One Beer, But What Are the Lessons?

Friday, July 31, 2009

President Obama, Vice-President Biden, Henry Louis Gates Jr, and Sgt. James Crowley had their beer and discussion about racial profiling last night. But what are the lasting lessons? Sherrilyn Ifill civil rights lawyer, University of Maryland law professor and author of The Courthouse Lawn: Confronting the Legacy of Lynching in the Twenty-First Century; and Eugene O'Donnell, former police officer, prosecutor, and professor of law and police science at John Jay College of Criminal Justice offer their takes. What did you make of the beer summit? And what do you anticipate from future Gates and Crowley get-togethers? Comment below!


Sherrilyn Ifill and Eugene O'Donnell

Comments [66]


NBC's chief White House correspondent Chuck Todd mentioned that Biden's appearance added racial balance.

Really. Was it necessary for the VP to sit in on the matter?

Jul. 31 2009 10:43 PM

Well, Anne Coulter says that it's not so much about racial profiling as it is about blacks being fast drivers. So, apparently black folks get stopped more often because theyr'e the ones doing all the speeding.

What a crackpot.

Jul. 31 2009 10:33 PM
hjs from 11211

putting your first comments aside for someone else to help u with.
I find it disturbing that you and others think someone who "got locked up, for getting lippy with (the police)" is OK. this is not south america in the 70's or germany in the 30's. I wish the bigger point that the police can't arrest me in my own home for "disorderly conduct" was the focus. the rest is a side show. glad the court agrees with me and this case was thrown out, for now we still have a democracy no thanks to u and cheney

Jul. 31 2009 03:30 PM
Hugh Appet

I'm surprised no one brought up The Wire in talking about community/police relations or thinking outside the box. Season 3 where a black precint commander legalizes drugs in his precinct is amazing. And the whole series is about people who are forced not to do the jobs they know how to do by politics and money.

Why does this one incident and its followup have to be an "educational" moment? It's like saying everything was settled when Rosa Parks wouldn't give her seat up or when those kids went to a white school in Little Rock.

Maybe Cops should be educational. Have you ever seen a cop tell someone their rights on that show? Yah, sometimes they let people off. But how often do they use their position to sort of force confessions out of the people they are dealing with, particularly concerning drugs? And of course, most of the people they deal with seem like the scum of the Earth. So who cares?

Jul. 31 2009 02:56 PM

Gates and Crowley,

Please don't "get together again."

We can't stand it anymore.


Jul. 31 2009 01:27 PM
DAT from Nathan Straus Projects

No one group has the corner on racism.
No one group can honestly make the claim,
that because their group has sustained a horrid
history of abuse, they are immune from being
racist towards other groups.

I have worked with blacks, whites and I find
that each group can be just as racists towards
each other and others that don't fit into the
white and black category.

Such as Asians, Hispanics, etc.

I find there is a lot of tension between
African Americans and blacks from Africa,
Haiti, etc.

In my own opinion, I find blacks from
Africa, and the Caribbean easier to get
along with, than African Americans.

African Americans have an attitude,
I find hard to deal with, at times.

In the case of Crowley vs Gates.

Crowley was responding to a 9/11 job,
called in by someone that felt there were
intruders in the Gates rented home.

Gates, responded by being hostile,
and got locked up for it.

Gates got locked up, for getting lippy with
Sgt Crowley and P.O. Carlos Figueroa.

Jul. 31 2009 01:27 PM
hjs from 11211

but few europeans would drink that liquid

Jul. 31 2009 01:17 PM
Marielle from Brooklyn

Lance [57] - point taken. Let's have a beer!

Jul. 31 2009 12:07 PM
Lance from Miami

Gerald[6], your point concerning Bud Light being American in concept is taken. But note that Anheuser-Busch Inbev, the maker of Bud Light, is a Belgian-owned corporation.

Jul. 31 2009 11:54 AM
Lance from Miami

I agree with your basic argument.

However, there is an important difference between the two. Race in the US, in this particular context, is usually defined by physical features that are genetically (not socially) determined, whereas being a police officer is entirely defined, in any context, by social factors. Being a police officer means by definition that a person has undergone specific kinds of training and has been accepted into a profession. So it is more of a leap to make blanket statement about the social behavior of a person of particular race than about the social behavior of a member of a particular profession.

