President Obama may have used the wrong words when he called the actions of the Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crawley, in cuffing Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, as "acting stupid." He backed off slightly in a follow-up interview when he made it clear that he wasn't indicting the entire Cambridge police department. By all accounts Crawley is a model cop, a stellar family man and he's even hailed for his effort to train other cops not to racially profile. And certainly Gates' arrest hardly fits the textbook definition of racial harassment, let alone profiling.
Yet, that doesn't change the brutal reality that racial matters are still every bit as agonizing, contentious, and divisive as ever. In the past couple of weeks, black and Latino kids were booted from a pool in Philadelphia, black parents were fighting a dogged battle to save a black high school in Louisiana ordered shut down by a majority white school board, blacks and whites squared off in Paris, Texas when charges were dropped against two white men previously accused in the alleged dragging death of a young black man, Brandon McClelland, and a reinvigorated mass movement complete with a name -- "the birthers" -- to prove that President Obama is an illegal alien and should be dumped from the presidency. There's also the rash of complaints and lawsuits alleging that several major lenders deliberately and systematically steered blacks and Latinos into extortionist interest rate, subprime loans.
Then there's the Internet. Whether it's the issue of Michael Jackson's death or the relentless low intensity verbal broadsides aimed at Obama, legions of chat rooms and Web sites pulsate with unbounded hate chatter.
Obama's knock at the police in Gate's arrest, and his finger point at the overwhelming disproportionate number of unwarranted stops of blacks and Latinos by some in law enforcement, need no soft pedaling and certainly not an apology. Presidents are asked and offer their opinions, give their personal views, and even express their prejudices countless times in press interviews and in front of the White House press corps. Few dare demand that they apologize for a testy or intemperate quip. Bush certainly was never called on the carpet for his testosterone laced bring em' on crack in reference to unnamed terrorists or his rough talk saber rattle against alleged "foreign enemies."
It took just the right touch of passion and hint of anger that Obama brought to the table in the Gates affair to get the tongues wagging about race and policing, and how widespread racial profiling really is. Obama has the world's most powerful and most watched bully pulpit to cajole, prod, and educate the public on compelling and even painful public policy issues; race being right at the top of the list. He should it use it every chance he gets, even if he's just blowing off steam.
The perennial usual suspect Obama-foes called him irresponsible for weighing in on the racial profiling debate. It would have been even more irresponsible for Obama to fire back "no comment, next question" to the reporter's demand for an opinion about Gates. A no comment or a waffling, duck and dodge pap remark to tough questions is not leadership or courage. No apology needed, President Obama for speaking out on Gates.
Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His weekly radio show, The Hutchinson Report, can be heard on weekly in Los Angeles at 9:30 AM Fridays on KTYM Radio 1460 AM and live streamed nationally on ktym.com