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Misuse of Authority

By The Reverend Published: July 26, 2009

So...your key isn't working in the front doorlock when you return from your vacation. You go around back and enter your own home through the back door. Unbeknownst to you, someone walking by while you were having trouble with your front doorlock had called the police. Apparently, the passerby interpreted your struggle with your own front doorlock as attempted breaking and entering.

Shortly after entering your house from the back, police arrive. You exchange words with one of the police officers. The exchange gets heated when you are asked to prove it's your house. The volume of the exchange rises. The police sees evidence that it is your home. You ask for the policeman's badge number. The police officer involved in the exchange refuses to give you his badge number. A small crowd begins to gather outside, apparently in response to the now-loud exchange going on.

The police officer tells you to come out onto the front porch stoop to get his badge number. You do so. Then the police officer arrests you for acting "tumultuously".

Should the policeman have arrested you?

In the case of Professor Henry Gates Jr.....the answer was yes.

This story has become national media fodder because the arresting officer is white, Gates is a prominent black professor....AND....the black President Obama responded to a question about it by saying the police had "acted stupidly."

My take....

The policeman, even inside Gates' home, was the authority figure. No matter how loud or accusatory Gates became, it was his home. Barring an action of assault on the police by Gates, which did not happen, the police should have simply left and went back to work. They didn't.

Officer Crowley, a white man, didn't particularly care for Gates' response but realized that he had no right to arrest Gates inside his home. He refused to give Gates his badge number, instead kind of luring Gates outside where Crowley, the authority figure, could charge Gates with "tumultuous" behavior bordering on inciting a mob or riot. The charges were later dropped.

Gates should not have escalated the situation by getting exercised and raising his voice. Gates should not have gone on an "it's all because I'm a black man" tirade. Gates, himself, "acted stupidly." But Gates was not the authority figure in the situation.

Officer Crowley, after realizing that Gates was, indeed, in his own home,.....no matter how loud Gates became, no matter what Gates said about being a black man, even if he accused the officer of racism.....should have quickly left with no further incident. He chose not to. Crowley, for whatever reason, decided to teach Gates a lesson about police authority by first luring him outdoors and then by arresting him. Crowley not only "acted stupidly", but with purpose.

President Obama demonstrated courage in answering a question about the Gates incident from Lynn Sweet at the end of his press conference on Wednesday. Obama didn't have to comment, or he could have responded like a typical weasly politician and deferred to "the ongoing investigation" preventing him from commenting. But he didn't.

Instead, Obama used the incident as a teaching opportunity, speaking about the ongoing tension still in existence between minorities and law enforcers in America. He reminded us that racial profiling of blacks and latinos by law enforcement is a fact in our country.

The President acknowledged that he had no information proving that the Gates incident was about racial profiling, but he also used the opportunity to state the undeniable fact that racial profiling by law enforcement representatives is still a problem America needs to confront.

The corporate media, ever anxious, as they were during the election campaign, to talk about Obama's blackness, have predictably pumped up the Gates story and Obama's response. It's summer and who wants to hear about boring stuff like health care reform? Just as corporate media only ever gives it's audiences a he-said, he-said version of "news".....never explaining who is telling the truth (not their job says David Gregory and Jim Lehrer)....so too with the Gates story.

Don't expect any genuinely objective media coverage of this incident.

Here's an excellent and detailed article worth reading about the Gates story.

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