A teaching moment presented itself when President Obama was asked at his recent press conference about the arrest of his friend and Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.
That moment would have involved one of the most basic principles of our legal and political life: the need for due process to reach the best possible approximation of the "truth."
As everyone knows, the President said that he didn't know the facts, that he was a friend of Professor Gates and that this was a local police matter (hardly the stuff of Presidential news conferences), yet he nonetheless went on to pass judgment: the Cambridge police "acted stupidly when there was already proof" that Professor Gates was in his own home.
But the arrest was for disorderly conduct, not breaking and entering. Even though Cambridge has dropped charges, there is, of course, the police side of the story as reported in the Boston Globe and reflected in the police report of the events. Police officials say the officer in question, Sergeant James Crowley, was following established police guidelines in making the arrest.
Obviously, there are two very different accounts - one involving a distinguished, gentle professor in his home put upon by an overbearing, possibly racist, police officer, another involving a good police officer, with a strong record, who was dealing with an angry citizen. Cambridge's police review board, which the Globe reports is independent of the police department, will consider whether to launch a formal inquiry into the incident.