Friday, August 7, 2009

Laura Ingraham Wrong about Coverage of Gates Controversy..& the Big Missed Opportunity of Three Men

Hunt for Justice

By Cynthia Hunt

Recently on Fox News Channel’s ratings juggernaut, The O’Reilly Factor, conservative commentator Laura Ingraham claimed coverage of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates’s arrest was overblown by the media. If I hadn't covered so much crime as a reporter, I would probably agree with her that there are more important issues in this age of health care overhauls, bailouts, and unemployment. But Ingraham couldn’t be more wrong.

After years of covering police and crime, the race issue permeates almost all interactions between police officers and minority communities, especially the black community. It took years of watching the police and black community interacting before I realized how strained this relationship is and how both sides often racially profile the other.

Please, before some of you jump to a conservative or liberal defensive posture, give my viewpoint a chance. This is about where we stand in America in terms of race relations today. Writing about race is extremely difficult for me. I grew up in Alabama, and I'm concerned that as a white woman I don't have the experiences to draw from, that I may miss something in my analysis. However, I feel strongly that a unique moment in history was missed because the men involved couldn’t apologize for what they each did wrong.

The Facts Surrounding Gates Controversy
A concerned neighbor called 9-1-1 because she saw two men forcing their way into the home. She didn’t mention race. The Cambridge police responded. Sgt. James Crowley asked for identification from Gates when he found Gates and a friend, who are both black, in the home of the alleged break-in. Gates refused to come out of the house and became angry he was being asked by Crowley, who is white, for ID inside his own home. Gates immediately assumed it was racial profiling saying “why, because I am a black man in America?" Gates eventually provided ID but continued to yell at the officer and accused him of being a racist. You can read Crowley's police report, which Gates has never contradicted. Eventually, Crowley arrested Gates and charged him with disorderly conduct.

Colin Powell Faulted Gates First & Crowley Second

I agree with the opinion former Secretary of State Colin Powell expressed on CNN. Gates should have been patient and come outside to answer the officer’s questions. We all must cooperate with police, even Harvard professors. Powell also believes Crowley did not have to arrest Gates, even though the officer had every right under the law. (See the WCI blog farther down on this same page by former police officer Stacy Dittrich to understand the law.) I believe if I acted so disrespectfully to Crowley in that situation, he would have had me in jail, too. I’ve never seen anyone get away with yelling at a police officer.

I Wish Gates Would Have Apologized at Beer Summit
Here’s why I'm disappointed: After the beer summit, I wanted Professor Gates to seize the moment, apologize, and admit he judged another because of race. I think he could have done that and still acknowledged the huge problem of racial profiling in America. Everyone can understand why the Harvard professor became irritated when asked for ID inside his own home. It would have been a moment of greatness for Gates to be the bigger person and apologize for jumping to conclusions because the officer’s skin is white. I would have liked to have seen the professor teach black America that it’s important for them to not assume every white officer they meet is a racist. There will never be another moment like the beer summit where Gates sad the nation’s complete attention.

Crowley Could Apologize Too
Why do I want Crowley to apologize, since the law clearly states he had the right to arrest Gates? Powell believes the arrest was simply unnecessary and since the charges have been dropped many may agree with him. However, you could argue that by arresting Gates, Crowley protected his career. How? Because the report documented the situation, illustrating that Gates's verbal barrage escalated to a point where it became disorderly conduct. If Crowley hadn't arrested Gates, I wonder if the officer would have risked being in trouble, since the Harvard professor warned that he intended to pursue Crowley for being racist. I’ve seen bad political things happen to good officers over unjust accusations. Since no one is perfect, I am confident there is some part of that night that Crowley could apologize for so that America could have seen both men apologize and unite, truly come together for more than a beer.

President Obama Should Have Apologized
It’s clear to me that President Obama should have apologized for saying the Cambridge police acted “stupidly” when he didn’t know all of the facts. Instead he said he should have "calibrated" his words differently. He, too, jumped to a conclusion based on a knee-jerk reaction to race.

