I’m Gonna Weigh in on the Henry Louis Gates Controversy

Henry Louis Gates speaks, originally uploaded by The Cleveland Foundation.

So much for a lighthearted Friday… But I’ve been listening to so much talk about this and something struck me right away that nobody has mentioned. As most surely know by now Prof. Gates was arrested when someone called the police as he was pushing in a stuck door on his home. Some are being critical of the Cambridge police and some are being critical of Prof. Gates. For sure, I believe, race to a certain degree was likely an issue with how he got arrested. But I have a problem with the neighborhood. Because I was thinking how this would never have happened where I live. Presumably it was a neighbor who called the police. And as they say it’s good to have folks looking out but on my block everyone knows each other. If I saw my neighbor Joe, black and often casually dressed, pushing in his door. I’d say, hey Joe what’s going on, you ok? It seems insane to me that this neighbor does not know what her neighbor looks like. Perhaps she saw the driver but I’d say this incident says a lot about the neighborhood of Cambridge, MA.

105 Comment

  • I understand the woman who called the cops doesn’t live in that neighborhood. She works nearby and as such is misidentified as a ‘neighbor’.

    This is the best commentary I’ve seen so far on the issue:


  • I think I would rather the police came to my house in an attempt to arrest me breaking into my own house than have all my stuff gone…again. Getting burglarized sucks! The police officer still arresting the man after he showed his ID and proving he lived there is where it went wrong I think. But then I wasn’t there, perhaps Prof Gates was a real A-Hole when the cop came by doing his job, or maybe the cop was a real A-Hole… But I def would want a neighbor or a person passing by to call the cops if they suspected foul play. Sadly I don’t know what all of my neighbors look like, but better safe than sorry.

    Did anyone watch Obama’s comments on this? He was cracking quite a few jokes, it was a good time!

  • im not sure of the housing situation there in that neighborhood, but i doubt he lives in a rowhouse where his front door is 15 feet away from his neighbors. i cant see well enough to distinguish exactly who is going into the house across the street or 3 doors down, but i would damn well call the cops too if they appeared to be manhandling their way in… also, if it was a black guy with a backpack, or a white woman with a green hat, or a purple people eater wearing hiking boots, i would sure as hell give the most accurate description possible. describing someone of a different race by stating that race is NOT racist… ugh, so sick of this shit.

  • This is going to get nasty quick….

    But from what I’ve read or heard about it, it all sounds like one huge misunderstanding. Gates was understandably upset at being visited by police in his own home, and the officer surely could have found a better way to diffuse the situation.

    And given the sensationalized media coverage and the he said/she said nature of the allegations, I think it’s safe to say NO ONE has enough factual information to make a judgment one way or the other on who was wrong or who was racist.

    However, regardless of that, it does raise interesting questions and hopefully will re-open a meaningful discourse on race in America. It just isn’t a simple issue.

  • Oops, that Anon 11:38am was me. Forgot I cleared my cache yesterday and forgot to put my name back in… TGIF

  • Gates has made his living off exploiting the race issue. yet, he lives in an almost exclusively white neighborhood. I’m not saying he doesn’t have the right to live where he pleases. I’m saying that if you think there is so much racism perpetrated by white people, then it is hypocritical of you to be living in a white neighborhood.

    You could say the same about Jeremiah Wright as well. He lives in a neighborhood that is almost all white. Yet, he preaches to blacks in poor communities about how evil the white man is.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    @USA! oh, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t a neighbor. Hmm, I guess my post doesn’t make much sense anymore. Back to summer drinks

  • Dude, easy, I grew up in Cambridge! Funny thing: I locked myself out of my house the other morning, and I immediately tried to “break-in” by climbing through the front window (I am white, btw). Right when I had climbed up and was trying to force the window open, my neighbor walks out and is like, woah I thought you were a thief!

    But really, I think the policeman over-reacted. Gates showed the cop an ID, it’s his property. Berating the cop for doing his job was wrong, but the cop has no business being there after he confirmed the fact that it was Gates’ home.

  • The early reports said she was a neighbor, so I can understand the misperception. Later reports corrected that to say she was someone who works in the area.

    I’m not going to get into the flame bait stuff here because it’ll just be tiring and unhelpful, but I actually have very little problem with what the woman did. I’m black, my neighbors are primarily black, and I hope that if they saw someone breaking into my house, they’d call the police. In fact, I know for sure they would, because my neighbors are super-nosy! But in a good way.

