Friday, July 24, 2009

Gates v Crowley: race, class, and justifiable anger

On one side is a leading Harvard professor who justifies his anger on the basis of being challenged in his own home and historical racial injustice. On the other side is an impeccable police officer who justifies his anger on the basis of a Harvard professor's arrogant sense of privilege and an elite personage wielding his powerful connections to act above the law. The best take I've seen so far on the controversial incident with Harvard professor Henry Gates and Cambridge police sergeant James Crowley is at libertarian blog QandO. EXCERPT (referring to both men):
My tantrum was quite effective and confirmed to me that “justifiable anger” is a powerful, and intoxicating, thing. It is the “castle doctrine” of emotional responses which places blame for any incident squarely on the shoulders of the instigator, leaving you with unquestioned moral authority. However, like any intoxicant, it also tempts overuse and abuse.
In my job, I deal exclusively with victims and witnesses of crimes. Yet it's not uncommon for the people I speak with to complain about police conduct, even when they weren't arrested and no charges were pressed against them. Police have a tremendously difficult job, harder than the DA's office in that some sorting by the police takes place before a case reaches its 1st ADA. The police's job is to restore order, make judgements, and form the narrative of the incident they pass on to us. Officers normally arrive upon untamed scenes that potentially can be anything. Some police procedures, therefore, seem harsh and unfair even when they're necessary and reasonable.

The compelling characters of Crowley and Gates give the story much meat for the media, but it's hard to find indisputable fault for either man in this incident. On the other hand, I do think the initial reactions by President Obama, Massachusetts Governor Patrick, and Cambridge Mayor Simmons siding with Prof Gates and condemning SGT Crowley were irresponsible, unbecoming of their executive offices, and unfairly damaging to SGT Crowley and the Cambridge police department, and may cause wider negative repercussions to race relations in our country. Governing executives need not reflexively side with police officers during a police-related controversy, but the three chief executives should have publicly responded up front with cautious measure, rather than hasty judgement, and the benefit of the doubt for a law enforcement officer who works within their area of responsibility. As President Obama now tries to clean up his mistake by playing peacemaker, how is SGT Crowley supposed to trust his president (or his mayor and governor for that matter) to be impartial, when Obama has already made his prejudice clear?

Eric

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