
But in this case ----from my experience as a police reporter and watching cops as they went up against against anti-war protesters in the Sixties and gays in Greenwich Village --- I know that if Gates was a white man and acted the same way, he would have been arrested, too.
The arrest was totally illegal. You can't be arrested in your own home for "disorderly conduct." It's a garbage charge. Massachusetts law says that there has to be a violent threat involved and usually it must occur in a public place.
So Crowley cleverly lured Gates, an elderly man with a cane, out on his porch so that he could arrest the Harvard Professor in a public place, in front of "an ocean" of burly police officers.
Bottom line: when cops put on a blue uniform and badge and a gun, many adopt an authoritarian bullying attitude... all the time.. They cross the line. The arrogance of power. Happens 10,000 times a day in America.
They want to be respected and kowtowed to. Sometimes this is necessary to maintain order and keep things from spiraling out of control... Most times it is not.
All cops think it is illegal to disrespect a police officer. News flash. It is not.
By the time Crowley arrested Gates, he knew he was a Harvard Professor, he knew he lived there. He knew Gates was a big deal, that there would be problems. But Gates kept verbally abusing the officer and calling him a racist, asking for his name and badge number.
Gates, too, couldn't bear being disrespected... he was offended that his exalted status was not being deferred to. My God, he had just come back from Shanghai and Beijing doing a documentary for PBS.
He did not rein in his outrage and was out of control. Would Gates have acted like that with a black cop?
But it is not illegal to be out of control in your own house. It's not illegal to say "Ya, I'll speak with your mamma outside."
Police officer Crowley was the professional in the situation. He should have acted as a grownup, a Peace Officer intent on controlling chaos. Crowley did exactly the opposite of what he was trained to do. When he should have been defusing the situation, he escalated it.
Gore Vidal agrees that this issue is not race based. In penetrating comments in Truthdig.com he wrote:
"...ours is now a proto-fascist nation and there appears to be no turning back;
"...we find ourselves marooned as well as guarded (is that the verb?) by armed police who have been instructed that they are indeed, once armed, the law....and may not be criticized verbally or in any other way and are certainly not subject to any restrictions as to whom they arrest or otherwise torment.
"I was also aware as the years passed how often friends would be beaten up in front of what were called "faggot bars."
"...when asked why he had behaved so rudely to the "old" scholar, he (Crowley) said because the old guy had been rude about his mother. I haven't heard this excuse since the playground of St. Alban's in 1935.
".... vicious country in which the police are allowed to run amok, absolutely independent of anyone, and that is why from time to time they are allowed to get away with murder.
"The real issue is class. We have the greatest divide between the very rich and the very poor of any country on Earth, surpassing even France."
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