  • @Nate: I don’t think it’s hypocritical to be living in a white neighborhood just because he studies racism. And I don’t think studying something is exploiting it. I mean, any university professor spends way too long studying some narrowly defined issue or subject…
    And, a little wiki action here — Cambridge is 68% white, so that kind of limits his options. He lives, I’m sure, where there are nice houses within his income range.

    That aside, my thought on the matter is that Gates was prob. a little overly hostile to the cop, and the cop probably reacted more than he should have, as, in my experience, many law enforcement are wont to do when faced with someone who isn’t bowing down in deference. The officer said he warned Gates and told him to go back in his house. I can’t say I wouldn’t have been pissed too if some police officer told me to go inside my house and stay there — I’d probably insist on standing on my property, outside, until he left too. Of course, it didn’t work out that way. What I’m getting at though is that I’m betting this cop was less racist than he was a dick. But hey- there I am, showing my prejudices….

  • He arrested Gates AFTER Gates had provided him with identification, thus proving he wasn’t a burgler and that it was in fact his house. Prof. Gates asked the officer for his name and badge number, which the officer refused to give him. The officer asked him to step outside, at which point Prof. Gates was arrested.

    It’s not like the officer arrested him as he was pounding in the door. The situation had been resolved, the officer just didn’t like that Prof. Gates was requesting his name and badge number (presumably, it appears, with good reason).

  • Yeah, not a neighbor – she only worked in the neighborhood. Back to the summer drink discussion indeed.

  • To me, the case is less about racial profiling than it is about free speech. The cops were right to show up at his door and question him, given that he matched the caller’s description of the person breaking in. But according to every report I’ve seen, Gates did eventually provide an ID, and at no point did he ever get physical with the cops. The only problem seems to be that Gates started mouthing off to the cop and talking about his mama. You can argue about whether this was the best decision on Gates’ part, but it is clear that such speech, even if offensive, is constitutionally protected. This is where the cops went wrong. Could race have played a part in the cop’s decision to not take any lip from Gates? Who knows, but even if it didn’t, the cops were clearly in the wrong.

  • Is he related to the treasure hunting Gates’?

  • the racial aspect of this whole ordeal came from gates… if you watch the interviews with him and crowley, they both agree that when crowley arrived to investigate a break in and asked to see gates id, gates screamed ‘why, cause im a black man in america?’… he pulled race card and acted like an absolute jackass. i hope this guy loses all credibility and gets knocked our of martyr status. when dealing with officers of the law, i dont think that you can excuse asinine behavior as free speech. he was making a scene and being combative, so i fully support his arrest on disorderly conduct. he did not handle the situation like a self appointed role model for youth should have. also, obamas comments are a slap in the face to all law enforcement everywhere, and if anyone owes someone an apology, its him.

  • I think Gates frustration came from the same frustration most black men go through. Cops picking on you for riding through the wrong(rich) neighborhood, etc.. I have driven through the big houses by rock creek park and have gotten stopped multiple times by white cops for no reason. Asked why I was in the neighborhood, do you have a record, heard about any burglaries, etc.. These type of stops just make you angry and cynical against any cop. And until you go through this, you can never understand.

  • Understand that I do not like, respect, or trust most cops (having seen too many corrupt lunatics wearing badges down here), but unless this officer fabricated his report, Gates went berserk and probably deserved some time in the back of a cruiser: http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0723092gates1.html

  • Here’s another excellent analysis: http://medianation.blogspot.com/2009/07/what-gates-story-says-about-culture.html.

    Short version: 1. It’s understandable if African-Americans have a different reaction than automatic deference when interacting with the police, even if deference is the appropriate reaction. 2. For whatever reason, Gates acted like a jerk, but he was on his own property and had every right to act like a jerk. He was by no account in any way threatening. (He’s not even six feet tall, he’s almost 60 and he uses a cane.) 3. The cop could at that point have de-escalated the situation by realizing it’s not about who has the last word, but he didn’t. He could have apologized and left, but chose to stay and try to prove who was really in charge. And it didn’t end well.

  • While it was a passer-by who called the cops, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Harvard Square area residents of Cambridge never knew who their neighbors were.

    The rest of Camridge is an incredibly awesome community, one that definitely celebrates the Beautiful Life.

  • It is quite ridiculous that people, including the President is making ASSUMPTIONS that the cops were in the wrong. Why does no one think it is plausible that Gates never showed his idea until after the situation was out of hand. I feel, if he would have been calm and showed the cops proof from the beginning, this would have never happened. However, until there proof that Gates did not overreact and did show proof immediately upon request, I feel he is at fault.

