Last night, President Barack Obama answered a question about the arrest of Professor Gates during a press conference about health care. The President said that police acted “stupidly” and despite racial progress blacks and Hispanics are still singled out unfairly for arrest. Here’s the short clip (2:10) in case you missed it:
While it’s hard to imagine any of the previous presidents speaking out in this way about a “police matter,” the fact that President Obama would speak out should not, in fact, be that surprising. For Obama, racial profiling was a major issue for him as legislator in Illinois. He was the chief sponsor of a bill, which became law, that requires police to record the race, age and gender of all drivers they stop for traffic violations and for those records to be analyzed for evidence of racial profiling.
Melissa Harris-Lacewell provides an excellent analysis in The Nation both about Gates’ place among black intellectuals in the U.S. prior to this and about the significance of Gates’ arrest for what she calls “the post-racial project.”
Yet, for all this outrage (I believe I referred to it as a ‘tsunami of outrage’ originally, and it is certainly turning into that), James Crowley, the cop who arrested Gates, says he won’t apologize. And, lots of other white folks are lining up to defend him (starting with comment #8 at that link). This could get even more interesting.