Monday, August 10, 2009

President Obama Backtracks on His Statement About Cambridge Police in the Henry Louis Gates Case


This is nothing but cowardly doubletalk on Obama's part and a blatantly obvious capitulation to the racism of millions of white Americans throughout the country who have done nothing but openly malign and attack Gates, Obama, and black people generally in this situation and propped up the racist white police officer as a man who was "simply doing his job." The power of the doctrine of white supremacy AS ALWAYS strikes again. Nothing surprising there...

As for the President however this episode and his absurd and utterly false suggestion/assertion that both Gates and the police were "equally overreacting" I have nothing but contempt. It's nothing but a BIG LIE meant to try to assuage racist white voters and their political representatives (e.g. the racist and sexist rightwing in particular and the Republican Party in general). It demonstrates incredible weakness and weakminded sophistry on Obama's part and indicates once again that the white backlash fallout of the fact that Obama only received 43% of the white vote in the presidential election (as opposed to the 55% of the white vote that McCain received!) is continuing to have a fatal impact on Obama's general political agenda and his opportunist flipflopping stances on a number of important political and economic issues facing the black community and the rest of the nation as well.

It takes genuine courage and independence to be a real leader and this kind of weakassed running scared performance on Obama's part ain't it! Not by a long shot. it To say that I am "bitterly disappointed" in the President on his pathetic response to the Gates case is seriously understating by a very large margin. I AM THOROUGHLY DISGUSTED...


Obama Says He Regrets His Language on Gates Arrest

President Obama made a surprise appearance at the daily White House briefing on Friday shortly after Sgt. James Crowley appeared at a news conference in Cambridge, Mass.

Published: July 24, 2009
New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama said Friday that he “could have calibrated” his words more carefully in the controversy over the arrest of a black Harvard professor by a white police officer, but added that there had been an “overreaction” by both sides in a case that touched off an intense discussion about race in America.

“To the extent that my choice of words didn’t illuminate, but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think, that was unfortunate,” Mr. Obama said, making an unusual unannounced visit to the White House briefing room in an effort to ease the controversy.

The president, who on Wednesday said that the police in Cambridge, Mass., “acted stupidly” in the arrest of Prof. Henry Louis Gates Jr., a prominent Harvard scholar of African-American history, sought to clear up the matter. He said he hoped the case could become “a teachable moment” to be used to improve relations between minorities and police officers.

The president said that he conveyed his sentiment to Sgt. James Crowley in a telephone call on Friday afternoon. The call, which lasted about five minutes, came after police officials in Massachusetts and beyond accused Mr. Obama of maligning the character of Sergeant Crowley and the entire Cambridge police force.

“I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up, I wanted to make clear that in my choice of words, I think, I unfortunately, I think, gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically,” Mr. Obama told reporters. “I could have calibrated those words differently, and I told this to Sergeant Crowley.”

Mr. Obama did not specifically use the word “apology,” but aides said that was the sentiment conveyed during his call with the officer. Mr. Obama, the nation’s first black president, has walked a careful line in his writings and in his political career when addressing race. Since taking office six months ago, he has delivered only a handful of speeches devoted specifically to race.

But an unscripted remark at a news conference on Wednesday evening — particularly the two words “acting stupidly” — touched off a widespread discussion about race that overshadowed the promotion of the president’s health care plan and other agenda items.

“I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,” Mr. Obama added. “I also continue to believe, based on what I heard that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well. My sense is you’ve got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved and the way they would have liked it to be resolved.”

Professor Gates was arrested on July 16, when the police were called to his Cambridge home after a report of a burglary in progress. The professor said he told the police that he lived in the house and that he was jimmying open a damaged front door. Still, the police report said he was arrested for “loud and tumultuous behavior in a public space.”

The disorderly conduct charges against Professor Gates were later dropped, and the city of Cambridge, its police department, the Middlesex County district attorney’s office and Professor Gates issued a joint statement calling the incident “regrettable and unfortunate.”

The brief and surprise appearance by Mr. Obama before reporters on Friday afternoon was an attempt by the White House to move beyond the controversy that has dominated the last two days.

Only hours earlier, Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, said the president had made his final remarks about the issue. But advisers said the mounting criticism from police groups and others persuaded the president to address the matter in an attempt to move on.

Mr. Obama, carefully measuring his words to avoid further criticism from either side, said, “Even when you’ve got a police officer who has a fine track record on racial sensitivity, interactions between police officers and the African-American community can sometimes be fraught with misunderstanding.”

One hour after calling Sergeant Crowley, Mr. Obama reached Professor Gates by telephone. An administration official said the call was "a positive discussion," and that it ended with an invitation for the professor and the police officer to meet at the White House — to have a beer, as the president said in his remarks to reporters. There was no immediate word on whether Professor Gates accepted the invitation.

Trying to lighten the moment in the press room, Mr. Obama said of his conversation with Sergeant Crowley: “He also did say he wanted to find out if there was a way of getting the press off his lawn. I informed him that I can’t get the press off my lawn. He pointed out that my lawn is bigger than his lawn.”

