In a way it’s refreshing that President Obama had a genuinely human reaction to the ordeal involving “Skip” Gates’ arrest even if he went a little far in his comments. So often, his comments are so measured that it’s difficult to get a sense of how angry he is about anything. Some of his oversteps are the best indicator to a true sense of his feeling. In this case, I might get the sense that “over a beer” he might think what kind of cops are they? And asking such a question might be appropriate. Racial background irrespective, It’s easy to imagine that it’s a bit “unusual” that the police might arrest a guy in his own house after showing identification.
That said, getting loud with cops gets you nowhere. Fast. I know. Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink described police interaction dynamics and those dynamics are important to understand the way police approach a situation. I mean, watch “Cops” and we see that the policeman’s first goal is to control a situation not really understand it. Then, and only then, do they try to rationalize the particular situation… Anybody yelling at a cop is possibly gonna get smacked in the interim.
As a part of my own neighborhood association, I’ve often been confronted with questions of how to help people identify whether something was “suspicious” and having to encourage people to call the police if they are uncomfortable because it needs to be said that many times people ignore suspicious things, not wanting to profile people. Personally, I don’t trust anybody. If the pope was sitting in a car at the end of the block, I’ll call the police. It takes time for people to “know” a neighborhood and who might be unusual, etc. Without that accurate sensibility suspicious behavior should be referred to the police who should know. That’s their job. But, herein, we understand how important it is that people get to know their neighborhood and recognize a guy in his mid-fifties and a limo and driver and differentiate them from the cast of Ocean’s Eleven.
Similarly, the police could use a little training on what I call their “touch”. Touch is essentially this (sports analogy): In professional football, for instance, the least practiced pass that a quarterback makes is the “screen” pass—a pass that’s only thrown about fifteen feet from the quarterback. Most QBs tend to throw more passes downfield not really training themselves on throwing accurate short passes. An emerging professional quarterback has to learn to throw the ball soft enough so that the guy who runs with the ball (usually not a great ball catcher) can actually catch the pass. If the pass is thrown too hard technically the QB has not done anything “wrong”, but the play doesn’t go off well. Same with cops.
Since a cop’s goal is to, first, “control a situation, it’s difficult to judge them as stupid because they are “doing the job”. But, if they can exhibit a little more “touch”, they might find out that in this case, Gates, was tired and may have a chip on his shoulder about having been called the police by his own neighbor… (mmmm fun). Et cetera, et cetera: A little uncomfortable but everyone goes home. Yet, often, police exhibit attitude and it merely escalates the situation. Did they do anything wrong? Maybe not, but maybe they didn’t do anything right, etiher.
With these types of situation dynamics, the best thing to do is to defuse the confrontation by complying with the requests. Why? It’s easy enough to do. Headlines aside, if Skip Gates had been Chris Jones, it’d just be a story about how some loud-mouthed “number 1 male” got arrested and no one knows why or really cares except for the lawyer he later has to hire. Knowing that Gates got loud, makes me wonder how I would comment on an issue like that as Obama did. Doubling the bounty of the president’s mistake was commenting on it during a press conference on health care. Presidential politics dictates not losing your message by misdirecting people with something else they could seize on like cursing, being flippant or some other mistake. Thinking back to George Bush, that was a weekly occurrence.