America and race in the Obama age


 

In what should have been a press conference on the status of his healthcare reform package, Barack Obama strayed from his usual habit of staying on message and waded in on the controversy surrounding renowned Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his arrest by the Cambridge, Massachusetts, police outside his own home last week. No one was surprised that the question came up in the hour-long media conference and the president evidently had a point of view. Obama’s statement that the police acted “stupidly” in handcuffing the professor, a 57 year old man with a cane, has done much more than anything else to give the story legs.

One week after Gates’s arrest, the facts related to the incident remain incomplete and ambiguous. The arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, was originally portrayed as an overzealous policeman falling prey to racial profiling. But photos relating to the incident show the presence of an African-American policeman and quite possibly an Hispanic officer as well. And we have since found out that Crowley teaches a class at the police academy in how to avoid racial profiling. Crowley argues that the arrest was prompted by disorderly conduct and the fact the call was related to a possible burglary in progress. However, it is still not clear why Gates was handcuffed once it was established he was indeed at his home.

Gates has since asked for an apology from officer Crowley, which Crowley has refused to offer. Thanks to his comments, Obama now finds himself at the heart of this new conversation on race. While the incident may be banal in its impact and regrettable in its implications, it seems the conversation is expanding beyond the city limtis of Cambridge.

Much has been made about the historic election of the first African-American president. All seem in agreement that America has changed. And while the high-profile controversy over Pastor Wright during the primaries afforded Americans a new and fresher look at racism, it seems that the question of race is still very much a part of the American discourse. Was President Obama correct in intervening?

I believe it was inevitable that he state his position. We can argue, and his aides would probably concur, that the nature of his intervention detracted from the main message of the day about his healthcare package. However, as president, and as an African-American president at that, he has a moral duty to state his view. Racial profiling is a reality that is supported by the facts—being a Black or Latino man in America often means dealing with numerous arrests and traffic violations. Obama was right to point this out. His election did not translate into an automatic elimination of America’s original sin. Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race.

However, electing Obama does provide an opportunity to consider racism in a more composed and comprehensive manner. This is why having the first African-American occupying the Oval office was so significant in the broad scheme of things. Obama, both as a candidate and as an elected official, has usually transcended this debate, but he cannot avoid the impact it has on individuals in everyday life. Discrimination and stereotypes go on all the time.

Just recently, Obama was asked in the course of a press conference about his “prudent” reaction to demonstrations in Iran following last month’s election . He responded by saying: “All of you in the news are on a 24 hour news cycle. I’m not.” It was a wise reply that can now be applied to the conversation on race.


 

America and race in the Obama age

  1. You should all read RUSH on this one and on Obama. He makes a lot of sense. Obama should recognized the cop was just doing his duty . An hysterical individual is not reassuring.

  2. What a brillant last paragraph Mr. Parisella is offering us. It refelcts his strong political acumen. I do not think that there is a Canadian more attuned to the US political scene. And what is more impressing is that it is only a part time activity for him.

  3. "However, as president, … he has a moral duty to state his view."

    No, as president (i.e. Chief Executive…i.e. overall head of the Department of Justice) he has a moral duty NOT to state his view, since the Dept. of Justice is supposed to maintain impartiality while the case s investigated.

    As one further point, Obama prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he didn't have all the facts. Then he proceeded to pass judgement, regardless of his aforementioned ignorance.

    Honestly, how does Parisella get paid to write this tripe?

    Here's another piece of idiocy: "Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race."
    No one will disagree with "leadership", "dialogue", and "mutual understanding", but what evidence is there for "judicial activism" and "legislation" being at all helpful? Parisella doesn't provide it. Tom Sowell routinely provides evidence and sound arguments in his columns to the contrary.
    Can we please have a Tom Sowell column instead of a Parisella column? Not only would the quality of the website go up but it would also be a much better way to address race at Macleans.

  4. "However, as president, … he has a moral duty to state his view."

    No, as president (i.e. Chief Executive…i.e. overall head of the Department of Justice) he has a moral duty to NOT state his view, since the Dept. of Justice is supposed to maintain impartiality while the case s investigated.

    As one further point, Obama prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he didn't have all the facts. Then he proceeded to pass judgement, regardless of his aforementioned ignorance.

    Honestly, how does Parisella get paid to write this tripe?

    Here's another piece of idiocy: "Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race."
    No one will disagree with "leadership", "dialogue", and "mutual understanding", but what evidence is there for "judicial activism" and "legislation" being at all helpful? Parisella doesn't provide it. Tom Sowell routinely provides evidence and sound arguments in his columns to the contrary.
    Can we please have a Tom Sowell column instead of a Parisella column? Not only would the quality of the website go up but it would also be a much better way to address race at Macleans.

  5. "However, as president, … he has a moral duty to state his view."

