Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Real “Teachable Moment” on Race

From the Associated Press:
WASHINGTON – The police officer at the center of a national dispute over race and law enforcement says a much-anticipated meeting at the White House was productive and all parties are looking forward.

Cambridge, Mass., police Sgt. James Crowley spoke after meeting with President Barack Obama and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., along with Vice President Joe Biden. Crowley described himself and Gates as “two gentlemen who agreed to disagree” about the confrontation that led to Gates’ arrest.
OK, so Obama has handed out beers to Gates and Crowley and sort of (but not really) apologized for saying the Cambridge, Massachusetts police acted “stupidly.”

Liberals like the term “teachable moment,” and when they apply it to race, they mean a “moment” when white Americans realize how racist they are (or at least have been) and how they need to grovel before black people whom they have victimized.

Except this time it didn’t work that way. Obama took the standard politically correct tact on the issue -- the “Cambridge cops” (meaning Crowley, who arrested Gates) had “acted stupidly.” But instead of knee jerk acceptance, the remark created a firestorm, and Obama had to start practicing damage control.

The public simply wasn’t buying the standard “blame whitey, blame the cops” line. On online poll on the ABC News website shows 85% of respondents saying that Obama “went too far” attacking the Cambridge Police.

(The poll isn’t scientific, but this is ABC News, not Fox, and there is little reason to believe there was a conservative selection bias.)

Playing the race card had not worked. Gates, who like many blacks in academia has been coddled, pampered and catered to for talking about black victimization, found that people weren’t buying it. At least, outside the rarefied environment of academia and the media the product wasn’t selling.

One genuinely heartening thing about the whole affair was the way in which black and Hispanic cops in Cambridge rallied around the comrade. Their white comrade. Apparently, they saw themselves not as black victims, but as people doing the same tough, demanding and (often) dangerous job as Crowley. Black cops too are often vilified when they stop black suspects.

All this is racial progress. But it’s not the sort of change that liberals and race hustlers want. They, not the fair-minded majority of Americans, are going to need a lot more “teachable moments.”

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Chris said...

I don't think Crowley is a racist, but Obama was right, Crowley did act "stupidly." Crowley should be disciplined for making a wrongful arrest. The charge of "disorderly conduct" is to prevent riots not protect police officers from being insulted.

If there is a need for a "teachable moment" in this case it would be that "contempt of cop" isn't a crime.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Another case of "disorderly conduct" :

http://scienceblogs.com/dispatches/2009/08/disorderly_conduct_again.php

4:19 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Chris,

I'm not particularly sympathetic to the "I'll say nasty things to the cops if I want" view.

The do have to enforce the law, which is not easy.

And an "assault" can indeed be a verbal assault.

How would you feel if somebody around you started chanting "I hate Chris." And doing it loudly. And while you were involved in an important and maybe dangerous task.

I think any reasonable libertarian will be concerned about holding the cops accountable, but that involves review boards, laws that allow citizens to sue for mistreatment, and so on.

Not verbal assaults on the cops.

7:46 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

What needs to be underscored, John, is that the suspect didn't commit a crime and therefore shouldn't have been arrested.




The officer never said anything to the effect that Tuma's actions were interfering with the work of the police, instead it's clear that the officer was simply personally offended by what Tuma said.

Officer: "Hey! Hey! Who do you think you're talking to?" ... "Who do you think you are to think you can talk to a police officer like that?"

Oh, and the officer reportedly also referred to Tuma as a "faggot."

Arguing that Tuma was acting in a rude or obnoxious manner is one thing, but implying that he got what he deserved is, well, unlibertarian.

Reason's Radley Balko made a good point:

"This deference to police [by conservatives] at the expense of the policed is misplaced. Put a government worker behind a desk and give him the power to regulate, and conservatives will wax at length about public choice theory, bureaucratic pettiness, and the trappings of power. And rightly so. But put a government worker behind a badge, strap a gun to his waist, and give him the power to detain, use force, and kill, and those lessons somehow no longer apply."

11:23 PM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Chris,

Sometimes I think "libertarians" loose sight of the fact that somebody has to protect liberty. So the "libertarian" hostility toward the cops, and toward the military isn't logically sound.

Put a government worker behind a desk and give him the power to regulate. . .

Desk bound bureaucrats don't have to deal with fast-breaking, possibly dangerous situations, situations that demand that people really need to take orders ("move on," "drop the gun and put your hands up," "halt").

Oh, and the officer reportedly also referred to Tuma as a "faggot."

