How not to win support from police unions; Update: Obama retreats; Update: Bill Cosby “shocked” by Obama’s remarks
posted at 1:17 pm on July 23, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
Police in Cambridge have reacted predictably to having the President call them stupid, as ABC reports today. Their union lashed out at Obama for commenting without having the facts on hand, and witnesses dispute Obama’s recounting of the event:
The Cambridge, Mass., police officer who arrested Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his union are slamming President Obama for saying they reacted “stupidly” to the incident at Gates house last week.
Obama was “was dead wrong to malign this police officer specifically and the department in general,” Alan McDonald, the lawyer for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, told ABC News today.
Sgt. James Crowley, who arrested Gates for disorderly conduct also chimed in today, saying Obama’s characterization was “way off base… I acted appropriately,” Crowley told WBZ Radio in Boston Thursday.
“There was a lot of yelling, there was references to my mother,” he added, “something you wouldn’t expect from anybody that should be grateful that you were there investigating a report of a crime in progress, let alone a Harvard University professor.”
The police have at least one witness to back their account of the incident:
Police disputed the extent of Gates’ cooperation, saying he didn’t initially provide identification when asked, and berated the police.
One of Crowley’s neighbors supported the sergeant’s story, saying that the police report that said Gates was belligerent was not completely off the mark.
As I twittered last night, any statement from a politician about an incident under dispute that begins, ” I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts,” should end with, “I have nothing to say until all the facts are known.” Instead, Obama took the moment immediately after acknowledging his incomplete knowledge of the incident to declare that law enforcement had acted “stupidly,” which doesn’t fit the facts as they’re unfolding now. I understand the impulse to defend a friend in a dispute, but as President and as the head of law enforcement in the nation, Obama should have given enough benefit of the doubt to the police to at least withhold judgment until he did get all the facts.
As it happens, I have also encountered hostile police responding to a house, many years ago when I was in college, at a party that drew noise complaints. Someone mouthed off about a warrant, which provoked the officer to charge into the house without permission, thump his finger repeatedly into the smart-alec’s chest, and threaten to arrest everyone at the house. His partner, obviously the wiser of the two, pulled him out of the house by the arm and asked us to reduce the noise — which we had already agreed to do. Both the smart-alec and the officer were white.
Do a few officers have judgment problems about “disorderly conduct” and are too thin-skinned about getting challenged? Sure, and if the evidence supports that conclusion in this case, it would call for some retraining and at least an apology. Jumping to a conclusion that it’s about race when there appears to be no evidence except by inference is bad enough from the media (although perhaps understandable from Gates himself), let alone from the President of the United States. Sometimes it pays to keep quiet before having all the facts.
Update: Tommy Christopher reports that the White House may soon retreat from Obama’s comments, but he thinks they were justified.
Update II: Robert Gibbs signals retreat:
The White House says President Barack Obama was not calling a Cambridge, Mass., police officer stupid when he criticized last week’s arrest of black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. …
On Wednesday Obama said the police “acted stupidly” when they arrested Gates even after it was clear that he was not a burglary suspect. Gibbs said that Obama did not regret the remark, but wanted to clarify that he was not calling the arresting officer stupid.
How could we have assumed that when Obama accused the cops of acting stupidly that we thought he meant they were stupid? And Eastasia has always been at war with Oceania, Winston.
Update III: Bill Cosby didn’t care for Obama’s intervention either:
“I’ve heard about five different reports [on the details of the arrest],” Cosby said on Boston’s WZLX. “If I’m the president of the United States, I don’t care how much pressure people want to put on it about race, I’m keeping my mouth shut.”
“I was shocked to hear the president making this kind of statement,” Cosby said referring to the president’s remarks during last night’s press conference.
Later, Cosby softened a little bit, noting that Obama lived in Cambridge and has some first-hand knowledge of the community, but still said that people should have waited to get the facts before opining.