Gates Is Uniquely Suited to Address Police and Minority Relations
It seems Gates is now on track to do what he can to improve race relations. Days after the scholar had time to reflect on the beer summit, he told the Associated Press he wants to produce a documentary from both the perspective of police and people who have been victims of racial profiling so "Americans can understand that you can have two equally valid perceptions of the same event." Do you think he will decide he racially profiled Crowley?

Big Moment Missed

Therefore, a prestigious black scholar, a respected white officer, and an American president who came from a white mother and a black father missed a monumental moment for a true lesson for all Americans.

I’m looking forward to Gates's documentary and hoping Crowley will be a part of it. The sad part is all of America will not watch the documentary like they watched the first presidential beer summit.


Inspector Clouseau said...

Every country deals with race differently. The two biggest mistakes in American history once one gets beyond slavery: (1) forced integration by court rulings; you can’t force people to want to associate with, get along, or respect you; and (2) affirmative action; no matter how one looks at it, it smacks of unfairness and does not make people respect you. What we have today is simply the long-term ramification of bad racial policies. As for the Harvard Professor incident....

Leah said...

I agree with your perspective Laura. I was appalled that they thought the incident was worthy of reflection over a beer. How can asking a person[s] inside a home that has been reported as having suspicious activity, for ID be racial profiling? The professor would have a much different attitude if Crowley had approached an intruder inside his home and just left after the man said that he lived there without any proof of such.

Anonymous said...

I disagree Leah. I for one am tired of holding my tongue when a black person is obviously racist.

I am white,. dont get me wrong, but when I locked myself out of my house years ago a neighbor who didnt know me called the cops. (I broke into my bedroom window)

I laughed immediately and explained what happened. I showed my ID, and it was over.

Gates overreacted. There are pictures of him going off.

I think in this case Gates is the racist.

As for Obama, he was blindsided by the question. How in the hell was he supposed to know about a case in CT when he is facing more important things?

Yes, profiling needs to be addressed, but this case is obvioulsy another case of reverse racism.

Tell me when you go off on a cop and dont get arrested. White or Black.

Leah said...

I think you misread my post anon. I think Gates was all wrong and I cannot believe they had to discuss it over a beer. The incident wasn't worthy of ANY attention whatsoever.

Also, I just moved out of Montgomery, AL after living there 20 years and there are more black racists there than white ones. It makes me ill when we try to be "sensitive" to an issue that blacks are gearing up for.

cheryl said...

I will watch the documentary. (If indeed one is produced) I don't know that I'd agree with Mr. Gates' conclusions, but I'll watch.

Interesting in the above photo...Officer Crowley is helping Professor Gates down the White House steps. Obama looks as though he hasn't a care in the world.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Coupla things:

Not correct that "Gates has never contradicted" Crowley's police report. Gates put out his own description of events that differs in critical respects and police radio transmissions from the scene don't have anyone yelling in the background.

Also incorrect that "the officer had every right under the law" to arrest Gates. The case was dismissed by prosecutors the moment they saw it - before the media blew up - because it didn't meet the minimum standards to justify arrest.

Dittrich cites Ohio law, with which I'm not familiar, but in both Massachussetts and Texas you can't commit "disorderly conduct" in your own home - a key distinction. Crowley should have left as soon as he ascertained Gates' identity and all "disorderly conduct" would have immediately ceased.

I agree Gates jumped to conclusions and both men contributed to the incident, but only one of them abused state power.

Leah's statement that there are more black racists in Alabama than white ones is an interesting one which, like the debate between Crowley and Gates, ignores both history and power differentials between the two groups. You can't just look at the content of the verbiage but also must take into account the relative positions in society when debating race or the inevitable dynamic created doesn't make any sense.

Anonymous said...

The president should have kept his mouth shut. Both he and Gates are more "entitled" than any people I know.
Gates should have been grateful that a neighbor cared about his home and security.