After leaving the White House, Sgt. Crowley told a news conference that the conversation was "cordial and productive" and that he and Dr. Gates "agreed to disagree." Well, that's nice but it's irrelevant from a legal standpoint. Whether or not Sgt. Crowley was correct in arresting Dr. Gates is not a matter of opinion. It is a matter of law. And the sergeant was clearly acting outside of the law when he took the professor into custody for disorderly conduct at his own home. That point has been made repeatedly by active and retired police chiefs, cops on the beat, attorneys and judges all across our land. (See last week's column.) Even retired Judge Andrew Napolitano -- senior judicial analyst at the right-wing, pro-Crowley, anti-Obama, race-bating Fox News network -- condemned Gates' arrest as a violation of both Massachusetts state law and the U.S. Constitution.
In an interview with Fox News' Shepard Smith on Monday, July 27, Napolitano said: "If Professor Gates was arrested because of the words he used to the police inside his house, on the front porch or on the front lawn it was an improper arrest." The judge went on to explain that Sgt. Crowley had no right to enter Dr. Gates' home: "The law says unless he witnesses a felony - chasing somebody into the house - or unless he has a piece of paper from a judge - a search warrant or an arrest warrant - he can't go in that house. So, when Professor Gates said, 'No, you can't come in' and the police went in anyway he violated the federal Constitution."
The bottom line, according to Judge Napolitano: "Cops get mad when people defy them. Is it right to defy the police? No, it's crazy to defy the police! They have a gun, they have handcuffs! They always win! But is it a crime to disagree with the police? Is it a basis for an arrest? Answer: no!"
Those facts are unimportant to Sgt. Crowley, the Cambridge Police Department, various police unions and the right-wing muckrakers on cable TV and talk radio. Their self-righteousness is unyielding no matter how baseless.
But facts matter more than anything else. More than opinion, more than emotion, more than PR spin. And I hope President Obama will bear that in mind the next time his opponents try to use his words against him.
The beer summit was unnecessary because the President had already clarified and modified his original comments about the Gates arrest. He even called Sgt. Crowley on the phone. That was more than enough. Holding a sit-down at the White House was overkill. But I understand why Mr. Obama did it - because he is fundamentally a decent, honorable guy who sincerely wants to bring people together and to solve problems through reasonable discussion. We're lucky to have a man with that kind of heart in the White House.
But President Obama should realize that he doesn't have to keep bending over backwards to mollify his opponents. He did that last year when they tried to drag out the Rev. Wright flap; Obama explained, denounced, clarified and declared over and over and over again. But his enemies kept on talking smack. Obama did the same thing with the Crowley/Gates matter: he modified his language and even praised the police, first on ABC News, then in a surprise appearance at the White House briefing room, then he phoned Sgt. Crowley, then he held the beer summit. And still, the haters are going after him. There comes a time when you need to stop apologizing and explaining yourself to people. Especially when those don't care what you have to say.
President Obama could've stood by his original statement about the Gates arrest. His statement at the end of that July 22nd press conference was neither radical, uninformed nor out of line. Furthermore, Mr. Obama never accused Sgt. Crowley or the Cambridge PD of racial profiling. Before he accused the Cambridge police of acting "stupidly," the President stated very clearly: "I don't know...what role race played in that." Later, he went on to speak about racial profiling in general terms, making a point of verbally separating those comments from his remarks about the encounter between Sgt. Crowley and Dr. Gates. The President said: "What I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact."
The President was obviously making a broader observation and not accusing the Cambridge PD or Sgt. Crowley.
As for the word "stupidly." Well, I know it didn't sound nice, but it was accurate. Mr. Obama's complete statement was: "the Cambridge Police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home." In other words, when there was proof that no crime had been committed. I'm sorry if the word hurts people's feelings but come on, it was stupid for Sgt. Crowley to arrest Dr. Gates on a clearly bogus charge and, in doing so, to unnecessarily plunged his department and the nation into this rancorous mess we've been dealing with for the last few weeks.
Withdrawing the word "stupidly" was diplomatically appropriate, but the President should have stopped there. By going overboard to appease Sgt. Crowley, the Cambridge PD, conservative critics and white Americans in general, Mr. Obama actually played into the hands of extremist opponents who are always desperate to get away from the facts so that they can rile people up with emotional appeals and scare tactics. From now on, I'd like to see President Obama show a lot more fortitude. Keep the focus on the facts and you'll have a better chance of beating the fanatics. Hang tough, Mr. President!
Thanks for listening. I'm Cameron Turner and that's my two cents.
THINK! IT AIN'T ILLEGAL...YET!