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The President, the Professor, and the Policeman

July 27, 2009

The jury is in regarding the arrest incident of Harvard University Professor Henry Gates - and the verdict seems clear - someone needs a teaching moment.

That someone however is Professor Gates and President Barrack Obama - as they placed blame for their own conduct where it does not belong: on race.

By their own actions these men created and elevated a local incident into the consciousness of the country and now want the public to undergo instruction on civility, impartiality, judgment, and prejudice.

It all started on the evening of July 16 when Professor Gates returned home from a trip to China and found his front door jammed. He was seen trying to force the door open by a neighbor who called police to report a possible burglary in progress.

Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley responded to the call and investigated the complaint in the same manner every officer is trained to do - first verify whether a crime has actually been committed.

In the process Sgt. Crowley asked to see Professor Gates’ drivers license - to determine whether the professor was indeed the homeowner. Bad guys attempt to con police every day - thus an officer wants to be assured through a basic evidentiary process - no matter how routine - before he/she will dismiss a complaint and leave the scene. That’s how the law works.

To identify an individual on the scene police always ask for valid identification - usually one sanctioned by another government entity - which is why a driver’s license not a library card - is accepted as proof positive by authorities.

It was this request that apparently sent the professor into a tirade of accusations against the officer - which resulted in the bizarre accusation of racism and racial profiling. Gates told the police officer he was being personally targeted because "I’m a black man in America."

This assertion is illogical. If the police had not responded to the call - possibly based on race - that would be targeting and racial profiling. If the officer - once shown a valid drivers license - remained skeptical of the person’s identity - that, too, could be interpreted as racial profiling.

But no one is saying that occurred.

Professor Gates reportedly charged racism on the basis that the officer would not accept the professor’s personal assertion that he was an important Harvard University faculty member and owned the dwelling under investigation. He did not say why displaying his driver’s license to the officer was so offensive.

The professor did not charge Sgt. Crowley with acting unruly, unprofessional, belligerent, or obtrusive. He seemed to judge the officer based on his own profile of how white policemen act in these circumstances - and claimed to profess he knew what was inside this particular policeman’s head: racism.

For his part President Obama admitted in a later press conference - when asked - that he knew nothing about the incident. Yet he wasted no time in sticking up for his Harvard buddy - and without a shred of first-hand knowledge, admittedly on his part, - called Sgt. Crowley’s actions "stupid."

Now, that’s a great teaching moment - especially in matters involving race - in essence the President said, "I like the guy who likes me."

The President quickly realized he had misspoken - yet he did not take personal responsibility for his comment - instead he announced a White House summit and hoped the country would get a "teaching moment" on race.

Maybe some can learn from the suggestion of a "teaching moment" but let’s hope the President and the Professor learn something, too.