    No, as president (i.e. Chief Executive…i.e. overall head of the Department of Justice) he has a moral duty NOT to state his view, since the Dept. of Justice is supposed to maintain impartiality while the case s investigated.

    As one further point, Obama prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he didn't have all the facts. Then he proceeded to pass judgement, regardless of his aforementioned ignorance.

    Honestly, how does Parisella get paid to write this tripe?

    Here's another piece of idiocy: "Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race."

    No one will disagree with "leadership", "dialogue", and "mutual understanding", but what evidence is there for "judicial activism" and "legislation" being at all helpful? Parisella doesn't provide it. Tom Sowell routinely provides evidence and sound arguments in his columns to the contrary.

    Can we please have a Tom Sowell column instead of a Parisella column? Not only would the quality of the website go up but it would also be a much better way to address race at Macleans.

  6. "However, as president, … he has a moral duty to state his view."

    No, as president (i.e. Chief Executive…i.e. overall head of the Department of Justice) he has a moral duty NOT to state his view, since the Dept. of Justice is supposed to maintain impartiality while the case is investigated.

    As one further point, Obama prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he didn't have all the facts. Then he proceeded to pass judgement, regardless of his aforementioned ignorance.

    Honestly, how does Parisella get paid to write this tripe?

    Here's another piece of idiocy: "Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race."

    No one will disagree with "leadership", "dialogue", and "mutual understanding", but what evidence is there for "judicial activism" and "legislation" being at all helpful? Parisella doesn't provide it. Tom Sowell routinely provides evidence and sound arguments in his columns to the contrary.

    Can we please have a Tom Sowell column instead of a Parisella column? Not only would the quality of the website go up but it would also be a much better way to address race at Macleans.

  7. "However, as president, … he has a moral duty to state his view."

    No, as president (i.e. Chief Executive…i.e. overall head of the Department of Justice) he has a moral duty NOT to state his view, since the Dept. of Justice is supposed to maintain impartiality while the case is investigated.

    As one further point, Obama prefaced his remarks by pointing out that he didn't have all the facts. Then he proceeded to pass judgement, regardless of his aforementioned ignorance.

    Honestly, how does Parisella get paid to write this tripe?

    Here's another piece of idiocy: "Evidence has shown that leadership, legislation, judicial activism, dialogue, and mutual understanding are the only way to progress in America on race."

    No one will disagree with "leadership", "dialogue", and "mutual understanding", but what evidence is there for "judicial activism" and "legislation" being at all helpful? Parisella neither provides nor links to it. Tom Sowell routinely provides evidence and sound arguments in his columns to the contrary.

    Can we please have a Tom Sowell column instead of a Parisella column? Not only would the quality of the website go up but it would also be a much better way to address race at Macleans.

    • Sowell-American Enterprise and influenced Clarence thomas .
      Believes Blacks progressed more before the Welfare state and affirmative action . Yeah right !!!!!!
      All of the above can be found on wilkipedia. GAUNILON forgets to mention that his impeccable reference is a right wing conservative . You could have referred us to Limbaugh and Beck to argue against civil rights legislation and judicial activism . But you know that you would have lost credibility.
      The US Constitution never abolished slavery . It took Lincoln and later LBJ on segregation . Warren Court on Brown and biracial marriages. So Sowell may have all those degrees and publications but it is the rule of the fittest that prevails. Right wing conservative Republicanism . just say it instead of pretending !!!!

      • I'm not sure what his politics are, but he's a hell of a lot smarter than either you or me. He's also black and lived through the civil rights era, so his opinions are based on experience as well as thought. Yours seem to be based on prejudice, which is ironic given the topic.

        • Based on prejudice …you say .

          Not quite buddy . Saw wahington in 1968 up close , 3 years after civil rights legislation and the discrimination was palpable . I do not mind conservatives but right wingers like you take pleasure in demeaning people .Influencing Clarence Thomas is not reassuring . He has the weakest choice to the Supreme Court . Scalia `s gofer . Cannot write an opinion of thought . Sowell are resentful about black liberalism and their support of the Democrats . GOP appeals to a latent racism and sometimes overt which is why 90% support the other party. Sowell writes books and makes$ and gets awards from the American Enterprise ( lol), fine . I wonder if he walked with John Lewis and MLK.

  8. "Was President Obama correct in intervening?"

    No he wasn't. As Gaunilon points out, Obama only had 'facts' from one side (from his friend Gates) and the whole story has not been presented. And why is the President making comments about a local issue in the first place, particularly when he doesn't have all the facts at hand before weighing in. Good for Sgt Crowley telling Obama and Gates to shove it

    "Racial profiling is a reality that is supported by the facts"

    Maybe, but if it's a reality there is a reason for it. More Hispanics and Blacks commit crimes than other ethnic groups. If America still has a race problem, why are Asians and Orientals under-represented in these statistics. Or do these 'racist' people only have problems with blacks/latinos but love asians and orientals. I think it's a shame that so many on the left only see skin colour and nothing else.