Jul. 31 2009 11:50 AM
Marielle from Brooklyn

One thing I have found interesting about a number of posts is the (correct) assumption that it is wrong to make blanket statements about every member of a given race (in this case, African-Americans), side by side with the (incorrect) assumption that it is perfectly OK to make blanket statements about every member of a given profession (in this case, cops). Am I the only one who sees this as slightly inconsistent?

Jul. 31 2009 11:40 AM
hjs from 11211

reality?? can we talk about urban schools? understand cause and effect?

Jul. 31 2009 11:29 AM
scnex from harlem

#30 - still till this moment your defense is inaccurate and posting links will not resolve this. you are uninformed. gates has answered the question of the officers disposition in subsequent statements released by a law professor from harvard. if you keep asserting that officers, which are human do not lie - your cracked.....

you have to do more than speculate and research a single link. the facts are clear and many speak to them, as an issue of authority and power and for the exercise of that power. the conflict is not to second guess and make hyperbole of what could have been... the officer was "rude"... this is a statement by gates; to automatically assume that he would lash out for no reason proves something about your ability to discern facts.

i post this as someone who has tracked this story 3 days after the incident and all the allegations that followed and it is clear that you are reacting to your feelings not facts....

Scnex Scnex

Jul. 31 2009 11:14 AM
hjs from 11211

"Sgt. Crowley showed up alone at a possible break-in. " that was foolish, but we should not make issue of that.
are there a lot of black people in ur LI town? did u move there to get away from them?

Jul. 31 2009 11:11 AM
the truth from bkny

#30 - Oh and to respond to your point that Black persons are identified 68% of the time for crimes, well give me the stats or great published one, on how many have been wrongly accused/identified as well.

I can think of two very recent incidents in which the white women who accused/identified Black men of a crime were lyinggggg.

Jul. 31 2009 11:00 AM
Debbie from Jackson Heights

I was struck by a Gates quote in the NY Times when he said that “I don’t think anybody but Barack Obama would have thought about bringing us together.” Maybe I'm being an idealist or having too much faith or too little cynicism (or skepticism), but I think that quote summarizes what I have always liked about Obama, that he is the type of leader who would bring the two men together and let them have a dialogue. Yes, it's contrived in that it's hard to have an honest, on-the-spot dialogue in front of the POTUS and with the press outside, but it points -- yes in a largely symbolic way -- towards what might be the only solution to our divided and unequal society.

Jul. 31 2009 11:00 AM
Ed from East Village

No reality please! We just want to talk about "profiling".

Jul. 31 2009 10:57 AM
the truth from bkny

I hate cliches i e "snark or snarky" ughh don't need to read the article again for the hundreth time. #47 is spot on, the end.

Jul. 31 2009 10:55 AM
Publius from Long Island

It would be very interesting if people both informed themselves of what actually happened, and responded to the points (#30) I was making - rather than respond with condescending snark.

Here is the police report of the incident - Gates was hostile and uncooperative from the start.

Notice that never has Gates contested the facts. He merely asserts that he was being questioned b/c of his race.

He in fact has said, the officer was professional and courteous the whole time, but nevertheless was racially motivated.

Try informing yourselves and thinking folks. It's a wonderful experience.

Jul. 31 2009 10:48 AM
Mitchell Berstell from Rego Park, NY

Crowley’s tone in his publicized comments after the meeting with Gates and Obama was belligerent. This is the typical reaction of the cops who subconsciously believe that they are the law rather than just the enforcer of the law. He still feels that he was unfairly slapped by the dropping of the charges, which he believes resulted from the political spin handed down by the White House. For Crowley to feel otherwise would require him to admit that he acted improperly and few cops ever admit that either out loud or to themselves. He thinks he was just very unlucky to have arrested the one in a million person with more juice than he had. Neither Gates nor Crowley have been questioned under oath about what happened. If Gates was a nobody he’d be facing financially crushing criminal charges and possible ruin. We’ve only learned from all of this that wealth and power, black or white, gets a pass.