  • bottom line… don’t be belligerent toward cops. if you become belligerent, they can arrest you if they want. nothing else matters in this story, it was a misunderstanding, but when you start insulting and provoking a cop, he has every right to put you in cuffs.

  • @chris,

    Hmmm… Why would a black man in America “pull the race card,” as you call it, when being confronted by the cops? You’re right. It’s not like there’s a long history of police brutality against blacks in this country or anything. Rodney who? As for Gates’ actions being asinine, let’s assume they were. But since when is that a crime? Should we arrest everyone whose words we find “combative”? And how are Obama’s words a slap to ALL law enforcement? He didn’t say ALL cops were stupid. He didn’t even say that the one cop was stupid. All he said was that his actions were stupid, which, let’s face it, they were.

  • This proves my point we cant tell what really happened, even the Pop got it wrong and he had more time and less pressure to review the facts than the President:)
    aPrince Of Petworth Says:

    July 24th, 2009 at 11:42 am
    @USA! oh, I didn’t realize that she wasn’t a neighbor. Hmm, I guess my post doesn’t make much sense anymore. Back to summer drinks…

    Bottome line , why would you arrest a person in their own home and no crime took place. The cop needs to apologize to prof G. and prof G needs to stop breaking into his home silly rabbit. Tricks are for Kids

  • E Says:
    July 24th, 2009 at 11:57 am

    @Nate: I don’t think it’s hypocritical to be living in a white neighborhood just because he studies racism.
    He doesn’t just study it. He constantly crows that racism is so prevalent in America. If that is how you feel, then you shouldn’t live around the people that you feel are being racist against you.

    “And, a little wiki action here — Cambridge is 68% white, so that kind of limits his options. He lives, I’m sure, where there are nice houses within his income range.”
    I’m sure Gates has had opportunities to teach in more racially diverse areas where there is not as much “racism”. I bet any of the all black universities would take him in a heartbeat. Yet, he continues to teach at Harvard. Those are choices HE made.

  • One thing that gets me with this story is how many people feel that it’s a cop’s right to arrest a person for being an asshole in his own home.

    I’m separating out “prudent behavior” from “arrestable behavior” here. I agree entirely that it is not PRUDENT to be an asshole to a cop, or generally under any circumstances, to any one. Good home training, and all that. Gates made choices in this kerfuffle that I would not have made.

    But how can we make the leap from that to say that it’s okay, acceptable, even understandable that mouthing off is worth being arrested for? I’m not allowed to act aggressively towards people who “insult” or “provoke” me (absent physical contact or threats to my person, which no one says happened here.) Why *should* it be so different for cops that there’s a contingent of people who are like ‘oh well, ho hum’ when this kind of thing happens?

    It’s one thing to be prudent, just like you need to be prudent walking home from the Metro. It’s another thing to think that people who, for whatever reason, lack prudence, deserve whatever they get.

  • The under-reported aspect of this is class, not race. Gates and his supporters think nothing of calling the entire working class police force of Cambridge “stupid”. Gates by his own admission said “don’t you know who I am?” and “this ain’t over” prior to the cuffs going on. We all know what that means. The cop also says Gates called him names and called out his mother. Gates doesn’t deny this. Where is the respect? You’ve got to give to get. Should cops be arresting people who lip off to them? No. But to call this a race thing is just an easy way for Gates to justify his own bad behavior and his dismissive attitude toward police.

  • dcdude,

    youre right, using history as an example, crowley was a total racist white rogue cop, and gates was a completely innocent man of color. how silly of me to think that there could be any interaction between two people in their situations that didnt end with the man trying to hold the minority down. btw, im gay, so assuming that you are straight, i dont like how you addressed me in your post. harvey milk comes to mind here… yes, clearly now that i think about it, you are a homophobe bigot, because i have seen and read reports about how all straight people hate gays, and i should be worried about you trying to kill me. that being said, if youre gay, then we should totally hang out and get our nails done because thats what pretty much what us gays do together right? i think i heard that somewhere, so it must be a total truth.

    as far as gates being asinine, 911 was called to investigate a break in at his residence. from the police report, as well as videos of interviews with both parties, crowley shows up, states the reason for being there and asks to see the ID of the person who has answered the door. said person (who matches the description of the bad guy) reacts in a hostile and uncooperative way. gates should have thanked the officer for responding and being so direct in getting to the bottom of the situation, but instead he acted a fool and used the situation as fuel for his agenda.

    and for obamas words; the cambridge police have all pretty much stupid by crowley for following protocol. for obama to say that they acted stupidly for that, he is putting down any officer that follows the book without letting things slip through kid gloved hands. obama should apologize for acting stupidly by making such a harsh remark when he didnt know all the facts

  • The only clear thing here is that approximately NONE of y’all were there. Given there are inconsistencies on both sides, and both men seem to have flown off the handle, I think we might find there is enough blame to go around. Here’s hoping that Gates’ daughter’s efforts to get them to meet and apologize to each other work out.

