Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Obama's "beer summit": Sgt. Crowley calls for backup

What was to have been an off-the-cuff meeting between Professor Henry Louis Gates and his arresting officer, Sgt. James Crowley, with Barack Obama playing host, has taken an odd turn.

Crowley has decided to bring along Dennis O’Connor, president of the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, and Alan McDonald, lawyer for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association, the Cambridge Police Patrol Officers Association and the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition.

This could have been a civil conversation among three human beings, and everyone present might have learned something and shared much. But the unofficial nature of the meet was key. With Sgt. Crowley bringing backup, the occasion now takes on a stiff and formal air.

As a union representative myself back in the day, there could be no such thing as a completely unofficial meeting when I accompanied a member. Calling for my presence automatically meant a guards-up approach, even if some meetings were more relaxed than others. The presence of these two officials ensures that the event will be far less than what could have been. There will be no unburdening of the soul here, no serious self-reflection; little nuance or depth or wrestling with ambiguities.

Why would the White House even agree to this? Was it a condition of Sgt. Crowley's presence? Did he feel outnumbered by sitting at a table with two Black men?

We would likely never have been privy to all that transpired among these three individuals of vastly different backgrounds wrestling with a profound common problem over a beer or two, and letting their hair down to do it. Nevertheless I feel deeply disappointed. An opportunity for authentic dialogue has been missed. And those opportunities are rare and precious and pregnant with possibility.

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