CNN's Harris Calls Police Union Presser 'Incendiary'

<img src="http://media.eyeblast.org/newsbusters/static/2009/07/2009-07-24-CNN-News... vspace="3" width="240" align="right" border="0" height="180" hspace="3" />CNN daytime anchor Tony Harris has a bit of a different perspective on the Henry Louis Gates arrest.<br /><br />Around 12:31 PM, after the Massachusetts Municipal Police Coalition held a press conference defending Sgt. Crowley’s conduct in the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Harris spoke to the CNN reporter on the scene, Don Lemon.  Having been informed that one of the reasons the union decided to hold the press conference was a sinking morale among officers after President Obama’s remarks on the matter, Harris said:<!--break--><br /><blockquote>HARRIS: I don't know why I was under the impression that this news conference, that by the end of it we would be closer to resolving this. I don't know why I thought that, but clearly, it looks like we may be more entrenched at this point with Cambridge police unions. The legal counsel for Cambridge police saying very clearly that they support the actions of the officer in this case and want an apology from the president.<br /><br />Don Lemon was in the room for this.<br /><br />I thought this was pretty extraordinary, Don.<br /><br />I was just saying a moment ago that, I don't know why, for whatever reason, I was in our meeting this morning and I thought by the end of this news conference, that we would be working closer to that moment when perhaps Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates would be patching this thing up together. But I tell you what, it just feels like the divide, if it started here, it just got wider and wider and wider with each comment.<br /><br />What are your thoughts in the room?<br /></blockquote>It’s easy to see in the transcript alone that Harris was shocked at the tone of the press conference, wherein a request was issued for President Obama to apologize for his comments about the Cambridge Police Department behaving “stupidly.”  Lemon, sensing this, tried to explain the reasons why the police union decided to hold a press conference:<br /><blockquote>LEMON: I knew that there would be some fallout after I -- after it was told to me that the Superior Officers Association was going to have a press conference. I think they are very concerned with Gates' comments after the incident.<br /><br />They feel that it's been very one-sided, you know, to be honest with you, in the media about Gates. You've been hearing about Gates, but you haven't been hearing that much about the officer. Part of that, though, is the department's own fault, because they haven't really been transparent or allowing any of their officers to talk, and they didn't want Sergeant Crowley to speak as well. But as you saw, every -- just the sense of the community, as I got here yesterday and I went directly to the police department, you could sort of feel it in the air. The police commissioner said to me, morale is low here.<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes.<br /><br />LEMON: And it was -- you know, it was better before the president made his comments.<br /><br />HARRIS: Well, Don, can I say something?<br /><br />LEMON: They got low -- even lower after that because...<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes.<br /><br />LEMON: Well, hang on. Hang on. It got even lower after that because they thought that this was going to go away after a while, after the news cycle. But then once the president responded to it, they feel that it brought it back up again. And not only brought it back up, amped it up to a different level.    <br /></blockquote>But Harris refused to let the union slide:<br /><blockquote>HARRIS: Gotcha. I gotcha. I get that. I get that. But here's my point. This is incendiary. Race in this country is powerfully incendiary.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: And I suppose I thought that both sides of this would take a step back, not listen to the news cycle.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: Not base future comments on the last news cycle and make a determination that race is such a powerful . . .<br /><br />LEMON: But, Tony . . .<br /><br />HARRIS: Let me finish the thought. Is such a powerful factor in this country, that it would be better to take a step back and try to figure out a way to mend this.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: Not deepen it.<br /></blockquote><p>The story here is not about the union’s response to President Obama; the story is the incredulity with which their response is received by Harris.  Even after Lemon goes out of his way to explain the reasons why the union decided to hold a press conference, Harris still does not acknowledge the external factors which led to the response.  Lemon clearly noted that the police department was not allowing its officers to respond to Gates’ allegations – but that when the President of the United States became involved, the damage to police morale became too much to ignore.  <br /><br />Despite this fact, Harris calls the union’s press conference “incendiary.”<br /><br />That’s not quite a fair assessment, and Don Lemon was apparently very aware of that.  The full transcript is available below.</p><blockquote><p>CNN Newsroom <br />07/24/2009<br />12:30:00 PM</p><p>HARRIS: Whoa. OK. Alan McDonald, legal counsel, Cambridge Police.<br /><br />All right. How to proceed? How to move forward?<br /><br />As you heard, Alan McDonald is asking for an apology not just from the president of the United States for his comments about the case, but also from the governor of Massachusetts, Deval Patrick. Both of those two men have acknowledged their friendship with Professor Gates.<br /><br />And there is Crowley in the middle of the screen right there. Was present, but didn't offer any comments.<br /><br />At one point, Alan McDonald suggesting that the president sort of shot from the hip with his remarks. Yes, without having all of the facts moving forward.<br /><br />I don't know why I was under the impression that this news conference, that by the end of it we would be closer to resolving this. I don't know why I thought that, but clearly, it looks like we may be more entrenched at this point with Cambridge police unions. The legal counsel for Cambridge police saying very clearly that they support the actions of the officer in this case and want an apology from the president.<br /><br />Don Lemon was in the room for this.<br /><br />I thought this was pretty extraordinary, Don.<br /><br />I was just saying a moment ago that, I don't know why, for whatever reason, I was in our meeting this morning and I thought by the end of this news conference, that we would be working closer to that moment when perhaps Sergeant Crowley and Professor Gates would be patching this thing up together. But I tell you what, it just feels like the divide, if it started here, it just got wider and wider and wider with each comment.<br /><br />What are your thoughts in the room?<br /><br />DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, I'm surprised that you thought that. I mean, Tony, you've been doing this just as long as I have.<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes.<br /><br />LEMON: I knew that there would be some fallout after I -- after it was told to me that the Superior Officers Association was going to have a press conference. I think they are very concerned with Gates' comments after the incident.<br /><br />They feel that it's been very one-sided, you know, to be honest with you, in the media about Gates. You've been hearing about Gates, but you haven't been hearing that much about the officer. Part of that, though, is the department's own fault, because they haven't really been transparent or allowing any of their officers to talk, and they didn't want Sergeant Crowley to speak as well. But as you saw, every -- just the sense of the community, as I got here yesterday and I went directly to the police department, you could sort of feel it in the air. The police commissioner said to me, morale is low here.<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes.<br /><br />LEMON: And it was -- you know, it was better before the president made his comments.<br /><br />HARRIS: Well, Don, can I say something?<br /><br />LEMON: They got low -- even lower after that because...<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes.<br /><br />LEMON: Well, hang on. Hang on. It got even lower after that because they thought that this was going to go away after a while, after the news cycle. But then once the president responded to it, they feel that it brought it back up again. And not only brought it back up, amped it up to a different level.<br /><br />HARRIS: Gotcha. I gotcha. I get that. I get that. But here's my point. This is incendiary. Race in this country is powerfully incendiary.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: And I suppose I thought that both sides of this would take a step back, not listen to the news cycle.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: Not base future comments on the last news cycle and make a determination that race is such a powerful . . .<br /><br />LEMON: But, Tony . . .<br /><br />HARRIS: Let me finish the thought. Is such a powerful factor in this country, that it would be better to take a step back and try to figure out a way to mend this.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: Not deepen it.<br /><br />LEMON: That's what advisers on both sides are saying. Advisors from outside on both sides are saying, hey, listen, guys, tone down the rhetoric.<br /><br />HARRIS: Take down the temperature on this.<br /><br />LEMON: Take down the temperature on this and relax a little. Because, you know, the law enforcement community, we know, it is a community that bands together. It's very vocal. They're very protective and insular of their own. As well they should be. As well most people are.<br /><br />And the same thing, when you have -- when you're talking about race, and especially African-American men and their relationship to police officers. I mean, most African-American men in this country have had some sort of incident, perceived or real, about feelings about being racially profiled.