  9. comments by Gaunilon and Jolyon are disheartening in 2009. gaunilon forgets about FDR , Truman , JFK and LBJ who treated the discrimination of blacks as a moral issue.
    Judicial activism resulted in Brown v Board of Education . And LBJ passed civil rights legislation . Maybe our 2 Rush clones above want to turn the clock back to the 1950`s.
    racial profiling exists even in low crime areas. Yet if it is 2 in the morning , you`re black and stopped ,make sure your hands are on the steering .
    My complaint with Parisella is that he did not go far enough .

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You're writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you were unaware that any other viewpoint is possible. Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible.

      Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible. Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible.

      Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible.

      Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible.

      Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

    • Judicial activism also resulted in Dred Scott. Still think it's a good thing? Rule of Law is a lot more consistent than Rule of Judge.

      As to your other comment, there is considerable debate about whether civil rights legislation has hurt or helped the racial problem in America. You (and Parisella) are writing as though it's a self-evident truth that civil rights legislation is good, so I'm guessing you (and probably Parisella) are unaware that any other viewpoint is possible.

      Here's a suggestion: go to Tom Sowell's website and read a few of his articles on the topic for some insight into the other point of view. Ok?

      • rule of judge is always subject to rule of law. it is not an either or.

  10. However, it is still not clear why Gates was handcuffed once it was established he was indeed at his home.

    Because he picked a fight with a cop. That's likely going to end with the belligerent party in handcuffs no matter the race of anyone involved. Is that really so hard to understand?

    • Picked an argument with a cop. And if thats the kind of thing that ends with the belligerent party in handcuffs, then we no longer live in a democracy anymore. Doesn't that outcome bother you a bit?

      • BCL, read the police arrest report, it's online.

        http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0

        Gates behaved like a complete buffoon, was verbally abusing the officer, accusing him of racism right from the outset and bringing the officer's mother into it, yelling at the officer from his front porch. One of Gates' neighbors witnessed the incident and backed the police version of the story, as did another black police officer at the scene. Disorderly conduct sounds about right.

        • john g, you love this.

          • Not sure what the relevance is…if you are refering to the Birther movement, I think it's ridiculous and the people that are running with it look about as loony as the 9/11 Truthers.

            If your point is that Gates has been racially profiled by others before…that may well be. But in this case, the evidence suggests that the only one doing any profiling was Gates. I actually thought that this guy pretty much nailed it.

            It's sad, but one of the biggest obstacles to racial harmony in the States are guys like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Henry Louis Gates, who scream "Racism!" at the top of their lungs without any justifiable reason for doing so. Obama wading in and making this a national story just makes it 1000 times worse.

          • Are you white? Are you a visible minority? Have you ever been treated in a negative way simply because of your race?

            The guy was trying to get into his house for crying out loud. He may have over-reacted, but my god, he was treated as suspicious within his own neighborhood.

          • Yes, he was trying to get into his house. By busting the door open with his shoulder with the help of a second person, instead of using a key, the way a normal homeowner would. Which a neighbor saw as suspicious and called the police. All the police asked for was ID to prove that he lived there. What's so wrong about that? I'd be happy if my neighbors were looking out for my place like that when they saw something that looked suspicious.

            Have I ever been negatively treated because of race? No. But I'd say that this white cop certainly has.

          • Always siding with the people with the most power, eh?

            How noble.

          • I think john g is siding with the cops, not Gates. And only one of them has the phone number of the president.

          • "Always siding with the people with the most power"

            I think john g is siding with the cops, not Gates. And only one of them has the phone number of the president.

          • Ah….you were there! An eyewitness account right here!

            Unless you have been accosted by police for simply being a person of colour, or harassed by a complete stranger for simply being a person of colour, or thought of engaging in criminal behaviour for simply being a person of colour, you are in no position to comment about "over-reaction".

          • Not sure what the relevance is…if you are refering to the Birther movement, I think it's ridiculous and the people that are running with it look about as loony as the 9/11 Truthers.

            If your point is that Gates has been racially profiled by others before…that may well be. But in this case, the evidence suggests that the only one doing any profiling was Gates. I actually thought that this guy pretty much nailed it.

            It's sad, but one of the biggest obstacles to racial harmony in the States are guys like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson and Henry Louis Gates, who scream "Racism!" at the top of their lungs without any justifiable reason for doing so. Obama wading in and making this a national story just makes it 1000 times worse.

        • Uhmm, cause, yeah, everything that makes it into an arrest report is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth so help us all.

      • "Doesn't that outcome bother you a bit?"

        Cops are bullyboys with guns and that's exactly why you don't argue with them whether you're white, black or brown.

