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August 10th, 2009
11:09 AM ET

Are conservatives consistent?

Why didn't the conservatives support professor Gates?
Why didn't the conservatives support professor Gates?


Al Vivian
Special to CNN

As an independent moderate, it never ceases to amaze me how political loyalists contradict themselves and flip-flop on social issues. Both parties regularly engage in this practice; but rarely are they challenged or called out for it.

Let's look at the most recent case, the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. It has been more than three weeks since this incident, which was the first story big enough to knock Michael Jackson's death out of the headlines, while simultaneously sidelining President Obama's health care agenda; all resulting in massive media coverage and even a "Beer Summit."

But within all that time and coverage, there is still one question that is yet to be asked: Why didn't the conservatives support professor Gates?

As practically every conservative on the Judiciary Committee so passionately spoke of at length during the Sonia Sotomayor confirmation hearings, legal matters should be decided on the facts alone and not on personal opinions or empathy.

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July 30th, 2009
04:30 PM ET

A “Teachable Moment” at the White House?

President Obama has invited police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for beer.
President Obama has invited police Sgt. James Crowley and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates for beer.

David Gergen | Bio
AC360° Contributor
CNN Senior Political Analyst

President Obama promised last week that he would convert the ugly confrontation between a black Harvard scholar and a white police officer into a “teachable moment” for the nation. As Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Sgt. Jim Crowley come to the White House today for their “beer summit,” how can he succeed? How should the three men structure their conversation and how should they then talk to the country?

For counsel, I turned to an excellent family therapist who has had a long record of success in counseling couples (aka, my wife Anne), and she provided some sound answers. Each of the parties, she said, has to recognize up front that during a contentious incident that set them off, their minds were flooded with emotions that overcame their rational selves.

The key to achieving reconciliation is for each of them to talk through the incident as they saw it each step of the way, analyzing what they saw and said, and with their rational minds, trying to figure out how they might have handled it better. It is critical that the other player(s) not interrupt but let them tell their story fully. Hearing the other person respectfully allows one to see how their perspectives differed – and from that, begin to reframe the incident in ways that bring them closer together.

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July 30th, 2009
11:21 AM ET

The decline of racial profiling

President Obama, Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates will meet this evening at the White House.
President Obama, Sgt. Crowley and Professor Gates will meet this evening at the White House.

Greg Ridgeway and Nelson Lim
RAND Corporation

President Obama called the arrest of his friend Professor Henry Gates a “teachable moment.” This is a moment to learn the facts of race and policing these days. The president put it this way: “There is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately. That’s just a fact.”

Racial profiling has indeed been an ugly reality for many years. But our research in several large cities finds little evidence that it continues to be a major problem.

Police departments have made tremendous progress in both policy and practice of racial profiling. Numerous states and departments have banned it, and racial profiling prevention training is commonplace. Sgt. James Crowley, the officer who arrested Gates, has taught such a class at the local police academy for five years.

It’s true that minorities continue to be stopped disproportionately to their representation in the population. But this information says nothing about whether police are racial profiling.  A key reason for this disparity is exposure to police.

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July 24th, 2009
02:37 PM ET

Please, Professor Gates!

Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested after a reported break-in.
Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested after a reported break-in.

Sherrilyn A. Ifill
The Root

In an interview with The Root after the ordeal of his arrest in his home in Cambridge, this week Harvard professor (and The Root’s editor-in-chief) Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. announced his intention to make a PBS special about race and the criminal justice system. It would bring welcome attention to an important and still underreported issue.

Although Gates’ experience has been described as racial profiling, the problem of race and the criminal justice system is more complex. It includes police brutality (including the increasing and sometimes deadly use of Tasers), disparate sentencing, poor prison conditions, harsh and often racially disparate sentencing, and a range of barriers to the reintegration of ex-offenders. Any one of these issues would benefit from a thoughtful PBS special, especially one with the scholarly imprimatur of a Gates production

Gates has developed something of a franchise on PBS, particularly his specials on genealogy. In these programs, Gates and his research team have meticulously traced the lineage of famous black people from Oprah to Chris Rock to Quincy Jones. The segments in which Gates shares the fruit of his research with his subjects is always emotionally wrenching. The stories of the slaves, freedmen, teachers and soldiers who struggled and somehow made it through, reduce his rich and famous subjects to moments of speechlessness and often tears. In this sense, we learn about African-American history through the eyes of exceptional and successful African Americans. We share with them a kind of personal journey into their own family history.

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July 24th, 2009
12:09 PM ET

The Cambridge cops, police power, and me

On Thursday, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas defended the actions of Sgt. James Crowley.
On Thursday, Cambridge Police Commissioner Robert Haas defended the actions of Sgt. James Crowley.

Marc Ambinder
The Atlantic

In college, some of my friends majored in history. Others braved the pre-med gauntlet. I graduated in 2001 with a degree in something or other, but my concentration was really in what you might call police scanner science. For three years, I covered the police beat for the Harvard Crimson, which was - is - the city of Cambridge's only breakfast table daily. When my friends would be out studying or dating, I'd be chasing cops. If the crime happened to be near Harvard's campus, I'd get there before they would, which occasionally proved disconcerting.

During my four years at Harvard, I got to know quite a few Cambridge police officers - black officers, white officers, Hispanic officers - and I became familiar with the tinder box that is racial politics in Cambridge. Take wealthy white (or nonwhite) patricians affiliated with Harvard, add liberal activists (not always so rich) who were attracted to the city because of its progressive legacy, add diversity that mirrors the composition of the United States, add blue collar, mostly ethnic white cops who were lifers in the police department...and it's not hard to see how racial sensitivities could be so acute. But in Cambridge, class sensitivities are often as touchy. Town-gown relations ebb and flow but always create tension between anything that suggests "Harvard" and anything that suggests "Cambridge." Cops tend to be working class joes and janes, and professors tend to be patricians. Intermixes like this happen often.

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Filed under: Henry Louis Gates
July 24th, 2009
09:58 AM ET

Obama's rush to judgment on police

Maria (Maki) Haberfeld
John Jay College of Criminal Justice

We teach our children to think about what others feel before they act, but as grown-ups we frequently assume we understand what others do without ever having walked in their shoes.

President Obama expressed his opinion about a police officer's interaction with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates. "The Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home," the president said.

Was it stupid behavior or was it an understandable result of police procedure - the culture, or rather sub-culture, of this profession. People depend on police in a time of trouble but are quicker than lightning to judge harshly when things go wrong. But the most important question in this case is: Did they go wrong?

One needs to understand that the interaction between a police officer and a suspect is just part of a larger context.

When a neighbor calls the police to report a burglary in progress and a police officer is dispatched to respond, a decision-making process begins for the officer.

Police work is about sub-cultural contexts, about war stories, about suspicion, about unpredictability, about danger and fear for one's life. Police officers make their decisions based not just on a given situation but also based on their prior experience, the experience of those they have worked with and the stories they have heard about incidents that happened in the past.

A call to respond to a burglary in progress generates a series of images that prepare a police officer for an encounter - a dangerous encounter that can possibly end with a loss of life.

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