Obama Was Right About Henry Louis Gates Arrest

Can't a president state the blindingly obvious?


By Robert Schlesinger, Thomas Jefferson Street blog

So I was playing softball last night and missed the big news--I guess President Obama called a press conference to denounce the Cambridge police's arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., right? What? Not so much? OK, so Obama held a press conference on healthcare and apparently the only news he committed was ... saying that arresting someone in their own home when they're not committing a crime is stupid.

The ritual stipulation: I don't have all the facts, but ... Well, Josh Marshall, take it away:

Here are some salient facts. The house was Gates' house. From what I understand, no one disputes that prior to his arrest and while in the house, Gates provided proof that the house was his. When you have those facts and the guy whose house it is ends up getting arrested, I think that's prima facie evidence of bad police work.

Bad police work indeed. Does that mean that the officer in question is (or is not) racist? No. And is it possible that Gates himself handled the situation poorly? Was obnoxious? Sure. But, NRO's Jim Geraghty notes, yelling at a cop is not (or should not be) in and of itself a reason for arrest and criminal charges.

Being obnoxious, hostile, insulting, disrespectful, etc. to a cop is stupid, unwise, antisocial, etc. I discourage it, I disapprove of it, I think less of those who behave that way. But I am not so certain that yelling at cops is ipso facto a crime. With the charges dropped, we have to wonder just how disorderly his conduct was; keep in mind that if convicted, Gates could have faced up to six months in jail.

Geraghty, I should note, criticized the president for answering the question at all under the theory there's a difference between a private citizen making such a declaration and a sitting president doing so. (Ironically, while appearing on Hardball the reporter who asked the question also said Obama shouldn't have answered it ... raising the question: Why ask a question you don't think he should answer?) I agree with Marshall on that count, that a president should be able to acknowledge the blindingly obvious. President Nixon of course got into trouble for calling Charles Manson a dangerous cult leader, but Manson was actually facing criminal charges. Obama did not pass judgment on a pending criminal case.