  • Oh lord, please don’t tell me that you’re one of those people that thinks that history doesn’t matter; that if blacks can have the NAACP, then whites should be able to have the NAAWP. Black pride and white pride are not the same thing. You can have Gay Pride parades, so I’m gonna hold parades in which I profess my pride in not being gay! See the difference? Context matters. It is perfectly understandable for a black man to be suspicious of a white cop coming into your house and demanding proof that you actually live there. Again, context matters.

    But ultimately, that’s not what all of this rests on. As I said earlier, even if Gates was out of line, he should not have been arrested. Belligerence is not a crime. His rights were violated. I would be shocked if the Cambridge police departments training manual said otherwise. But if it does, then I take it back. They are all stupid.

  • I know several white people who have been ticketed or arrested for berating cops. All they had to do was shut their mouth and both parties would have gone their separate ways. Prof Gates challenged the cops’ authority and that is where he went wrong. I believe if you place a non-black in the same situation, they too would have been cuffed and arrested for disorderly conduct – which is what Prof Gates was arrested for, not for breaking and entering which I think much of the press has alluded to.

  • I don’t think either gentleman would admit it, but both acted like horsesasses. Judging by the reporting, Gates popped off first and pissed off the cop. The cop should have worked harded to defuse the situation. In a perfect world these two would act like men and work through their differences and own up to the mistakes they made, but this thing has gone viral.

  • Clearly “Driving While Black”, and Now in Boston “Hanging out at Home While Black” has and continues to be cause for concerns, but I think Gates was wrong to become so irate so quickly. Had he not freaked out as he did he likely wouldn’t have been arrested. Clearly this touches a cord for some and it doesn’t take much to ignite. The cop probably shouldn’t have arrested him though, perhaps cuffed him until he chilled TFout. Verbal assaults on police officers is rarely a good idea.

    Here in DC, it’s lately, “Walking While White” with teenagers targeting them for carrying out their random acts of violence.

    Wasn’t the person who called it in just a passerby?

  • Yeah, I have to agree with G-Man. Cops don’t like you mouthing off at them, and it’s definitely grounds for a disorderly conduct charge.

    Not that I’m speaking from personal experience here, or anything…

  • i think history matters very much, but i think that you can only be as offended/affected/insulted as far as you let yourself be. you referenced rodney king, i brought up harvey milk…two extremes. gates was not being threatened with violence, as the only thing bruised was his ego, and he should have (as everyone should, regarless of color or creed) known when to shut his mouth. the cop was there investigating a potential crime scene, not randomly knocking on doors until he found a black man to pick on.

    and as for being arrested for excercising your first amendment rights… when youre on the street talking to a friend and want to voice opinions about gun control, have at it. when an officer of the law is conducting an investigation in a potentially dangerous situation, in this case a probable burglary, then no, i dont think you should be allowed to throw a tantrum and sling insults like an idiot.

  • But at the time Gates was arrested, the “investigation” was over. There’s no point that I’ve seen the cop say that he felt like he was in some kind of danger, or that a riot was about to be incited. He just arrested Gates because he thought Gates was being an asshole.

    Again, was Gates 100 percent in the right? No. But who in this situation is the one trained to de-escalate bad situations? Indeed, as is being slung around like some kind of “a-ha!” moment, this particular officer trains fellow officers in how to to avoid racial profiling. Who better than him than to know about walking away? This guy didn’t join the force yesterday.

    I think that those of us who expect that someone who “slings insults” courts arrest — and I’m including myself here — should step back and ask ourselves why we think that’s okay.

  • I am from Cambridge, some people are racist there just like anywhere else.

  • I would have said the same thing dcdude and Christina said, if they hadn’t already.

    Gates wasn’t very smart. But that isn’t a crime. The officer clearly got his back up when he realized Gates was a prominent citizen and instead of using his head, he decided to use force to restore his ego. It isn’t uncommon in Cambridge or anywhere else. What it really proves is that we need more police officers who act with their heads and not with their emotions.

