Thursday, July 23, 2009

Discretion is the Better Part of Valor

I can't help but feel that the arrest of Professor Gates by Sgt. Crowley shares striking similarity with another high profile incident; Officer Robert Powell's detaining of Ryan Moats.

Both incidents involve white officers and high-profile African-Americans, but I don't want to get into the role that racism may or may not have played in these situations. Instead I think they are most striking because of the behavior of the police officer.

Over and over again I've heard the case from colleagues, friends, and random people on the street, "It's a police officer's job to respond in high-pressure situations. It's life or death. They have to be ready for anything. He was just doing his job."

Yes, they have to be ready for anything. And, while it's melodramatic, they do put their lives on the line far more than most professions. But the first and last part of that argument are a gross over-simplification. If you want to reduce the role of the police to a handful of words, at least look as far as the motto on the door of a police cruiser: "to serve and protect." It's not good enough for an officer to just "respond," they must respond appropriately.

There's been plenty of sensationalism about the possibility of racism in this case, and Obama's response, but no one that I've seen has gotten to the heart of this incident better than Doctor Cleveland who's July 23rd post is measured and thoughtful. Something we all wish Sgt. Crowley had been.

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