<br /><br />HARRIS: OK and let me stop . . .<br /><br />LEMON: I, for one, have had one that . . .<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes, let me tee it up. Don, let me tee it up. Here's the thing.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes.<br /><br />HARRIS: And I say this because I want us to conduct this discussion here with total transparency. I know that you have had an incident in your life, and I'll let you explain it. But as you make these comments, I want folks to understand, you are working as a correspondent on this story, but you have had something in your life that doesn't -- that may be -- no, let me have you explain the incident and folks can make their own determination.<br /><br />LEMON: No, I just thought it was complete transparency. I mean, we all have our lives. You know, we all have the lens that we come through. And my -- I didn't have anything with a police officer. It was something to do with something else, but there was racial profiling. It was settled out of court. I was right. The other party was wrong. And we settled out of court.<br /><br />But here's the thing, everyone has incidents in their lives. And you have to judge each of them on the merits and on the circumstances. I'm sure there are many incidents where there are racially -- people are racially profiled and claim to be and it's accurate. And there are other incidents where people are -- who believe they are racially profiled and it is not.<br /><br />Even with an incidents like that happening to me and to many other African-Americans and Latino, let's not forget, Latino, brown people, even with that, you still have to judge every single incident on the merits. There's always -- you know, we always say there's two sides to every story. Well, there's more than two sides to every story. As many people as you had witness, there can be eight sides to the story.<br /><br />So you just have to -- you know, and it went away. I want to say that. Mine went away. The police officers, you know, came. They were great. So and I have great friends who are police officers. I've won awards for doing police officer stories. So I know there's good and bad on every side. But this is -- I think this is only going to ramp up now, though, Tony.<br /><br />HARRIS: I agree with you. And that's where I want to bring it back to. I thought there was an opportunity here -- that's all I'm suggesting -- for us to begin to turn something of a corner. But when you hear statements in this news conference where the suggestion is that if anyone acted stupid or stupidly, it was Professor Gates.<br /><br />LEMON: Right.<br /><br />HARRIS: You're digging the hole deeper. You're lining up the forces on either side of this.<br /><br />LEMON: Right.<br /><br />HARRIS: And people are be -- are going to become more entrenched in their views. And where you are on this spectrum here is probably dependent largely on the kind of experiences you've had with police officers, and whether or not you're black or you're white in this country. And that was I think the opportunity missed to start to bridge this thing. And I'm not sure that that happened in this news conference. That's my only point. I'll give you the last word on it.<br /><br />LEMON: Well, it depends on your lens. Everyone comes to -- into life in situations.<br /><br />HARRIS: Well, that's what I just -- yes, that's what I just said.<br /><br />LEMON: Yes, everyone comes through with their own, you know, history and notions and they look at view life through their own lens. But I just want to say this. The reason I said that -- I think this is going to ramp up.<br /><br />And I think that you're right in this, that it should -- take down the volume because when I spoke to Professor Gates' attorney this morning, before he jumped on an airplane, he said that his reaction, his client's reaction, whether or not he's going to sue, will depend on how the police department handles it. They don't want the police department making his client out to be some crazy guy who went off on a police officer and lost his mind for a moment.<br /><br />HARRIS: Yes, no, I got it.<br /><br />LEMON: And if they do that, they said that the officer has been with the police department for a long time and it is open records and he will bring people forward who have had similar experiences to Professor Gates' by (ph) the same office.<br /><br />HARRIS: And, Don, my last thought on this. There were choices here for Professor Gates. There were choices for this office.<br /><br />LEMON: For the officer.<br /><br />HARRIS: Absolutely. And, you know, other choices, we don't have this huge event. And, you're right, it is going to get bigger.<br /><br />Don, let's leave it there for now. I know you'll be joining Kyra in just a couple of minutes.<br /><br />LEMON: Thank you, sir.<br /><br />HARRIS: And, Don, good back-and-forth. I love that. Thank you.<br /><br />LEMON: All right. Thank you.  </p></blockquote>