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Thursday, President Barack Obama held a "Beer Summit", as some have called it, with Harvard Professor Henry Lewis Gates, Jr., Cambridge Police Sergeant Officer James Crowley, and Vice President Joe Biden, bring an end to an unfortunate but necessary event in American Cultural history, and starting a new chapter in American race relations.
It was the first time in American and world history a sitting president met publicly with a white police officer and the person the officer arrested, a black man. And to add to the moment, the president is African American. I think the teachable moment President Obama referred to was that two gentlemen of seemingly different stripes but of one culture can not only meet, but (as they agreed to do) meet again and again.
Sgt. Crowley assists Prof. Gates as President Obama leads the way
President Obama issued this statement:
"Even before we sat down for the beer, I learned that the two gentlemen spent some time together listening to one another, which is a testament to them," the president's statement said. "I have always believed that what brings us together is stronger than what pulls us apart. I am confident that has happened here tonight, and I am hopeful that all of us are able to draw this positive lesson from this episode."
And I think everyone did, even if Sapporo, my personal favorite beer, wasn't on the menu, (Obama had a Bud Light, Crowley chose Blue Moon, and Gates had Samuel Adams) it was still gratifying to see the four men sit together and talk. It provides a great example for a country that seems ready to split over differences of opinion. We have to get to the point of communicating openly and often and without fear. While it's hard to know exactly what was said between the men, we can read between the lined in Crowley's press conference - in the video - when he said "We agreed to disagree." It's not hard to determine what they disagreed about.
In the arrest of Gates, basically because Crowley judged him to be disobedient after what turned out to be a case of a mistaken 911 call in since Gates was entering his own home, Crowley said he was "going by the book" or word to that effect. But the whole point of critics of racial profiling is that the "book" argument is used all the time. The "book" is tossed out when an officer uses his or her own personal emphathy, and please don't tell me this isn't done. Water Goldstein over at the Huff Post has a great blog on why white guys like him come away from such encounters gaining the help of an officer, and not handcuffs.
Gates and Crowley say: "time to move forward"
In the website "The Root", Professor Gates, its editor and chief, wrote:
Sergeant Crowley and I, through an accident of time and place, have been cast together, inextricably, as characters – as metaphors, really – in a thousand narratives about race over which he and I have absolutely no control. Narratives about race are as old as the founding of this great Republic itself, but these new ones have unfolded precisely when Americans signaled to the world our country’s great progress by overcoming centuries of habit and fear, and electing an African American as President. It is incumbent upon Sergeant Crowley and me to utilize the great opportunity that fate has given us to foster greater sympathy among the American public for the daily perils of policing on the one hand, and for the genuine fears of racial profiling on the other hand.
In his press conference held after the "summit", Crowley said that both he and Gates would talk again as soon as next week.
That the two plan to meet and seize the moment to create a lesson for America is really exciting. I really believe God made this happen. It's too good to be true that a professor of Black Studies and a police officer who's also an expert in racial profiling are working together and have this exchange to build from. That's a miracle.
Toward American Culture
I hope people realize from this that we really are one people and there's much that binds us together below the surface. I don't know if it's from reduced education spending, longer work hours, or what, but we seem to be less patient with the idea of study and more willing to just go with our prejudices, but that's countered by the ever-more-well-mixed society we live in. We have extremes like the thoughtless Glen Beck (who said the President was racist in a horrible misuse of the term) and the thoughtful Gates and Crowley right before us. With a little communication we'll have more people like Gates and Crowley and far fewer people like Glen Beck.