Jul. 31 2009 10:47 AM
hjs from 11211

and crowley didn't know if there were little green men in the basement either

Jul. 31 2009 10:37 AM
the truth from bkny

and you know what? Know what the heck you are talkig about "concerned citizen" before you call 911 and get them all worked up! Nosy excuse "concerned" white lady got this whole thing started. Clearly she does not have a friendly rapport with all of her neighbors!!

Jul. 31 2009 10:34 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

Obama used "get together over a beer" as a metaphor for the kind of low key meeting he planned to host. The media then took "beer" literally and the entire discussion digressed into what beer everyone would drink, whether the beer was "American" or not, what that meant, etc. And the entire focus of the meeting was buried in this nonsense. Suppose he'd invited them to talk things out over a Coke. Then we'd be talking about why not Pepsi or Sprite and what that meant. Never underestimate the media's ability to focus on the trivial and run with it. And we fall for it over and over.

Jul. 31 2009 10:33 AM
Adrienne Rivers from White Plains, NY

Here in White Plains one way the community is trying to improve the relationship between police and young people is with the Youth Police Initiative. The improved camaraderie among the two groups is noticeable. If the conversations between Gates and Crowley lead to the formation of similar iniatives in other communities it would be a good thing.

Jul. 31 2009 10:31 AM
Ellen from Brooklyn

Has anyone talked about this aspect of the "class issue" : I wonder how frustrated the cops become (if they do) dealing with Harvard and MIT/ Ivy League sanctimony as they go about their jobs. They are working in a city of the privileged and I would imagine that they have to contend with a greater than average amount of "don't you know who I am?" undermining of them doing their jobs. I don't see Officer Crowley as being racist. If having to put up w/ Ivy League condescension is a part of a Cambridge cop's life, then I think the moment he decided to arrest Gates was when he started yelling about being affiliated w/ Harvard.

Jul. 31 2009 10:31 AM
the truth from bkny

#29 you don't have to be on your way to "church" - the man was standing inside his home, some people like to speek up the turnpike, and not everyone is selling drugs, I hope their is a drug sniffing dog traffic stop in your future.

Jul. 31 2009 10:31 AM
the truth from bkny

#30 - your account of the events is inaccurate. Not only did he identify himself he provided him with two IDs one had a picture.

Jul. 31 2009 10:30 AM
hjs from 11211

are u saying this was all staged from the start?

Jul. 31 2009 10:29 AM
Hank Aberle from NYC

I think you're all missing the point. Cop's want power over another human being be it Black or White. Race and class have nothing to do with it. I am white. If I were in that cop's face the way Gates was, I would have been arrested as well!

Jul. 31 2009 10:28 AM
the truth from bkny

@#22 - The officer ws "embarrased" - he is also supposedly trained on how to diffuse these situations. No excuses please.

Jul. 31 2009 10:28 AM
Dano from Kearny

It happens to White people to but you don't hear about it because they are not important to the news media.

Jul. 31 2009 10:27 AM
nia from brooklyn

i wonder what would have happened had this occurred a few years ago under bush? now theres a thought not worth dwindling on either...

Jul. 31 2009 10:27 AM
Julia from Skillman, NJ

I am not a strong proponent to the general behavior of police; so, you can understand the difficulty of this statement. I am going to say that this situation seems to be a little contrived. This seems to have been turned into a race situation where it should not have been. A police officer answers a call to a possible burglary and asks for id from the person who claims they own the house. Instead of showing the id with immediacy, an altercation appears to have broken out. As a homeowner, I can appreciate that a police officer would ask for id if they find somebody, or myself, in my house. I am certain that, as a white female, that I would be asked for id as well. It is a security issue, not a race issue. They check id's; that's what they do.

Jul. 31 2009 10:27 AM
Christopher Sipe from Yonkers

Education is almost always the solution. Role playing with police, fire and other civil servants and students k-12, college students and workplace / community groups.

A familiarity with our roles in these situations, possible responses (good and bad) may diffuse situations before they happen.

