A Philosopher's Blog

Obama & the Professor’s Arrest

Posted in Politics, Race by Michael LaBossiere on July 23, 2009

The arrest of Professor Gates and Obama’s comment on the event have stirred up quite a media storm. On national TV, Obama stated that although he was unware of the facts, he believed that the police had acted stupidly and implied that race was a factor in the event.

I was a bit surprised when Obama made these remarks. After all, he began by stating that he was unware of the facts. At that point, he should have simply said something on par with what he knew and expressed general support for his friend. Leaping to condemn the police without being aware of the facts seems to be, if one wants to toss around charges of racism, a bit racist. After all, he certainly seemed to assume that the officer was acting on racist motivations despite his admission that he lacked the facts.

Obama was, of course, quite correct in his assertion that blacks and hispanics are treated unfairly by the police at a rate higher than that faced by others. That is, of course, a point of great concern. However, as his reaction showed, there is also a problem of racism on the part of minorities. After all, to assume that the police must be acting unfairly or on racist motivations is itself a racist view. Sure, there are racist police officers. There are also many officers who are not.

The evidence seems to be that the officer who arrested Gates acted correctly in his initial actions. The officer arrived in response to a call of a possible break in and acted to determine what was going. Gates seems to have over-reacted to the officer’s questions, which seem to have been the sort of questions that he should have asked. After all, he needed to be sure that Gates was, in fact, who he claimed to be. Even after identifying Gates, the officer also had to be sure that Gates had not come home to a house that was being robbed. Imagine the outcry if the officer had simply left and Gates house was really being robbed.

Whether or not the officer should have arrested Gates is, of course, a matter of controversy. If Gates broke the law, then he should have been arrested. If Gates was arrested simply because he had annoyed the officer, then the officer acted wrongly. However, Obama also acted wrongly in leaping to condemn the police without even knowing the relevant facts of the situation.

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17 Responses

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  1. tcb said, on July 23, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Why would a President of all the the Usa
    even get into a racial issue like this?

    It really defines his ineffective ability
    to resolve anything.

    Very very weak!

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 24, 2009 at 8:54 am

      Well, Gates is his friend and a man who won’t stand with his friend is not much of a man. But, he should have gotten the facts before making a public statement. Also, there is some question as to whether he should have made a public statement at all.

  2. T. J. Babson said, on July 23, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    Cambridge is probably the most politically correct city in the U.S. The irony is absolutely delicious, and Obama piling on is icing on the cake.

  3. biomass2 said, on July 23, 2009 at 5:26 pm

    ” . . .a bit racist. After all, he certainly seemed to assume that the officer was acting on racist motivations despite his admission that he lacked the facts.”

    One major difference between Obama and your typical racist is that a racist doesn’t admit he lacks all the facts** before making his racist judgment . Actually, I can truthfully say I’ve never heard a racist say “I don’t know the facts about that n*, but I hate him.”

    Another is that the term “racism” in this country has generally and rightly been applied to whites who feel and claim a superiority over blacks and other dark-skinned people. If anything, I guess, this case would be “reverse racism”, a term some would argue is pure hokum.

    tcb: “It really defines his ineffective ability
    to resolve anything.”

    That seems like a huge logical leap to me–not unlike, in some ways, the kind of thinking Obama’s guilty of in this instance. I’m on shaky ground here–never took a course in logic–so I’ll await Michael’s clarification/correction.

    **He did say “not having been there and not seeing all the facts.” In truth, unless there was a security camera with sound running in Gate’s home, we’ll never have anyone way of knowing when we’ve seen “all the facts” will we? Would that mean no one should comment upon or make a decision about the incident?

    • biomass2 said, on July 23, 2009 at 6:01 pm

      “**He did say “not having been there and not seeing all the facts.” In truth, unless there was a security camera with sound running in Gate’s home, we’ll never have anyone way of knowing when we’ve seen “all the facts” will we? Would that mean no one should comment upon or make a decision about the incident?”

      Strike that.

      • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 24, 2009 at 9:05 am

        People should comment on it, but the seriousness of a person’s comments should be matched against what he knows about the situation. Obama leaped to saying the police acted stupidly even without knowing the relevant facts.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 24, 2009 at 9:02 am

      I do think that “reverse racism” is a term best not used. While “racism” has most often been applied to whites, to use the term “reverse racism” it would have to be shown that racism is something that only applies to whites. Ironically, using the term would be a form of racism because it would assign a different term to the same sort of behavior (that is, racist behavior) based on race.

      • biomass2 said, on July 24, 2009 at 10:25 am

        In its primary historical sense, in this country “racism” is 1)a logically unsupportable belief in the superiority of one race and 2)often mixed with wildly unjustified hatred of the supposed inferior race.

