The recent story of Prof. Gates and the Cambridge cop has been blown all out of proportion by the media, trying to make it a racial issue to further divide Democrats from Republicans. I agree with the President that the cop did something stupid - it's not a racial issue, just an overreaction to a fairly minor incident, and the President didn't assert it was anything else. [Perhaps the stupidity was in the mouth of the "journalist" who asked his opinion in the first place, during a press conference on health insurance.] The professor probably acted stupidly as well, but we'll never know what really happened.
A similar problem occurred in Cardiff [coastal San Diego County] a few weeks ago where a woman about 67 was wrestled to the ground and handcuffed, after apparently refusing to tell a cop her date of birth - he'd come to her house with a helicopter and about 7 squad cars on a noise complaint about 9:00 p.m. in the evening - the noise was an amplified speech by a female candidate for Congress, speaking at a fund raiser in a residential neighborhood.
The woman was offended by the cop's attitude, and attempted to shoo him off by saying "you know where I live and my name, why do you need my date of birth." From there, the problem escalated into a stupid act by the cop - both immature participants were white. [There were some political overtones, such as the name calling by the reporting neighbor who had allegedly been yelling from the bushes.]
Maureen Dowd's column in the New York Times fairly summarizes my views of the Gates situation. Although the races were different, the attitudes were about the same. This type of thing seems to happen a lot, and it's not racial, although in that case the anger came out in racial tones - we all have our hot buttons.
A few years ago, I was stopped by a CHP officer for using the shoulder to go around a truck that was stuck trying to access a freeway where all the traffic was stopped for construction. I had seen the officer in my rear view mirror as I avoided the truck and knew I was doing nothing wrong.
He was angry that I had gone around the truck, and argumentative - I tried to suggest he had discretion not to issue the ticket, rather than trying to argue the law, but that seemed to make him more determined: "I use those shoulders", he responded, as though what I had done could have endangered him had he been giving a ticket. I sucked it up, politely accepted the ticket, and set the case for trial.
At trial, the same jackbooted officer [a motorcycle cop] arrived loaded for bear. I presented the judge the statute that allowed what I had done. The officer was rabid in his defense of his action, and amateurish in his rejection of the statute - adamant that it couldn't mean what it said - perhaps a part-time night school law student. He couldn't allow me to have the last word, acting as a bad prosecutor over and over again, firmly committed to the idea that he was right. I was acquitted, and was he angry. I fear running into him again. Maybe he had a friend killed during a traffic stop on a shoulder, and that was a hot ticket item for him - from my standpoint, he merely looked foolish and wasted a fair amount of my time.
I've known a number of police officers well, and the overwhelming majority would never have acted as he did, never have wrestled a middle aged white woman to the ground in her own home, or handcuffed a middle aged professor with a limp simply because he was angry and yelling at them. Let's not make this a national issue, when we have a health insurance crisis, two major wars, and an economic catastrophe to occupy our minds. It's just two testosterone driven people who pushed one another's buttons.