    And now the department is doing the same thing the officer did. Obama said their ACTIONS were stupid. That isn’t the same thing as calling a person or an organization stupid. Yet the department’s ego is bruised and they are acting with emotion instead of intelligence.

  • As I said in my first post, I don’t think this is about racial profiling either. But I would not be so cavalier in simply dismissing Gates’ feelings given the history of tension between black people and the police; especially in Cambridge. That’s all I’m sayin’.

    But the more important point is that you should not be so quick to give up your 1st amendment rights. See, for example, Lewis v. City of New Orleans, in which the SCOTUS held that a a New Orleans ordinance making it unlawful “to curse or revile or to use obscene or opprobrious language toward” a police officer while in performance of his duties was in violation of the 1st amendment. If he had been making physical threats to the cops or inciting others to do the same, that would be one thing. But everything I’ve read seems to indicate that his speech was in protest of what he perceived to be a violation of his civil rights. Right or wrong, that makes it political speech, and well within the confines of the 1st amendment.

  • I think one SHOULD “be allowed to throw a tantrum and sling insults like an idiot.” Where the hell do we live? North Korea?

    I’m lilly white and my heart skips a beat when I see a cop, even though I generally support them and all that jazz. If I were black, my heart would race when saw a cop. Cops have guns. Cops can put people in jail. Cops can present evidence that will get you put in prison for a long time. Cops can do bad things and who’s going to stop them? Other cops? Right….

    The overwhelmong majority of cops don’t do bad things but some do and who do they do it most to? Black people. It’s not like there isn’t history here.

    I once watched DC cops pull up to a crowd of young teens in my alley. The kids scattered and the one kid they caught (tackled and cuffed) had about 10 relatives nearby and they all came running, screaming at the cops. The cops were cool as cucumbers as the relatives unloaded on them. Eventually the kid, crying like a baby, was released. Everyone walked away.

    The cop in Cambridge should have swallowed his pride and walked away. Being a cop often sucks, no doubt. You have to deal with people who hate you and freak all over you, even when you are serving them and the public good. Gates acted like a 3 year old but that’s not a crime. He shouldn’t have been arrested.

  • I’m with Christina on this. I have no doubt that some cops arrest for disorderly conduct any time they feel personally disrespected, even if doing so is an abuse of authority and law. Police can usually get away with arresting someone merely for exercising their right to free speech, just by characterizing criticism as “fighting words.” The elements of the crime of disorderly conduct are so vague that it can describe almost anything, so long as it occurs in public. But in this case it seems pretty clear cut. You have a right to be disorderly and disrespectful (or sling insults, or throw a tantrum, or act like an idiot) in your *own home*, and Gates was in his home. The cop arrested anyway because he thought he could get away with it, even though he knew the public element was clearly absent. *If* there is a racial aspect to this case, I think it’s best illustrated by the fact that the cop assumed he could get away with what he likely knew was a false charge, rather than just the fact that he suspected Gates of burglary in the first place.


  • Of all the comment boards, of all the articles I have read about this story POP’s has been the most civilized.

  • good question christina…

    i think that police officers deserve that level of respect, as does the military, elected officials, any one of the like. there are corrupt pos in every branch of every organization, and these people deserve nothing more than a pink slip, but until an officer demonstrates that they are unfit to warrant the respect and cooperation of the people, then they deserve nothing but that highest respect. gates was outright hostile from the moment he opened the door (based on the police report), and offered angry retorts to pretty run of the mill questions (by his own admission in his cnn interview), so i think it was justified to charge him. just like most people feel that a child should respect his elders, students should respect their teachers, etc., i feel like every person should respect officers of the law…keeping in mind what i said earlier, that this belief is held until an officer proves himself undeserving and thus unfit to wear a badge.

    i dont believe that crowley did anything to get the level of hatefulness that he did from gates, and i think its a shame that the cultural of ‘no snitching/disregard for police’ has been carried out by a 58 yr old scholar who could have positioned himself to be a true role model here, but instead chose to act like a thug.

  • Thanks for the link, Hurleybird. I think that summarizes the legal situation very well.

  • Wish I had had a neighbor, somebody working nearby, or a passerby to have called the police last week when during the middle of day the metal casement window on the side of our home was pried open.

    They made away with: our desktop computer monitor, cpu, printer, our wall mounted TV, stereo, my pocket watch collection, my wife’s jewelry, her pocelain collection, an antique nativity set, and a kitchen mixer/blender, -all through the window !