And though he conceded that he should have approached the issue somewhat differently on Wednesday night, Mr. Obama said he disagreed that he should not have stepped into it at all.

“The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that, you know, race is still a troubling aspect of our society,” Mr. Obama said. “Whether I were black or white, I think that me commenting on this — and hopefully contributing to constructive, as opposed to negative, understandings about the issue — is part of my portfolio.”

The president’s impromptu news conference defused the bold statements by leaders of the Cambridge and Massachusetts police officer unions made two hours earlier in seeking apologies from Mr. Obama and Gov. Deval Patrick of Massachusetts for linking racial profiling to the arrest.

At a news conference in a Cambridge hotel Friday morning, Sergeant Crowley stood flanked by other officers. While he did not speak, a day after offering two long interviews to Boston news organizations, his union representatives spoke for him, with forceful words for the president.

Sgt. Dennis O’Connor, the president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, said he was offended by President Obama’s assertion that the police department had acted “stupidly,” and by his connecting those actions to a history of racial profiling in America.

“The facts of this case suggest that the president used the right adjective, but directed it to the wrong party,” Sergeant O’Connor said, suggesting that Professor Gates had introduced racial concerns. “His remarks were obviously misdirected, but made worse yet by a suggestion that somehow this case should remind us of a history of racial abuse by law enforcement.”

Governor Patrick had weighed in Tuesday when the charges of disorderly conduct against Professor Gates were dropped, calling the incident “troubling,” and saying that it was “every black man’s nightmare.”

Sergeant O’Connor said, in prepared remarks, that the Cambridge police officers “deeply resent the implication and reject any suggestion that in this case or in any other case, they allow race to direct their activities.”

And to President Obama and Governor Patrick, he said, “We hope they will reflect on their past comments and apologize to the men and women of the Cambridge police department.” Steve Killian, the president of the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association, who described himself as a third-generation Cambridge police officer, said even more bluntly, “I think the President should make an apology to all law personnel throughout the entire country.”

He started his statement by saying, “Cambridge police are not stupid.”

Since the arrest occurred on the front porch of Professor Gates’s home in Cambridge last Thursday afternoon, both the sergeant and the professor have offered divergent accounts, each accusing the other of belligerent and strange behavior.

At heart, the dispute between Professor Gates and Sergeant Crowley centers on two things: which one treated the other rudely and whether they properly identified themselves. Professor Gates, 58, says the sergeant repeatedly refused to reveal his name or badge number; Sergeant Crowley, 42, says the professor initially refused to provide identification, then produced only his Harvard ID card, which included no address, to prove he lived in the house.

Earlier in the week, Professor Gates requested a personal apology from Sergeant Crowley. But on Thursday, the sergeant said he would not offer one.

President Obama fueled the story — and the polarizing national debate about race and law enforcement in America — on Wednesday night by commenting on the arrest at the end of a national news conference that was primarily about health care reform.

Sergeant O’Connor said at Friday’s news conference that the president went too far. When a person says up front they do not know the facts, as President Obama and Governor Patrick both said in their separate comments, Sergeant O’Connor said, “one would expect the next statement to be, ‘So I cannot comment.’ ”

Mr. McDonald, his group’s lawyer, said the president’s conclusion about the case “was dead wrong.”

“If he knew all the facts,” Mr. McDonald said, “he would have concluded that had Professor Gates simply cooperated with the investigation that Sergeant Crowley was undertaking, Sergeant Crowley could have cleared the matter.”

He added: “In our view there was nothing stupid about what happened. What happened to produce a different outcome was directly under the control of Professor Gates. That’s something the president didn’t fully appreciate.”

Jeff Zeleny reported from Washington and Liz Robbins from New York. Abby Goodnough contributed reporting from Boston. Ariana Green from Cambridge, Mass., and and Helene Cooper from Washington.

Obama Shifts Tone on Gates After Mulling Debate
Published: July 24, 2009
New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Obama tried Friday to defuse a volatile national debate over the arrest of a black Harvard University professor as he acknowledged that his own comments had inflamed tensions and insisted he had not meant to malign the arresting officer.

Mr. Obama placed calls to both the professor, Henry Louis Gates Jr., and the man who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, two days after saying the police had “acted stupidly” last week in hauling Professor Gates from his home in handcuffs. Mr. Obama said he still considered the arrest “an overreaction,” but added that “Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”

“I obviously helped to contribute ratcheting it up,” the president said in an appearance in the White House briefing room. “I want to make clear that in my choice of words, I think I unfortunately gave an impression that I was maligning the Cambridge Police Department or Sergeant Crowley specifically, and I could have calibrated those words differently.”

Mr. Obama’s unusual personal intervention and public statement came just four hours after the White House said he had no more to say on the matter. But after talking with Michelle Obama and some of his closest friends amid unrelenting publicity, his advisers said, the president reversed course in hopes of quashing a dispute that had set off strong reactions and made it harder for the White House to focus attention on his efforts to pass health care legislation.

