But when the subject turned, at long last, to race, "Obama produced a bluntness and lively engagement that had been absent for most of the preceding hour." From the transcript (with my boldfacing):
Well, I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here. 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 in to 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 -- well, I guess this is my house now, so...(LAUGHTER)... it probably wouldn't happen. But let's say my old house in Chicago. (LAUGHTER)I had 3 responses to Obama's Gates statement. (I'm not counting the brief interlude when I thought I could get credit for coining the term "Gatesgate." I can't.)
Here, I'd get shot. (LAUGHTER)
My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I'm sure there's some exchange of words. But my understanding is, is that Professor Gates then shows his I.D. to show that this is his house and, at that point, he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.
Now, I don't know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. 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's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That's just a fact.
As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.
That doesn't lessen the incredible progress that has been made. 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.
And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently and often time for no cause casts suspicion even when there is good cause.
And that's why I think the more that we're working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we're eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody is going to be. All right? Thank you, everybody.
1. On hearing the statement live: If you don't know the facts, why are you saying the police acted "stupidly"? The President's own words collapse on themselves. How dare he take sides? Gates has already signed a statement, along with the police, saying “This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department,” and here is the President of the United States taking it upon himself to demean the character and reputation of the Cambridge Police Department and to (sort of) vouch for the Gates version on the story.
2. The morning after: It really was stupid for the police to arrest Gates, and it's a stupidity that stands apart from whether the police or the Gates version of the story is accurate. Considering who Gates is and where he was, he's a sympathetic character or, if you don't think he's fully sympathetic, he's certainly capable of playing this incident big, as in fact he did. Thus, it was stupid to give him this platform.
3. As I started writing this post: As he was speaking, I think, the President realized his words collapsed on themselves. He said he didn't know the facts, and yet he called the police stupid. To get out of that jam, he decided to veer into a riff about racism in general, asserting that "there's a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately." (I love the way he threw Latinos into that.) He celebrates what he sees as or hopes you see as his escape from the jam by asserting "That's just a fact." He didn't know the facts of the specific case, but hey, look over here, here's a fact: There is racism in this country, we all know that. He then tumbles toward the end of the hour with an acknowledgment of what he knows a lot of people will say — that he made it to the presidency, and, yeah, there's been "incredible progress" — and a reprise about racism — it haunts us — and reform, reform is important. He worked in the Illinois legislature. Let's improve policing. Let's make everybody safer. He's just trying to wrap things up and get out of there looking reasonably okay. "All right? Thank you, everybody."