After 48 hours out of the news cycle, I didn't expect anything about Professor Gates would still be in live conversation. I had already stopped thinking about it. Silly me. Gates is escalating this, offering Crowley the really sweet deal of teaching about racism in America if he will just apologize.
As a general rule, it's a bad sign when someone cannot admit even 1% of the fault for an argument. Someone who needs that blood-drinking victory and doubles down is not well.
The strongest point Gates' defenders have made was that the incident, whatever else might be said, did not rise to the level of an arrest for Disorderly Conduct. That is possible, but by no means certain once Gates came out of his house. Speculation that Crowley was acting in some unnecessarily condescending or overly suspicious way because Gates is black is possible, but there is no evidence to support that accusation other than the general template that this happens All The Time.
The specifically criminal aspect of this would of course have been the most enduring, and even if Crowley's behavior had been exemplary and Gates' reprehensible in the lead-up, an unnecessary arrest would be on the permanent record. The charges have been dropped, so that part's out. Furthermore Gates is well-positioned enough and the incident popularised enough that a record of having been arrested is unlikely to negatively affect him in any way. Any of Gates' students, or one of the young people from his neighborhood, might have a case that they would forever after have to check "yes" on applications asking if they have ever been arrested and have to explain, and so were negatively affected. But this doesn't apply to Gates. There are no lasting effects of the actions of the Cambridge PD on him.
All that remains are the narratives, and Gates is determined to make his narrative dominant.
Now the narrative is what the general public cared about all along. The record clearly shows that whatever Crowley did, Gates behaved badly. The legal part, now disposed of, may have been more important in reality, but in terms of impression it was secondary to the public. A person made vile statements to a police officer. There are TV shows about that, people are interested in it. This is the sort of behavior societies always seek to discourage as a threat to general comity. As near as we can tell from the record, Crowley showed a great deal of patience and forbearance with a verbally out-of-control citizen.
It is a decent argument that the police are supposed to act this way. We empower them to act on our behalf, and so expect the absolutely highest standards from them. We might sympathise that the job is tough and you have to endure a lot of abuse, but that's what the job is. Deal with it. It goes with the territory.
There's only one problem with that argument. If that is true about police officers, it is doubly or trebly true for a POTUS. If you apply that standard to the police, you have to apply it to Obama as well. 18 y/o American servicemen are expected to keep within strict limits in their treatment of prisoners even after watching their friend's head blown off. They are despised and prosecuted if they don't. (Hell, sometimes they're despised and prosecuted anyway.) Having thought through this essay, I have come to the conclusion that Obama's comments were not merely inappropriate and unpresidential, but damaging to Sgt Crowley.
If I am a Massachusetts cop, a well-connected Democrat going out of his way to tell me that the person I arrested is a friend of his - calls him by his first name - smells like a threat, no matter how offhandedly mentioned. Particularly if the person arrested has already started going down this road with his "You don't know who you're messing with," comment. Gates and Obama's comments both reek of the power and revenge mode of politics.
No, we can't prove it's a threat, but we get there by the same reasoning that Gates and Obama use to condemn Crowley. This door also swings both ways.
Those who think that Gates and Obama have some right to a chip on their shoulders because of their own encounters with racism, whether overt or subtle, neglect to note how privileged their lives are. The rhetoric of people who act entitled is much the same as the rhetoric of real victims. "Why? Because I'm a black man in America?" was the first thing Gates added to the discussion. Seems a little grandiose. What happens to you is of national importance? And you really thought the police at your door should say "Oh, you're black? We're sorry sir, we didn't realize we were dealing with a person who is related to oppressed people. We're sure you must not have committed any crime. We'll just leave now. And thanks for the reminder that this is America. That really brought us to our senses."
The incident is at one level unimportant on the national level, and shouldn't distract us from the grand plans the president has for our money. Yet this little incident is highly revealing of character. Obama is clearly wrong - understandably wrong, perhaps, because it's a friend and a close-to-the-bone personal issue for him, but wrong nonetheless. Yet he can't drop it. He can't just say "I'm sorry, I jumped to a conclusion because I know Skip Gates. I shouldn't have called the police stupid." He thinks if he just makes vague nice statements about police, and invites both parties to come talk with him about the issue, this racist white cop will learn something, Gates will forgive him, everyone will shake hands, and the world will be improved.