        I agree that police can/do behave way too heavy handedly but they need the power to do their jobs.

  11. Most of the facts are actually pretty clear. This isn't really he said – she said.

    The disorderly conduct charge was hogwash. The level of disorder needed to sustain such a charge far exceeds even the allegations in the police report, and even then it wasn't a properly public place (his front porch). Absolutely nobody is suggesting the charge was even close to appropriate.

    We don't know exactly what anybody said to anybody else in the house, but we know for sure that this arrest was a punitive act, as this isn't the sort of incident the charge is meant to cover.

    Obama got it right when he called this stupid – even Crowley's own account of things indicates he acted either abusively (he knew exactly what he was doing) or incompetently (he didn't).

    • It's called a Contempt of Cop charge. The officer was power tripping and wanted to teach the guy about respect.

      More abuse of power than racial profiling. Sadly both are pretty common in police forces.

  12. Could be racial. Boston is one of the more racist areas in the US.

    Mostly seems to be a case of testosterone complicated by race.

    No problem with Obama's take on it. But he gave the chuckleheads
    an opening with one ill-chosen word.
    Maybe something useful will happen with the Michael Jackson circus
    and it will all go away.

  13. However, as president, and as an African-American president at that, he has a moral duty to state his view. Racial profiling is a reality that is supported by the facts

    No he doesn't. Once you start a sentence with "I don't know all the facts of the case", the only consistent way to finish that statement is "so I can't comment at this time". Not having all the facts, then saying the police department handled the case "stupidly", was unbelievably dumb.

    I can't believe the piss-poor way the White House is handling this…Obama's press secretary actually tried to play politics with this by stating that the police unions supported McCain (shades of Ryan Sparrow), and then blamed the media for "obsessing" over Obama's comments, in a statement that he made live in front of 24 million people in a press conference he demanded.

    First rule of holes…stop digging. Just apologize and move on.

    • John, if no body should talk in lieu of all the facts, the world would be silent.

  14. Also, the guy being maligned has some pretty impressive anti-racism credentials. He teaches the local academy course in racial profiling. He was hand picked for that position by a black police chief. He coaches youth basketball in the area…pretty good chance that a lot of the participants in that program would be black. There was a black police officer at the scene who stands by his colleague's behaviour 100%. He is the same guy who tried frantically to revive black Boston Celtics superstar Reggie Lewis.

    What more evidence is needed that race was not a factor? Obama's statement unnecessarily added strain to the relationship between police and the black community.

    • Obama making clear the reaction was an over-reaction "added strain to the relationship between police and the black community."

      that statement would be laughable if not for the often violent and at times deadly history of brutally racist policing of African-American and Latino individuals in the United States. Sad.

  15. Obama had an opportunity to elevate the discussion and this time he failed. Racial profiling is a very real phenomena. So is the baiting of police into overreacting. The combination is extraordinarily dangerous.
    If Obama could have called out both sides simultaneously and fairly without taking a position in this specific case. An opportunity lost.

  16. We have three observations about the Harvard professor incident:

    1. We find it interesting that the fact that this was the professor's home was evidently not established early on way before the dispute escalated;

    2. We find it fascinating that the versions of two members of society, who most would ordinarily view as responsible and honest citizens (this obviously does not include politicians), would vary so dramatically from a factual point of view.

    3. Finally, considering that the reading and viewing public were not present at the scene (and thus have no first hand knowledge), and that there is no video tape to our knowledge of the sequence of events and what was said, how so many have formed conclusions, and made assumptions, about who did what and who was wrong.

    There are some things which Professor Gates might have considered upon the arrival of the police, no matter how incensed he may have been.

  17. President Obama made a grave error today by allowing white pressure him into changing his moment of truth regarding the Professor Gates incident. Now the victim is once again dismissed as we focus on the white policemen's outrage. This is sad. I am a strong supporter of President Obama, but I lost respect for him as a man today.

    Chicago supporter

    • Well, that's the old problem. Liberals too often can't even take their own side in an argument.

    • you should cool it Sylvia. The guy may have misspoke and showed class in how he once again took the lead. Imagine Bush in a such a situation. You made a good choice on Obama in the first place. Not the time to get angry at him . Wrong target.

  18. My guess is that Gates overreacted because it's pretty embarrassing to be breaking into your own home (ever heard of a cell phone and a locksmith? Methinks a Harvard professor can afford it). Anyway, embarrassment leads to anger leads to verbal duel leads to policeman overreacting leads to unnecessary arrest. The policeman may have been wrong to arrest Gates (Obama was right that it was stupid) but Gates is apparently too arrogant to remember that it never, ever pays to be rude to the police (and why do so anyway?), so in the stupidity horserace I think both parties did extremely well but Gates won by a length and a half.