        1a/ There’s no evidence that anything that has been defined as “reverse racism” (most likely a conservative coinage) in this country comes from blacks feeling superior to whites.

        2a/ That’s not to say, of course, that blacks are incapable of hate-based (anger-rage?) racism, but again, the “reverse racism” hokum seems to be based more on white self-interest than on hatred –not to say that whites are incapable of hate based racism :). Black racism based on unsubstantiated feelings of superiority that generate irrational hatred is most likely to be directed at other people of color.

        One ‘large’ problem: “Racism” has several definitions. If I come at a discussion with one definition in mind and you come at it with another, and Mr. X comes at it with another, the “give-and-take” will be mostly “give”.
        Note where that might be a problem with this example from dictionary.com.
        “noun
        1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one’s own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
        2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
        3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.”

        Some might look at def.#2 and think it covers “affirmative action” etc. But #2 is based on #1– “such a doctrine”–and that doctrine refers to “inherent differences”. Affirmative action, I believe, assumed no inherent racial inequality but was designed to combat inherent societal differences.

        A goofy term like “reverse racism” just muddies the waters, which is, I’m certain, why the term exists in the first place.

  4. sheilanagig said, on July 23, 2009 at 7:44 pm

    It’s about time someone spoke up and told cops that their job is to diffuse trouble – not create it. When the officer learned of Gates ID, he should have left.

    Protesting being arrested in one’s own house for no crime at all…is not disturbing the peace.

    This is actually the one thing Obama has taken a stand on that I respect him for.

    • T. J. Babson said, on July 23, 2009 at 9:17 pm

      Let’s try to keep in mind that the policeman went there to protect Gates’s house. I think Gates should have expressed gratitude instead of attitude.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 24, 2009 at 9:09 am

      Actually, the officer would have failed in his duty if he had simply left. When a cop responds to a possible break in, s/he has to determine not just whether the person lives there or not, but also what is going on. After all, people do break into their own houses. For example, someone who is separated from his wife might return to their house to harass or harm her. His ID would say that he still lived there, even though he was there to commit a crime. You can’t tell by looking at a person whether or not they would commit such a crime. For example, think of that professor who killed his wife.

    • magus71 said, on July 27, 2009 at 9:59 pm

      sheilanagig,

      Yelling and screaming and drawing a crowd at night is called disturbing the peace.

      Where did you form your opinions? I suspect the college classroom… or someplace else divorced from the realities of the human condition.

  5. biomass2 said, on July 23, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    Interesting coverage:
    Brandon del Pozo,a NYC police captain (and “a Ph.D. candidate in philosophy”!) comments at some length on the Gates incident. He deals with “a few things” (20 or so), and candidly admits at one point that “the degree to which some apply to Gates and the sergeant depends on the relative veracity of differing accounts of the incident.” (Perhaps it would have been wise of Obama to add such a caveat. . .-thought that would not have excused his “premature evaluation”. :)

    http://crookedtimber.org/2009/07/23/police-discretion-a-different-perspective/

    If you read the captain;s comments, don’t fail to read the three readers comments that are there so far.

  6. magus71 said, on July 24, 2009 at 5:24 am

    1) No issue if the arrested person wasn’t black.

    2) No issue if the arrested person wasn’t a person of high social standing.

    3) No issue if the president was not black and had not made his really dumb comment about the situation.

    Again–this is why I’m no longer a cop. Too many petty, ideological people in the world.

    Lesson to Mr Smarty Pants Professor: When a police officer is dispatched to your house, you should tell him you live there, and present him with ID to prove to him you are who you say you are. Thank him for showing up so promptly, and maybe share a joke or two.

    But then you wouldn’t have a stage to do your dance on, would you?

    The weird world of the liberal elite.

    • Michael LaBossiere said, on July 24, 2009 at 9:15 am

      Good points. It sounds like Gates escalated things himself. If he had just stayed calm and did not assume that the cop was there to harass him, then there probably would have been no incident at all. Of course, we don’t have all the facts-so I am going to only say that this might be the case, rather than boldly asserting that anyone was being stupid.

  7. biomass2 said, on July 24, 2009 at 7:12 am

    “When a police officer is dispatched to your house, you should tell him you live there, and present him with ID to prove to him you are who you say you are.”
    That’s one of the main discrepancies between the two accounts (police v professor). Some/most accounts I’ve read state that the professor provided ID while still inside his home.

    At this point, it’s basically “he said” “he said”. As I wrote earlier: “In truth, unless there was a security camera with sound running in Gate’s home, we’ll never have anyone way of knowing when we’ve seen “all the facts” will we?”

    And, by the way, that dialogue I pointed out that’s going on over at Crooked Timber is, indeed, worth a careful look (up to 50+ comments now).

  8. eleganterica said, on July 27, 2009 at 3:48 pm

    Good post :)


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