No matter what stellar achievements in health care or economic recovery are likely to occur in the Obama administration’s tenure, history suggests that one name will be forever linked to its legacy – though not necessarily in a positive way – Henry Louis Gates.
While Blacks throughout the country showed signs of support and sympathy after the Harvard scholar’s recent run-in with police, a less overwhelming number of Americans agree that President Barack Obama’s place in the debate was at Gates’ side. Even despite Obama’s back-pedaling from the accusation that cops who arrested Gates acted “stupidly,” some observers attribute the recent drop in Obama’s approval rating to his stance with the man he called “a friend.”
“Many have chided the president for sticking his head into ‘local’ business when, clearly, his attention should be on more national and global issues,” suggests Dr. Mark Anthony Neal, author and Duke University professor. “As polls suggest, many Americans feel that the president is trying to do too much, too soon, and getting into a public spat with local police couldn’t have endeared him to many.”
Although Cambridge cops have insisted that they followed procedure in arresting Gates at his home when he refused to comply with them after they investigated a false break-in report, Gates’ stature was elevated within the Black community. Obama, on the other hand, Neal and others point out, suffered for loyalty, much like a partygoer caught in a bar fight that his drunk homeboy started.
“Gates-gate,” as Neal terms it, forced Obama to change much of his agenda in recent weeks, while more high-profile matters that involve allegations of racism have drawn no response from the Oval Office. Oscar Grant’s murder by a White cop, who shot him in the back shortly before Obama was sworn in, has been revisited at trial in a California court. Meanwhile, supporters of Mumia Abu-Jamal, charged with murdering a Philadelphia policeman almost 30 years ago, want Obama to correct alleged racism that they say led to Abu-Jamal’s conviction.
Considering the immediacy of America’s various challenges, some suggest that the timing of Gates’ affair could make his name the equivalent of Bill Clinton’s Monica Lewinsky.
Adds Neal: “…discussion would have been far more valuable than a brewski photo-op, which is how the Gates case will likely be remembered.”