A View From Middle England - Conservative with a slight libertarian touch - For Christian charity and traditional belief - Free Enterprise NOT Covert Corporatism

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Obama cops out as the cops complain

President Obama has just had to make a grovelling apology for a comment he made about the arrest of a Harvard professor by the keenly motivated police officers of Cambridge, Massachussetts. The professor was a "man of colour" and the police officer was white in the arrest that happened outside the professor's house.

Obama said that the police had “acted stupidly” but he was relying on reports. It now appears that they were just doing their duty. They were very offended by all this. “The president should make an apology to all law-enforcement personnel throughout the entire country,” said one Cambridge policeman. “Cambridge police are not stupid.” Maybe they are not, but I think there are some failings in the US police pysche, and this incident brings them to the fore.

My experience of the USA is that police officers are hyped up to believe that they may not come back alive from a day's patrol. That's the first bit of bad news. Then, when they've got a suspect, they delight in handcuffing the alleged miscreant. Anyone accused of a crime in the USA is certainly going to go through the humiliation hoops well before they get to see a judge and jury.

I've had a few casual encounters with US cops. One was over an out-of-date license plate. I heard the siren, saw the police car and duly stopped. I saw the cop get out of the car. Then he appeared to see my car as some sort of sexual object. He started from the trunk end and slithered slowly towards the driver's door. I had wound the window down. He kept his head from getting too close. "Good morning, officer", I said, in a very non-Southern voice. "What is the problem?" He was momentarily quiet, then told me about the license. As he spoke, he came towards the open window. I chatted about going back to England and that it was not actually my car, whereupon he said, "Don't suppose there's much point in giving you a ticket, then." "No, not much point," I said, leaving him slightly non-plussed. He then smiled broadly and wished me a good journey home.

My thoughts about that, and other meetings with the police (on a porch visit once too) is that they try to do a good job, but that there is a constant current of tension, no doubt from the thought of being attacked. This, I think leads, to groups of people being sterotyped and every arrest having to be carried out as if being carted off to Alcatraz.

With the professor, it seems that a neighbour was rustling the curtains, got all neighbourly and called the cops. It would be interesting to hear a tape of that call. They turn up, the professor is tired after his trip and annoyed at not being able to get into his house. The cops start asking questions off a crib sheet and the professor snaps. They go into autopilot and within less than a minute the professor is handcuffed and removed from the premises.

Now if there had been a slightly less tense standoff then none of this may have happened. Instead, we have the whole racial thing rise up like a phoenix in a jack-in-the-box. America is a racially tense country. For heavens sake, Obama can't even be president without someone commenting on his "blackness". The same to a different degree in the UK and no doubt any country with a mixed population.

I know a bit about being involved in racial issues. I had a black friend in Atlanta and travelling in a car poses problems in certain areas, from black as well as white. It can lead to difficulty. Rather pompously I said that I wasn't going to be told who I could be in a car with. My friend suggested that reality was far better than philosophy in a crisis.

I would hope that the reality is that the police in America could police without fear and that neighbourhoods could have policing without stereotyping (from both sides).


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