If you thought Barack Obama's comments this evening on Skip Gates's arrest would make the story even bigger, you were absolutely right. Obama's critique of the Cambridge PD is currently the second story on Google News; high atop NYTimes.com; and lead story at CNN.com (never mind healthcare!). (It's got decent placement at FoxNews.com, too, but with less emphasis than those other sites.)
Remember when Eric Holder said we needed to talk more bluntly about race? Well, here's our chance.
But it's also a chance to talk about how the police comport themselves in society, and how the general public should and shouldn't behave when dealing with law enforcement. This Media Nation post is a great place to start: therein, Dan Kennedy argues quite persuasively that the Gatesgate divide is as much about how much deference cops are (or aren't) entitled to as it is about race specifically.
If that sub-topic takes off, like the broader Gatesgate story, I'd urge people to pay attention to how the end of Gates's encounter with the Cambridge PD played out. When Chris Matthews was weighing in a few minutes ago, he read the beginning of the police report in great detail--the part where Gates's alleged rude behavior is described. But then, when he got to what transpired immediately prior to Gates's arrest, he stopped reading and simply said: "and so on."
Matthews should have kept contined, because what comes next sounds to me like a miffed officer trying to goad an irate citizen into arrest-worthy behavior:
As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates's outburst. For a second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest. [emph. added]
Have at it, people.
Here's a starter question: if Sgt. James Crowley really wanted Gates to chill out, why didn't he turn and walk away, instead of 1) telling Gates he was becoming "disorderly," 2) whipping out the handcuffs, and 3) ordering him to calm down?