Jul. 31 2009 10:26 AM
Andrew from Chelsea

The teachable moment is the process itself of getting two differing parties together. Instead of digging in about each side's hurt feelings and relative victimhood etc, they got together and had a civil dialogue, and given the public nature of the event, we're now also having a civil dialogue about race.

Jul. 31 2009 10:26 AM
Wendy from NYC

This is an "add on" to the comment I made earlier (see Wendy from NYC): Although I can't put into words exactly what lessons I learned, I know I learned/grew and got a lot out of it. Just the fact that the Principal felt it was important enough to STOP AND TALK made a big impression on me.
I can't help but thinking that Obama is doing something similar... Yes, mistakes were made (Obama included). Now let's STOP A MOMENT, THINK, TALK and LISTEN.

Jul. 31 2009 10:26 AM
Publius from Long Island

Sgt. Crowley showed up alone at a possible break-in. Gates would not come to the door or identify himself as the owner of the home. Crowley doesn't know if it's a domestic violence case and the wife is in the back room bleeding. Gates was uncooperative from the start. Crowley had a duty to confirm that no crime was being committed. This whole thing is not about race - it's about whether someone should be arrested for Contempt of Cop. A white guy would have gotten arrested for the same nasty behavior. Maybe they shouldn't, but it's not a racial issue.

More importantly is black crime statistics. Blacks make up 26% of NYC residents but are identified by victims and witnesses as felons in 68% of crimes. That is a stunning figure from Heather MacDonald of the Manhattan Institute.

Blacks get an unusual amount of police attention because police are often looking for black suspects.

Heartbreaking that it's the case, but that is what the reality is.

Jul. 31 2009 10:25 AM
Ed from East Village

I always like these "profile" discussions. No one was ever profiled when they're driving 100mph on the New Jersey Turnpike. No one is ever in the process of buying drugs. Everyone was on his way to church. LOL

Jul. 31 2009 10:25 AM
Maria from Harlem

Instead of a having a conversation about race, we silenced the issue and ignited racial tension.

We now have a situation where the Glen Becks of our nation have used this situation to ignite racial tension. To ignite hatred and promote ignoance. Race is a conversation that is NECESSARY! Yes, Glen Beck feeds off fear and ignorance, but those scared and unaware people are still Americans and we need to reach out to them, given them a voice, hear them and try to discuss race.

Instead of proliferating the dicotomy of years past, (racist, bigot, etc.) we should be utilizing new words like: class, economics, culture, history, etc. We need to engage all Americans in this conversation. Not just the NPR regulars. Otherwise we loose them to the Hannitys and Glen Becks and proliferate hate, fear, and division.

Jul. 31 2009 10:24 AM
the truth from bkny

They agreed to disagree ok? That was the result of the meeting, nothing changed.

The self righteous, superior cop now wants to have a "one on one" with Professor Gates, who does he think he is? Nothing has changed he still left with that superior attitude, I hope that sit down never comes to fruition, it is not needed. The situation is clear, charges were dropped.

Jul. 31 2009 10:24 AM
Brian from Brooklyn

They both acted 'stupidly'. Let's move on.

Jul. 31 2009 10:22 AM
the truth from bkny

Too deep with the choice of beers Gerald. I think they just drank what they like, kinda like Coke, Pepsi and store brand, nothing there.

Jul. 31 2009 10:20 AM
SuzanneNYC from Upper West Side

Obama's bringing everyone together was completely in keeping with his past actions and overall philosophy. Turning it into the "beer summit" was a media construct and the commentary around it was superficial to say the least. It looks like Gates and Crowley will continue working on a more lasting contribution. So there could be a more positive outcome beyond the meeting at the White House.

Jul. 31 2009 10:20 AM
hjs from 11211

anyone know crowley praty. well i hope he's a blue dog.

Jul. 31 2009 10:19 AM
David from Nyc

I have been profiled as a latino in this, and other cities around the country. My opinion is that you need to remain calm and not escalate the situation. I feel Mr Gates may have come off as arrogant and pompous which may have added to the situation, yet again he may have felt he was in his home so therefore he had every right to oppose to the way he felt he was being treated.

