Obama Got Involved In Gates's Personal Dispute

08/31/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

At the beginning of the Obama-McCain campaign, I sent an e-mail to Tavis Smiley. He was to host the presidential debate between the candidates. I asked Mr. Smiley if he would ask the candidates a question from me as a retired police detective and expert on the subject of police corruption. I wanted to know what the candidates planned to do about police/community relations. Neither he nor his staff found my question worthy of mention. Nor did I get a response.

When a white policeman recently shot and killed Omar Edwards, a black police officer in civilian clothes, people asked if the shooting was racially motivated. A young, dedicated police officer lost his life. To my knowledge President Obama chose to remain silent on the subject.

When Henry Gates, a prominent black Harvard professor had difficulty getting into his home, a concerned citizen notified the police of a possible burglary in progress. The responding officer, Sgt. James Crowley, followed proper police procedure. The police report indicates that Mr. Gates became indignant, and said the officer was subjecting him to this treatment only because he was a black man in America. When Crowley asked Gates to come outside, he replied, "I'll talk to your mama outside."

Can we really believe that if the police were responding to a similar situation involving a white home owner, police would not follow the same procedure and ask the subject to identify himself?

Phillip Martin, former National Public Radio race relations correspondent and friend of Gates, also lives in Cambridge. Martin has had occasion to deal with the Cambridge police. When his burglar alarm went off accidentally, he was confronted by police. He cooperated fully, providing the police with his ID and the situation was diffused.

Mr. Gates, however, chose to play the race card. He also played the privilege card by showing his Harvard ID card to officer Crowley and telling him, "You don't know who you're messing with" while attempting to reach the Cambridge police chief by phone.

The key phrase in this dispute is Harvard professor. As if a professor is entitled to special privileges under the law.

Police officers who risk their lives every day should not be subject to threats and abuse when they are just doing their job. Any law-abiding citizen, let alone a Harvard professor, should know this.

Mr. Gates, a member of the Harvard Old Boy's Club, reached out to his cronies for support, one being the president of the United States. With the economy in shambles, Mr. Obama found the time to weigh in on a racial issue that was so non-racial that it was ridiculous. The Gates case has become the first significant racial issue created by Mr. Obama since becoming the nation's first African-American president.

The president who had apparently stayed silent on the death of officer Omar Edwards was personally outraged by the arrest of his Harvard crony. Another club member to weigh in was the president of Harvard, who suggested that perhaps Officer Crowley, with his "fine track record on racial sensitivity," could have been more tolerant in the case of Mr. Gates.

The analysis should run the other way. Perhaps Professor Gates, a prominent black scholar, could have been more cooperative. And perhaps the President of the United States should have known better than to have gotten drawn into a local-level issue.

The police were not, as the media --stoking the fire as usual - suggested, breaking into a home in a prominently white neighborhood. Rather, they were simply investigating a report that a possible burglary was in progress. The police would have responded no matter what the color of the suspect.

I was honored to lecture at Harvard Law School on the subject of integrity. But quite frankly, I saw no difference between a Harvard faculty and a City College faculty -- other an elitist attitude.

Yes, I voted for Obama. Yes, African-Americans are sensitive to racial issues as are white Americans. We all have our own moods, emotions and frustrations. But I expected more from the leader of the free world than to get involved in a crony's personal dispute.

What this case really shows is that the problems we face in America go far beyond race to an issue of class and privilege. There are black Americans wrongfully accused languishing on death row. Mr. Obama, I would venture to say, would never have gotten into this self-created national drama if Mr. Gates were the average hard-working class laborer, white or black.

May I suggest that Mr. Obama begin by taking his own advice, "instead of flinging accusations," try to "be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity," before crying wolf.