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Obama’a Easy Access Pass By: Gregory Gethard
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, July 31, 2009

On Thursday, President Barack Obama met with Harvard University scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Cambridge cop Sgt. James Crowley over a beer, hoping that the controversy embroiling all three men will now come to an end.


After the trio shared a beer on the White House lawn along with Vice President Joe Biden, Obama stated:


"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."


Most likely, this will end up being painted as a moment where the first black president addressed a long-standing grievance between America’s minorities and a local police department; a lesson learned that we still have a long way to go to strike a perfect racial harmony.


But we should all take another lesson away from this incident: once again, the mainstream media failed, or chose not, to cover an important facet of Gates’ arrest, one which turns this from a debate about racial profiling into one about elitism and privilege.


According to the Center for Responsive Politics, Gates donated $4,600 to Obama during the 2008 presidential campaign, the most allowed under election law; previously, Gates hosted a fundraising effort at a Martha’s Vineyard summer rental for Obama’s attempts to win a senate seat.


Now, the story takes a different read. It’s no longer about an acclaimed African-American scholar and a Cambridge cop who may or may not have “acted stupidly” when responding to a 911 call; it’s now about the President of the United States of America personally interjecting himself into a local police matter that involved a political donor.


And the matter didn’t just involve someone who wrote a check and was a visible face on the campaign trail. Obama spoke out on behalf of a man who has a full professorship at Harvard University, one of the most coveted jobs in all of academia. He’s been named as one of Time Magazine’s Top 25 most influential Americans. He’s an acclaimed writer and literary scholar. He hosts a show a lauded show on PBS. He’s also raised money for Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick, who also spoke out against the Cambridge Police Department after Gates’ arrest. Gates has also referred to the Clinton’s as “dear friends.”


Obama did not mention the name of an African-American teenager in an inner city neighborhood. Instead, he rushed to the defense of a man with high-reaching friends and influence. He came to the defense of a man who just isn’t quick to write a check, but to the defense of a man who has an immense amount of visibility and power.


And in the process, Gates – a man who, in this Martha’s Vineyard Magazine profile discusses how he works for only a few hours each morning during the summer months and his love of a personally hand crafted tricycle he uses to move about the resort island – was painted as the victim, while Crowley was cast as an aggressive police officer who may have harbored racist intentions.


But, aside from a badge and a gun, what power does Crowley have? He’s worked for 11 years to obtain the rank of sergeant of the police department in Cambridge, a city home to those who live in academia’s ivory tower and also to those who live in drug-infested public housing tenements, placing him in direct danger every day he goes to work. Before becoming a city police officer, Crowley was a campus cop at Brandeis University; one day, while on duty, he tried hopelessly to resuscitate Boston Celtics basketball star Reggie Lewis who suffered a heart attack. For his efforts defending the citizens of Cambridge, he pulls down a middle class salary while living in one of the most expensive metropolitan areas in the country.


This wasn’t just about an African-American man being arrested by a police officer. It’s about a wealthy, influential and powerful person using his station in life to cause embarrassment and hardship to someone he views as beneath him. And it’s also about a president who, in attempting to help his well-heeled friend and political supporter, is all too quick to condemn an entire city police department without knowing what actually took place.


It’s elitism and favoritism at its most base.


But it’s not shocking. After all, Gates has looked his nose down upon those with different views than him for some time. As he said in the aforementioned Martha’s Vineyard Magazine profile:

“A year ago, I thought it was highly unlikely that a black man would get the nomination. I had no question about Obama’s qualifications, but I questioned whether our fellow Americans were ready for him. It’s one thing to win Martha’s Vineyard; it’s another to win West Virginia.”


It’s also one thing to live as a politically connected Harvard scholar in Cambridge; it’s another to work as a cop there. And no amount of beer can ever change that.

Gregory Gethard is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer.

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