Paul A. Ibbetson
Racing to the race card: an observation of conflict building
By Paul A. Ibbetson
July 30, 2009

The recent news swirl encompasses the inflammatory statements of President Barack Obama in the wake of the arrest of African-American scholar, Henry Louis Gates Jr. Gates, a black Harvard Professor, was arrested by Cambridge police after a verbal altercation, which occurred while police responded to a report of a possible break-in at the Professor's home. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the Washington Post reported that President Obama stated that, without having the facts of the case before him, the police had acted "stupidly" in arresting his Harvard friend. At nearly the same time, reports in the media would surface that Gates was demanding an official apology from the Cambridge police for their transgressions against him and, quickly and very efficiently, another case of police abuse against a minority had been logged. Unfortunately, for those that wish to foment continued race conflict, using the Cambridge arrest as another example of "white racism in America," there was one little problem: the police were right and the Professor was wrong.

The knee-jerk reaction is, "how can that be?" I mean, think about it, a black professor arrested for trying to get into his own home — his own home for goodness sake. The clincher in this story, for many people with no other facts to draw from (the President included), is that the black professor was arrested by a white police officer. Well, there you go. It's the mentality of that last statement which is the dangerous component of this story and it is here where both Barack Obama and Professor Gates should be taken to task as pre-meditated race conflict builders.

For those who wish to deny the social advances this country has made over the decades, my personal law enforcement background will no doubt be a disqualifier of my right to speak on this issue. But before you condemn me, let me defend Barack Obama. You can decide for yourself if the President of the United States should be more restrained when talking about events without the facts, or about giving input on the arrests of personal friends. However, I can tell you from professional experience that immediate statements made about the "rightness and wrongness" of police arrests by family and friends are often tainted by the emotional bonds people have with those who find themselves in the evening lockup. So, while many rail on this part of the Cambridge incident, my experience leads me to extend a certain amount of compassion for those (the President) who find themselves gagging on their foot when speaking out of turn on friends and family who have just been arrested.

The problem that should be observed in the Cambridge (Gates) arrest situation is not that of simple "stupid statements" but that of race conflict building. As events of the arrest of Professor Gates became more clear, we see that the Harvard scholar not only 'talked himself' into getting arrested, but that he did so by initiating race into his verbal attack that continued throughout the police investigation to the point of being placed into custody. President Obama, like Gates, needlessly and without provocation raced to "the race card." For Obama, this can be seen in his initial media statement, where he made sure to reinforce the notion that minorities do not get a fair shake from the police in America. This is where Obama did his greatest disservice to not only law enforcement but also the nation.

The final sadness of this event is how both Barack Obama and Professor Gates, when faced with the reality of Gates' racial statements at the scene and an arresting officer (who not only was not a member of the KKK but was an instructor on racial profiling) with a sterling record, could not bring themselves to apologize. Instead, they did what liberals always do when obviously in the wrong — they attempted to create a new reality. President Obama started his bizarre procedure of 're-calibrating' his statements, as if you can turn a dial and make racial conflict building into a 'nice thing.' Professor Gates, not to be outdone, decided to attempt to remove himself from the entire incident and went from demanding police apologies to saying that the issue was not really about him at all and that he just wanted to move on.

In reality, the largest injustice will neither be that a black professor got mad at the police, got arrested, used the race card, and got caught in the process, nor that the first black President of the United States was only too happy to jump on the bandwagon of racial conflict building. As bad as both of those two events are, the largest injustice here is that a police officer, who did his job and did the right thing, was put through the racial grinder (although he survived), and the entire issue will drop with a framing of 'no harm, no foul' as the race conflict builders will simply wait for the next opportunity strike.

© Paul A. Ibbetson


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Paul A. Ibbetson

Dr. Paul A. Ibbetson is a former Chief of Police of Cherryvale, Kansas, and member of the Montgomery County Drug Task Force. Paul received his Bachelor's and Master's degree in Criminal Justice at Wichita State University, and his PhD. in sociology at Kansas State University. Paul is the author of several books and is also the radio host of the Kansas Broadcasting Association's 2008, 2009, 2010, and 2011 award winning, Conscience of Kansas airing across the state. Visit his website at For interviews or questions, please contact


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