Imagine how things would have turned out if, after my 2007 arrest for photographing cops against their wishes, I would have met with the arresting officers over a few beers in a meeting arranged by Miami Mayor Manny Diaz.
It’s not too far-fetched a scenario considering the Society of Professional Journalists sent a letter protesting my arrest to the mayor as well as to Miami Police Chief John Timoney and then-Civilian Investigative Panel Executive Director Shirley Richardson (who wasn’t worth a damn anyway).
The letter went ignored by all even though SPJ happens to the be the largest journalism organization in the United States.
Two months later, I launched this blog and here I am now, awaiting a decision from the appeal judges to beat the last of the original nine charges I was slapped with.
Meanwhile, my blog has gotten quite popular, visited by several thousand readers a day. Sometimes tens of thousands in a single day.
I am no longer being ignored.
If only we could have discussed this matter over beers …
Thankfully, President Barack Obama has more common sense than any of my local officials.
While many Americans took offense when he said the Cambridge police officers “acted stupidly” when they arrested professor Henry Gates, you have to respect a man who is not afraid to speak his mind.
And you have to respect a man who understands the bonding virtues of beer.
I’ve drank beer with cops several times over the years and it’s amazing how much I have in common with them. And it’s not like I don’t bring up the issues I write about on this blog. On the contrary, I use the opportunity to tap into their minds to find out what the hell makes them tick.
I’ve discovered that out of uniform and off the clock – and usually without other cops around – cops are able to see where I am coming from and will even agree with me about these issues. Whether this sentiment remains after the beer buzz wears off, I haven’t a clue.
But in the wake of what became a racially fueled incident (by the media and by professor Gates) – and became incinerated after Obama made his statements – the man was able to douse the flames with a simple beer invitation to the White House.
That’s my kind of president.
But while it appears that Cambridge Police Sgt. James Crowley and Gates are on their way to reconciling their differences, the rest of the nation is still engaged in a heated race debate, judging by the discussions on a multitude of internet forums.
Some are saying that Obama is the real racist. Others are saying that Crowley is the racist. Some are saying that Gates is the racist. And a few are saying his neighbors are the original racists for calling the cops after seeing him pulling up in a limo and breaking into his own house.
And some, like me, are saying that the issue is not black, white or brown but blue. That institutionalized culture of authority that many times oversteps its boundaries.
If anybody added to the sectarianism in this debacle, it was the Cambridge Police Union by immediately holding a press conference demanding an apology from Obama.
How is that any different than the Cambridge Chapter of the NAACP demanding an apology from the Cambridge Police Department in the days after Gates’ arrest?
And maybe it’s not much different than the Society of Professional Journalists coming to my defense in the wake of my arrest.
But journalists are not that tight-knit of a clique. As it is, some reporters are criticizing the reporter who started this whole race debate with her question to Obama during a press conference on health care.
Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times asked the following question about the Gates’ arrest:
“What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?”
And here was Obama’s response:
“Well, I — I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here,” the president said. “I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place. So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into –”
Then he stopped and smiled, suddenly realizing where he was. “Well, I guess this is my house now, so — – it probably wouldn’t happen.” The room erupted in laughter, with Obama joining in. “But let’s say my old house in Chicago –” He stopped, and paused a moment, and turned his head to the side of the room. “Here I’d get shot.” Another big laugh.
He went on to recount his understanding of what happened in the altercation between Gates and the Cambridge, Mass., police department — that Gates showed the investigating officer his I.D., proving his address, and was then arrested for disorderly conduct (after yelling at the police officer, according to the police report).
“I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that,” Obama continued. “But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home. And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”
The president recounted his own work in the Illinois legislature on a measure to curtail racial profiling by police officers. “That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made,” Obama said. “I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.”
He was immediately criticized for his response. Many of his supporters stated he shouldn’t have even answered the question. That he should have just side-stepped it as politicians are supposed to do. These are the same people who voted for him because they wanted honesty in their government for a change.
Obviously, they can’t handle the truth.
And, of course, the same people who have been denouncing Obama since he emerged as a presidential candidate jumped all over him, accusing him of being racist, reverse racist. closet racist and whatever other type of racist that is out there.
And every cop in the nation felt as if Obama had been talking directly to them (but maybe that was just their guilty conscious over making stupid arrests).
But take a careful look at his response. Don’t just listen to the select excerpts the media provides. Read the entire passage.
First of all, he admitted he might be a little biased because Gates is a friend of his. And he also admitted he did not have all the facts. And he also said he was unsure of what role race played into the arrest. And he specifically said that “separate and apart from this incident” there has been a long history of police abuse against minorities. Remember, the reporter was the one who injected race into her question. He was just answering her question. And you know he would have been criticized had he not answered her question.
Here is the statement that divided a nation.
Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.
So that makes Obama a racist? That makes him a cop hater?
To me, that just makes him a freedom-loving American. One who is not afraid to speak his mind. One who understands the Fourth Amendment protects us against unreasonable search and seizures.
Or have we forgotten Don’t Tread On Me?
I am a multimedia journalist who has been fighting a lengthy legal battle after having photographed Miami police against their wishes in Feb. 2007. Please help the fight by donating to my Legal Defense Fund in the top left sidebar, which helps pay for the thousands of dollars I’ve acrued in debt since my arrest. To keep updated on the latest articles, join my networks at Facebook, Twitter and Friendfeed.