Jul. 31 2009 10:18 AM
Valerie Schermerhorn from Greenwood Lake, NY

I agree with the comment below! Until you walk a mile in another's shoes you have no idea what they are up against. I hope that the officers will sit in Gate's classes for a semester and that Gates will get in a patrol car for 3 months (at least) and see what the other is up against!

Love Obama but like our other loved ones, he blew this one with commenting at all but using words like "acting stupidly" is downright stupid on his part. He is smarter than that!

Jul. 31 2009 10:18 AM
Teresa from New York

Isn't it possible that neither race nor class had nothing whatever to do with this incident? A concerned neighbor observes what looks like a robbery, calls the police, the police investigates and the homeowner calls the officer a racist- first mistake. The officer becomes embarrassed that the homeowner is causing a scene and arrests him- second mistake. Why must race, and now class, be a motivating factor in every interaction between a black and a white? Until we can get passed that, we're in trouble...

Jul. 31 2009 10:17 AM
Mireille Liong from Brooklyn,NY

I sincerely hope that the police learn that they are not always right. Even with so called racial profiling credentials the officer made 2 black men out of a 911 call where black wasn't even mentioned.

No matter how he tries to turn it he is wrong and it is disturbing that he doesn't apologize and keep saying he is right.

It doesn't matter how Gates acted, even if he used yo momma what I don't believe, the officer didn't have the right to arrest a person who just identified himself as the owner of his home.

Jul. 31 2009 10:15 AM
1111 from brooklyn

I know someone who is on the Citizen's Stamp Advisory Committee with Gates and this person reports that Gates is belligerent, rude, unlikable, combative.

Everyone's debating the complexities of this situation, but could it be a PERSONALITY thing?

Meanwhile, Gates will be milking this for all it's worth, likely getting a large book deal, etc.

Jul. 31 2009 10:15 AM
Wendy from NYC

When I was in high school (1970-1974), there was a lot of racial tension. One day, a huge fight broke out between a white girl and a black girl who had had a love/hate relationship for years. The innovative school I went to (New Lincoln), that unfortunately no longer exists, shut down all regular classes the next day. Instead, we had workshops and discussions regarding what had happened, race issues, etc. It was a wonderful thing to do, in my opinion, from which I learned much.
This is similar. Talking and discussing can't hurt. It can only help.

Jul. 31 2009 10:15 AM
scnex from harlem

this is the same lexicon - let's move forwarded - this is a clear indication of how people use language, which do not want to incure investigation into wrongful actions, do not want to have those actions public, proving ultimately wrong doing...

this is something that proves this notion of white fright and privalige...

Jul. 31 2009 10:14 AM

I'm not sure if the issue is race vs. class, but private citizen vs. the police state.

Why should Prof. Gates, or anyone else for that matter, bow down to some idiot rogue cop? Or is this just something we need to get used to now?

Jul. 31 2009 10:14 AM

#5 Dana,


Et tu Brian? Can we stop with the gushing reviews of Crowley's performance. He answered the questions competently, but let's not get carried away here.

Jul. 31 2009 10:14 AM

comment # 3 seems to be anti-men and anti-white. so all white peoples are afraid of people of color rising above them? come on...

Jul. 31 2009 10:13 AM

rather than only about race and class- isn't this also about unfettered police power vs. civil liberties and the constitution?

Jul. 31 2009 10:12 AM
the truth from bkny

Nothing has changed, I didnt learn anything it was all a bunch of bull!! A friend of mine was pulled over and his vehicle dog searched and all for naught!! Oh wait not for naught, because he was a Black Man driving a luxury vehicle!! No it was not at night and no it was not in a "bad" neighborhood.


Jul. 31 2009 10:12 AM
Ed from East Village

Crowley just hit the lottery. I see speaking engagements and book deals in his future. Also, Gates rates for speaking engagements will hit the ceiling.

Jul. 31 2009 10:12 AM
Steven Mark from Manhattan UES

The Prez has a career waiting for him in crisis resolution. Get him to the Israeli-Palestinian bargaining table.

Jul. 31 2009 10:12 AM

Gates did an interview with the Times that might be useful to touch upon on the air? Quick excerpt:

“Nobody knew what to do,” he said, “so I walked over, stuck up my hand and said, ‘It’s a pleasure to meet you.’ That broke the awkwardness.”

