The Gates-Crowley Affair

2009/07/27

I have resisted commenting about this incident because, frankly, I had hoped that it would just go away. Clearly, this is not happening; rather, it is being touted as yet another spectacle illustrating the dangers of racial profiling, and highlighting how racism is still a relevant influence in our Republic. This, despite the fact that the Crowley has been repeatedly acknowledged by his fellow officers (some of whom are minorities) as a genuinely non-biased officer, and that both parties in this incident basically acted like juveniles at the time. Rather than receiving the chiding they should have, however, we have this circus, instead. As to the incident itself, yes, it did escalate far beyond the realm of reasonable reactions on both sides. Should Crowley have arrested Gates for becoming (legitimately) angry about being interrogated in his own home? Probably not. Should Gates have shouted insults at the Crowley and accused the latter of essentially being a racist? Probably not. What worries me about this incident is not so much the incident itself, but the reactions to it, particularly those of our President.

First and foremost, the President’s initial comments regarding the issue are a bit troubling, and thankfully, he has backed away from them. Granted, he was put on the spot, so to speak, but his comments still seem especially ill-considered. Usually, when one states that one does not know the full details of a particular situation, said admission is almost invariably followed with the words, “…and I’ll reserve comment until I know the details.” Obviously, this did not happen. Instead, we were treated to the spectacle of our President maligning not only the officer in question, but also (seemingly) the latter’s entire department. Again, the President has wisely backed away from these initial comments, but one wonders if it would not have been better if he had not precipitated this retraction by simply waiting to comment, rather than stumbling onward with a set of very poorly conceived responses. I understand, of course, that there are hyper-reactionaries out there who would have criticized the President’s lack of response, even in such a situation, but I truly believe that any reasonable individual would have interpreted such reservation as the wise choice of action.

My other concern with the President’s initial reaction is the implication that his association with Gates has on future situations involving friends or associates of his. What if Gates had been detained longer than he was and the department released him based on perceived pressure from no less than the White House itself? Would this not make law enforcement departments across the nation far more hesitant to even approach associates or friends of the President’s, especially when to do so would entail a harsh reaction – one could even consider it intimidation (or worse) – from Fedgov? Granted, the President backed off from his initial comments, but what worries me here is what he might have done, had the situation not been resolved as quickly as it was. Indeed, one wonders why he felt it necessary to extrapolate on a situation about which, by his own admission, he was not fully informed. Would it not have been simpler to state, “I do not know the specifics of this particular incident, and while Gates is a friend of mine, I will reserve comment until such time as I do know more.” See? Short, sweet, and to the point. I probably would have added something to the effect of, “as President of the Republic, it is beyond the scope of my authority to involve myself in this matter, apart from registering my personal opinion as to the merits of the situation.” But then again, I’m a stickler for that sort of specificity.

Again, thankfully, the President has backed away from his initial comments, so it is probably safe to assume that those comments were merely represented a poor choice of words, and such. What is less clear is whether or not my second concern will become a prevalent one; at this point, it is too early to tell if any negative impact will occur. It would be less of a problem in a situation such as the one that precipitated this uproar, as Gates clearly did nothing wrong; the concern, of course, is what happens if another friend or associate does do something wrong? Law enforcement hesitation in such a situation could be very dangerous, indeed, even to the Republic itself, depending on the scope of illicit activities involved. Hopefully, this current situation will simply go away after a few more headlines have been broadcast; given how events have played out up to now, this is probably the best outcome for which we can hope, as it has already become part of the national consciousness. Meanwhile, I will try to ignore all the hyperbole and I suggest you try to do the same.

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