If there is one thing that has characterized President Obama's approach to sensitive or difficult situations, it has been his rock-steady sense of reserve, caution and deliberation. Something recently happened, however, which finally revealed a chink in his armor of prudence.
After admitting that he didn't have "all the facts" about the arrest of Harvard's Henry Louis Gates, he then said something that not having all the facts should have precluded him from saying. It was an unlikely reaction for someone of President Obama's stature. By saying that the Cambridge police "acted stupidly" he has accomplished a near-infamous feat. Despite all he has said and done to bring wisdom to the issue of race relations in America, the president's remark holds the potential for raising tensions between the races.
That the Cambridge police might have "acted stupidly" is a matter to be determined by the facts as they are revealed. It's quite possible they did act stupidly, but it was not for the president to make this judgment prematurely. Some would argue - with good reason - that even if the Cambridge police acted with egregious malfeasance, any reaction from the president should necessarily be both measured and cautious.
As President Obama himself has stated several times, we are all prone to the occasional gaffe. The problem is this particular remark smells more like a Freudian slip than an unthinking gaffe. This does not mean the only interpretation of this incident should be sinister. The hard truth is that white Americans do not know what it is like to be treated as little more than a suspect class of citizens. Racial profiling remains a stubborn stain on the otherwise honorable uniforms of many law enforcement agencies throughout the country.
The president should make a humble and unambiguous apology for his remark. This is the all-important first step toward repairing whatever damage may have already been done. Police agencies across the country should, with equal humility, move to accept his apology. Certainly Americans have achieved a sufficient level of understanding about each other to know that an incident such as this is not beyond our ability to comprehend and put into proper perspective. A mutual offer of emotional leeway should be more than sufficient to turn this incident into something everyone can learn from. And anyone looking to capitalize on this miscue for nefarious purposes should be exposed, called to account and deservingly marginalized.
3 years ago