OBAMA OWES NO APOLOGY
Police unions in Cambridge, Massachusetts and elsewhere should be content with President Obama's conditional retraction of his original comments on the arrest of Dr. Henry Louis Gates.
Personally, I think Mr. Obama was accurate when he said the Cambridge cops "acted stupidly" when they arrested Dr. Gates at his own house on a clearly trumped-up disorderly conduct charge. But, as President, Mr. Obama should have been more diplomatic in his phrasing. On the other hand, the President was mad because an American citizen was wrongfully arrested - under circumstances that hinted at possible racial bias. Every American should all feel angry when that happens.
Mr. Obama lost no time in re-phrasing his criticism. In an ABC News interview and then in a brief appearance in the White House press room, the President acknowledged that both Dr. Gates and Sgt. Crowley became overly emotional. But, Mr. Obama stood firm (appropriately) on his assertion that Gates should not have been arrested. He even called Crowley and Gates personally and invited them to discuss the incident over a beer at the White House.
The President has gone the extra mile to cool this thing out. Now, it's time for the police to be accountable.
President Obama does not owe America's police an apology. But Sgt. Crowley, the Cambridge Police Department and their backers should apologize to Dr. Gates and to the American People. Why? Because Sgt. Crowley was wrong and he alone bears the legal responsibility for this terrible and unnecessary incident which may have worsened complicated police-community relations nationwide.
COPS SAY CROWLEY WAS WRONG
Sgt. Crowley's conduct has been publicly criticized by police professionals from across the U.S., including active and retired chiefs and cops-turned educators. For example:
-- Miami Police Chief John Timoney told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd: "There's a fine line between disorderly conduct and freedom of speech. It can get tough out there, but I tell my officers, ‘Don't make matters worse by throwing handcuffs on someone. Bite your tongue and just leave.'"
-- San Jose, California's retired police chief, Joseph McNamara, told the Los Angeles Times: "The law is clear. You can't be guilty of disorderly conduct simply because you are saying bad things to a police officer."
-- Jon Shane, 17-year veteran of the Newark, N.J. police department who teaches at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City, tells TIME magazine, "...a police officer can't go out and lock you up for disorderly conduct because you were disrespectful toward them. The First Amendment allows you to say pretty much anything to the police. You could tell them to go (expletive) themselves and that's fine."
-- Norm Stamper, ex-chief of the Seattle PD, told the L.A. Times that Sgt. Crowley "lured (Gates) outside...and cuffed him up." Stamper added that Dr. Gates' anger at Crowley was typical of "a true American" with "a healthy skepticism about authority."
Dr. Richard Weinblatt, a former North Carolina police chief who oversees the education of would-be police officers as director of Central Ohio Technical College's Institute for Public Safety, studied Crowley's arrest report and concluded that the sergeant provoked Dr. Gates by continuing to question him after he established that Gates was inside the house legally. Weinblatt wrote on his blog (http://richardweinblatt.blogspot.com): "While perhaps the Professor was overly agitated, it was the police presence that was creating the agitation. Remove the police presence, and the agitation is gone."
Weinblatt believes that Sgt. Crowley lost sight of his duty as a peace officer.
"We in policing are supposed to be professional problem solvers...We are supposed to deescalate situations even if it means walking away," Weinblatt writes. "While I believe in officer discretion, I do not believe that it was executed wisely here. I feel that (Sgt. Crowley) should have seen that the big picture of what we do and why we are here was forgotten for the heat of the moment. We in law enforcement are supposed to be above that."
Weinblatt believes that Sgt. Crowley's actions will damage the public image of police, making it harder for cops to do their jobs. He closes his blog by lamenting: "Officers nationwide will have to contend with folks that have yet another seed of discontent with law enforcers. All because the big picture was not heeded here."
Defending Crowley at this point is stubborn, thin-skinned and, perhaps, agenda-driven. So, instead of sweating the President for an undeserved apology, police unions in Cambridge and elsewhere should admit that Sgt. Crowley messed up and then go about reassuring the public that emotional, unprofessional reactions will not be accepted from our men and women in blue.
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
THINK! IT AIN'T ILLEGAL...YET!