Sounds like a form of misconduct for which the cop should have been punished.

But that doesn't justify Tuma's acts.

How would you feel about somebody walking around near you, chanting "I hate Chris, I hate Chris?" Those, in fact, would be "fighting words."

9:39 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

So the "libertarian" hostility toward the cops...




Ah, so if I as a libertarian object to police officers violating the individual rights of citizens I'm exhibiting "hostility" toward law enforcement? I'd argue that you're exhibiting hostility towards the Constitution, specifically the First Amendment.

Desk bound bureaucrats don't have to deal with fast-breaking, possibly dangerous situations...




No one is arguing that the police shouldn't be able to use force and command citizens to act in certain ways in certain situations. What you're arguing, though, is that merely insulting an officer is grounds for arrest which is an outrageous position, one that is consistent with a police state not a free society. Your authoritarian streak is showing, John.

Just to be clear, I'm not condoning Tuma's actions. I'm not encouraging people to walk up to police officers on the street and insult them. We should treat them with respect, just as I would treat you or anyone else I meet in public in a courteous manner. But that doesn't mean that being obnoxious or rude is a crime.

Sounds like a form of misconduct for which the cop should have been punished.




Agreed. The fact that he did use that word should tell you something about him (i.e. apart from being homophobic, he isn't very good at controlling his emotions, and probably doesn't have the temperament to be a police officer).

How would you feel about somebody walking around near you, chanting "I hate Chris, I hate Chris?"




Tuma was across the street from the officer. If someone were across the street from me and chanting that he "hates me" I wouldn't have the right to cross the street and use force on him. If he crossed the street and got in my face, though, I could use reasonable force to protect myself.

Again, the officer crossed the street and when he confronted Tuma he didn't mention anything about Tuma distracting or interfering with the work of the police. Instead, the officer was simply offended by Tuma's words. Offending someone -- even a police officer -- isn't a crime. You need to understand that fact, John.

12:44 AM  
Blogger John McAdams said...

Your authoritarian streak is showing, John.

No, Chris, your lack of respect for the rule of law is showing.

It's a very juvenile notion of libertarianism to think it involves going around insulting cops.

What Tuma did was in fact a verbal assault.

What about somebody who went around calling a particular black person "nigger?" That's "fighting words," and it's also an assault (although not "battery").

12:01 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

John,

http://www.reason.com/blog/show/135104.html

You're taking a disturbingly vague law and projecting onto it your alarmingly hyper-deferential attitude toward police officers. Unless Tuma's behavior threatened or endangered public safety or had the potential to put a police officer at risk of harm, the officer in question (Culp) had no business arresting him. Culp is a homophobic hothead who needs to find another line of work.

No, Chris, your lack of respect for the rule of law is showing.

Oh, the irony! You seem much more concerned with shielding police officers from potentially hurtful language than preserving the rule of law.

It's a very juvenile notion of libertarianism to think it involves going around insulting cops.

What Tuma did might very well be described as "juvenile" and I'm not advocating that people behave in this manner, but whether you like it or not it's not illegal to be rude or obnoxious to a police officer.

You have completely failed to connect Tuma's actions with anything criminal. In your mind, however, it was enough that Tuma was exhibiting disrespect for the police, and for that "crime" he deserved what he got.

What Tuma did was in fact a verbal assault.

Nonsense. Tuma was exercising his right to free speech under the First Amendment. You and Culp are in desperate need of a refresher course on that topic.

What about somebody who went around calling a particular black person "nigger?" That's "fighting words," and it's also an assault (although not "battery").

You would have to apply the criteria I mentioned above (does the behavior threaten or endanger public safety? etc.) on a case by case basis in order to determine the appropriate response by law enforcement.

Next thing you know, you'll be advocating that anyone who plays songs like this one within earshot of a police officer should be arrested, too:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSvD5SM_uI4

Ironically, Ice T portrays a police detective on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.

7:36 AM  
Anonymous Chris said...

Apparently, sitting on a toilet too long is now considered "disorderly conduct" :

http://www.reason.com/blog/show/135091.html

7:40 PM  
Anonymous Chris said...

I wonder if any of the police officers in the aforementioned news story will be tuning in:

http://www.theagitator.com/2009/08/23/grandmothers-and-pregnant-women-beware/

Conservatives like to talk about TV having a corrosive effect on the culture. Well, how about a TV show that encourages people to enter law enforcement for all the wrong reasons?

5:53 PM  

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