At that point, the professor said, he made a proposal: that he and Sergeant Crowley meet for lunch at River Gods, a popular Cambridge pub, some time in the near future. The sergeant accepted the invitation, he said.

“I said we both had been cast as characters in other peoples’ narratives that we couldn’t control,” Professor Gates said. “If we take control of our own stories, we can take control of narrative.”

Jul. 31 2009 10:12 AM
Robert from NYC

Is this ever going to end? I'm sick of it. NPR this morning had a "piece" on this wherein the reporter actually retold the entire story from beginning to end and I could have done that without a script because I've heard it too much. Isn't anyone else sick of it? I was sick of the the day after it happened!

Jul. 31 2009 10:10 AM
Gerald from nyc

No one seems to have noticed the choice of beers of the participants. The POTUS drank "Bud Light" which, though it's a stretch to consider it a beer, is certainly American. Sgt Crowley drank "Blue Moon", brewed in Denver, USA. And Mr Gates? "Red Stripe"--the national beer of....Jamaica! A racist choice that slighted the POTUS in his own house! Disgraceful!
Gerald Koval

Jul. 31 2009 10:04 AM

I agree with Seth - this beer summit achieves nothing. The discussion should have been local, community-based. Police could gain better understanding of policing their community, addressing the issue of profiling/racism. Members of the community, of all races, could gain a better understanding of how to interact with police and each other. What is done in Washington has no affect locally.

Jul. 31 2009 10:03 AM
Phillip Jordan from New York, New York

I am surprised that Obama was so uncharacteristically context-insensitive. If a person is intelligent, 'that was stupid' means 'that was a mistake, you need to try a different way'. If that person really is stupid it means 'I hate you'. I live in New York, not Cambridge, but I sure know who Henry Louis Gates is. Policemen often seem to be from some other planet; they often give the impression that they can't count to eleven without opening their fly.

Jul. 31 2009 09:57 AM
a. hammagaadji

This beer summit idea is so typical of men. It reeks of thinking "within the box". Alcohol may have been used to induce relaxation but it may also be used to facilitate avoidance of the issues, ending in laughter, back-slapping and fake camaraderie with nothing changing in the end. If Crowley will act the same way again, then nothing has been learnt and nothing will change. I believe the president was right the FIRST time. Crowley DID act stupidly. Backtracking on that was shameful and weakened the president in many peoples' eyes. Seems to me like Obama is the new Dinkins. With the release of the 911 audio, it has been shown that Crowley lied about his interaction with the "neighbour" who called, and the audio does NOT reveal the professor to be shouting or disorderly. Nothing shows white paranoia about African social mobility more than the racist attacks on the president and Judge Sotomayor and white people will continue to use the police to fight African and Latin upward mobility and smooth their way to jobs and the middle class with much of the possible competition eliminated by false arrests and records. They will have to push harder because despite this tactic, we are still rising through to the top and causing the Sessions, Buchanans, Becks, Limbaugh and Crowleys of the world to question WHO THEY ARE.

Jul. 31 2009 09:23 AM

Lynn Sweet’s question reflected a very naïve belief on the part of the Washington Press Corps that Obama’s election would somehow usher in a dramatic improvement in race relations.

Over the last few months a very disturbing trend has emerged. There have been reports of racist comments coming from Republican politicians at various levels of government. I hope someone is archiving these incidents because there are too many for me to keep track of. Here are links to some of the more blatant examples

Social Networks Help Republican Racism Go Viral

Questions raised about councilman's conduct after discovery of racist e-mails

Jul. 31 2009 09:18 AM

The beer summit was a pathetic PR stunt the White House dreamed up as damage control for Obama's "police acted stupidly" comments which were clueless and totally irresponsible.

A better idea would have been a Gates Crowley meeting in Cambridge with civic leaders jointly sponsored by Harvard Univ and the Cambridge Police Dept.

Lasting Lessons
1) Cooperate with police and don't verbally abuse them
2) Police need to develop thicker skins and not arrest every person who insults them
3) Presidents need to think long and hard before they weigh in on a subject

Jul. 31 2009 09:01 AM

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