The Gates case has become the first significant racial controversy Mr. Obama has confronted since being sworn in as the nation’s first African-American president. The improvisational handling of it underscored the delicate challenges for a leader who has tried to govern by crossing old lines and emphasizing commonalities over differences.

Advisers said both his sharp statement, which was made at Wednesday night’s news conference, and his toned-down remarks on Friday reflected strains of his experiences. He was personally outraged by the arrest and wanted to speak bluntly about it, aides said. And they said he was distressed that his words proved polarizing and contrary to his instincts for conciliation.

Whether he succeeded in tamping down the emotions of the case remained to be seen. In their telephone conversation, Mr. Obama said, Sergeant Crowley suggested that he and Professor Gates come to the White House to share a beer with the president. Mr. Obama then conveyed that idea in his phone call with Professor Gates.

Professor Gates said in an e-mail message afterward that he was “pleased to accept his invitation” to come to the White House and meet Sergeant Crowley. “After all, I first made the offer to meet with Sgt. Crowley myself, last Monday,” he wrote. “I told the president that my entire career as an educator has been devoted to racial healing and improved race relations in this country. I am determined that this be a teaching moment.”

Sergeant Crowley made no public comments after his conversation with the president. He has denied doing anything wrong and has declined to apologize to Professor Gates.

The episode stemmed from a misunderstanding when Professor Gates returned to his Cambridge home on July 16 and found his door stuck. A woman reported seeing someone trying to break into the house and the police responded. Although the arresting police officer became aware that Professor Gates was in his own home, the police said he was belligerent and arrested him for disorderly conduct. The charge was later dropped.

Mr. Obama defended his decision to weigh in. “The fact that this has become such a big issue I think is indicative of the fact that, you know, race is still a troubling aspect of our society,” he said. “Whether I were black or white,” he said, commenting “is part of my portfolio.”

Mr. Obama first discussed with aides how to address the arrest during a meeting before his Wednesday news conference. Aides said Mr. Obama, a Harvard-trained lawyer, zeroed in on the fact that the arrest came after police confirmed that Professor Gates was in his own home.

But his use of the word “stupidly” at the news conference that evening generated angry responses from Cambridge police, and some of his aides privately rued the word choice. Mr. Obama, who said he was surprised at the response, discussed the issue over dinner with friends at his home in Chicago on Thursday during a quick trip there for a fund-raiser, according to people close to the family. On Friday morning, they said, he also talked it through with Mrs. Obama.

By then, the controversy had dominated White House staff meetings. Robert Gibbs, the press secretary, had told reporters at 10 a.m. that Mr. Obama had nothing more to say. Some advisers had concluded the furor would not dissipate unless Mr. Obama made another statement, while others were wary of him revisiting the episode and particularly did not want him to apologize, they said.

During the morning, police union members held a news conference in Cambridge calling on Mr. Obama to apologize for demeaning Sergeant Crowley and suggesting it was Professor Gates who had made it a racial incident.

“The facts of this case suggest that the president used the right adjective but directed it to the wrong party,” said Sgt. Dennis O’Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association.

Sgt. Leon Lashley, an African-American officer at the Gates house that day, separately told The Associated Press that he supported Sergeant Crowley’s actions “100 percent.”

The police event contributed to what one White House aide called a “critical mass,” but aides said it was not the deciding factor, noting that Mr. Obama had not watched. Shortly after noon, Mr. Obama called his senior adviser, David Axelrod. “I’m going to call Sergeant Crowley and then I think I ought to step into the press room and address it,” Mr. Axelrod said he said.

The president dictated some thoughts intended to avoid directly blaming either the professor or the officer, and speechwriters had less than two hours to craft remarks. Mr. Obama called Sergeant Crowley about 2:15 p.m. and they spoke for five minutes. He went to the briefing room to make his statement, then called Professor Gates about 3:15 p.m.

Mr. Obama said the issue was making it harder for him to focus attention on health care. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but nobody has been paying much attention to health care,” he said.

He did not apologize but softened his language. “I continue to believe, based on what I have heard, that there was an overreaction in pulling Professor Gates out of his home to the station,” he said. “I also continue to believe, based on what I heard, that Professor Gates probably overreacted as well.”

Mr. Obama described Sergeant Crowley as an “outstanding police officer and a good man” who has “a fine track record on racial sensitivity.” But he said the incident showed that “because of the difficulties of the past, you know, African-Americans are sensitive to these issues.”

John Payton, president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, said that unlike white presidents who could dance around racial issues, Mr. Obama had to be direct. “That’s the whole difference. Bush could punt. Obama can’t punt,” he said. “This issue resonates with him.”

Christopher Edley Jr., a former adviser to President Bill Clinton on race issues and now law school dean at the University of California, Berkeley, said the episode dispelled the “rosy hopefulness” stemming from Mr. Obama’s election “in case anybody needed more evidence that we’re not beyond race.”

Peter Baker and Helene Cooper reported from Washington. Abby Goodnough contributed from Boston, Liz Robbins from New York and Jeff Zeleny from Washington.