To Protect and To Serve

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July 30, 2009 | Comments

What a ridiculous day to be an American.

It began on Tuesday with the image broadcast on every news channel of a lone picnic table sitting next to the White House swing set. This was the lucky picnic table chosen as the site of the illustrious “beer summit,” to be hosted by none other than the President of the United States, the celebrated leader of the free world. The camera doesn’t move. The media swoons. Press secretaries and reporters alike report on the beer choices likely to make appearances on the picnic table as seriously as if they are discussing the latest death toll in Afghanistan.

And the world watches. The world laughs. Today we are their fools. Again.

By now we are all plenty familiar with the events that led to this day: Witness sees two men seeming to break into a Cambridge home, witness calls 911, police answer call, police ask for identification from one alleged perpetrator who is a Harvard professor, professor (an African-American) lives in the house, professor cries racism, professor berates police, police officer (not African-American) arrests professor for disorderly contact, charges are dropped, reporter asks question at presidential press conference, president states the police acted “stupidly,” president calls it an obvious example of racial profiling, police cry foul and support sergeant, public cries foul and doesn’t support president….like I said, we all know the story.

So things just got a little out of hand in Cambridge that night, the political/PR/media machine tells us now.  Okay.  But today we made it all better, right? The three men, equally at fault (according to the president and the media, so no apologies necessary, none offered), sat down at what was changed from picnic table to cheesy white patio furniture and have a beer. The president was awarded his much-coveted photo opportunity, the professor footage he can use someday for lectures or documentaries or whatever. The president showed us what a regular guy he is, just having a beer with three other guys (VP Joe joined in, too). He got that regular-guy moment captured on camera, simultaneously mending race relations for all time. I just don’t happen to think the real regular guys out here are going to buy it.

Indeed we “regular guys” have been awarded embarrassment as we witness this lame attempt to mend what has become the president’s personal public-relations nightmare. How I wish Officer Crowley had politely declined the invitation to participate in this awkward spectacle – or at least received an apology. The officer was simply doing his job that night. I trust he left that day for his shift just as he and his brethren do every day, hoping and praying that at the end of the night he would return home, alive and well, to the family waiting for him.

When I was quite young and living in California’s San Fernando Valley, a neighbor came home late one night and saw a suspicious car parked in front of my family’s house. She called the police. When the police arrived the suspicious car took off, as did a suspicious someone who had apparently been hiding in the bushes near the house. I am forever grateful to that neighbor and to the LAPD, and any PD, to whom I would gladly shown my ID if asked. But now in the wake of what the president has called a “teachable moment,” maybe I won’t be asked. Maybe the 9-1-1 call will never even be made in the first place.

And that, perhaps is what we have learned from the president’s “teachable moment,” a term implying we are children, waiting at the hem of his robes for the pearls of wisdom only he can provide. We now know that the president has no intention of admitting that, though he knew nothing of the facts, maybe he had no business injecting himself into local police business. We have also learned to think twice before calling 9-1-1, but I’m still rather unclear about who is doing the teaching here, and who the learning. Explain that to me, would you please. Or, better yet, please don’t. I already know what I need to know.

Betsy Siino | Comments