Analyzing the body language of the beer drinkers at the White House "brew-haha" yesterday, the New York Post today nails it: "O relaxed, sarge guarded, Gates trying." Says a "body language expert" of Sgt. James Crowley's demeanor: "His body language was very defensive ... I didn't see any apologetic body language from the cop."
While Sgt. Crowley claimed after the gathering that there was 'no tension' at the table, pictures of the event speak thousands of words: where Gates appears to be attentive and listening, Sgt. Crowley seems perturbed, slightly above it all, put upon.
Like all defensive posturing, the behavior of the Sgt. as revealed in the photos comes from a place of insecurity. He seems intimidated by the setting -- and all the media exposure -- so rather than make an effort to appear engaged and relaxed, his back is up. And it's more than just the pix; Sgt. Crowley made clear that he offered no apology.
Gates, meanwhile, was gracious about the Sgt., calling him 'likable.' And that's the irony -- that beneath all the bravado, Sgt. Crowley is said to be a decent and hard-working police officer, even if you wouldn't get that by how he conducted himself the night he arrested Gates, or from his failure to say he's sorry for what happened.
But the bottom line is that the Crowleys of the world too easily drop their normal selves when facing a real-time challenge. Something about their DNA (after all, police officers are drawn to law and order) or their training (or lack thereof) makes them quickly shift from 'nice guy' to 'I'll show em who's boss' mode.
Controlling how we deal with events as they are happening is something everyone should seek to master, especially the police, when reaction can mean the difference between life and death. Unless they are trained (and/or self-restrained) to better deal with situations, relations between the police and everyone, not just blacks and Hispanics, will be less than ideal. This is one of the key 'teachable moments' of this bizarre event.
So while he may be loathe to admit it, one hopes that Sgt. Crowley will think harder and faster about how he reacts next time he's in a situation where cooler heads should prevail. Unfortunately, however, the Sgt.'s language -- both body and verbal -- does not give one reason to think he's learned anything.
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