  • Do we really want the 1st Amendment to fully apply when the police are trying to manage a situation? I sure don’t. Cops get paid to deal with the horrors we run from, and I don’t think it’s fair or wise to condone a “say whatever you will” (like about a person’s “mama”) attitude to a police officer as he or she attempts to determine the facts of a situation or restore order in chaos.

    If you’ve been wronged, seek remedy thru the PD and courts, not in the midst of a police response.

  • Chris, whether they deserve respect or not (and I’ll even agree with you that they do), the question is whether they should be able to throw you in jail for disrespecting them. Be careful what you ask for.

  • Both of these men needed to rise above the sterotypes they may have had of each other (correctly or incorrectly). They both could have, and still can, resolve this situation with dignity and honor. From they statements, I doubt they will. Too bad. I had a lot of respect for Gates and Crowley sounds like a generally good cop.

  • I think I understand, Christopher. I think where I differ is that I don’t think that people are deserving of any higher level of respect than anyone else, just by virtue of the profession they hold.

    Now, it just so happens to be that I’m a peaceable person, so I can’t imagine what kind of crack I’d have to be smoking to backtalk a cop like that, assuming that he wasn’t crossing me first. I’m just not that kind of person.

    But you have to admit that, a cop is probably not going to admit that he was hostile. We’ve certainly gotten the cop’s POV on this, but a lifetime of observiing interactions among people makes it *very* hard for me to believe that the officer was all “sir, I’m oh so sorry to bother you but, if you wouldn’t mind, could you perhaps show me your ID?” and then Gates out of nowhere said “FU RACIST M-Fer!!” I just don’t think arguments start that way.

  • I also agree with Steve @ 3:26.

  • The 1st Amendment applies fully *even* when it’s inconvenient for the government or for the majority of the community. That’s the whole point of it.

  • dcdude, i completely agree. i dont think that disrespect warrants jail time, but maybe a fine? i really dont want that to become a ‘being a dick to the popo tax’ though… i dont know the answer, otherwise i would run for public office. something needs to change though on the views of the community through the polices eyes, and the police through the communities. the bottom line for me was just that gates wasnt trying to help himself at all, and it was seemingly more important for him to make a case out of what he perceived as racism then to cooperate with an officer dispatched to ensure his and his homes safety.

  • Obama calls the officer involved in this situation:


    Now I’m trying to think what kind of police situation I can get myself involved in to end up getting a call from the president. 🙂

  • Hurley,

    That’s not correct. Speech is restricted all over the place (“fire” in a theater, obscenity, threatening speech) for the greater public good.

  • Christina – Obama invited both men to the White House for a beer….I am going to find a MPD cop on the way home to piss off. Lets see what I can work up!

  • Anon,

    Agreed. Free speech is not absolute, but the SCOTUS have set a very high bar on any attempts to curtail it. Clearly, none of those exceptions apply here.

  • Instead of labeling both men as possible racists, let’s call it for what it is. By Mr. Gates speaking his mind and the officer arresting him, it became a contest of who was the biggest man on campus. PERIOD.

  • Saying that freedom of speech isn’t absolute is not saying that it only applies when it suits the government or the majority. If that were the case, the First Amendment would be a nullity, since the government and the majority are perfectly capable of protecting their views on their own. It is indisputable that the first amendment protects an individual’s right to verbally offend a police officer. Whether it always plays out that way in the real world is a different question. The police know that if they claim a defendent was not just criticizing, but was using “fighting words,” they can get around these protections. And if a white cop says they were fighting words, and a black defendent says he was just criticizing, who do you think a jury or judge is more likely to believe, all else equal? Most cops are probably honest. But all cops know the answer to that question.

  • @dcdude and Christina … I agree with you 100%, which is why I’ve found myself on the wrong side of this situation more than once.

    My dad was a cop, so while I respect the badge and all of that – I also know that they’re just people. And when someone is a d*ck to me, I tend to tell them that they are being a d*ck. Uniform or no uniform, it’s hard not to. So on that point, I gotta’ empathize with Gates here – because I know for damn sure I’d have been dragged down to the station for mouthing off.

    But, the law unfortunately isn’t on my – or Gates’s – side here. Police officers, by virtue of their very existence, are supposed to command more respect than the average person (for better or worse). Otherwise, why have them at all?

  • Here’s a thought on this from one of my favorite bloggers:


    “When we think about the cops, it’s scary, on one level, to conclude that a cop can basically arrest you on a whim. It’s scarier still to think that this is what Americans want, that this country is as we’ve made it. And then finally it’s even scarier to understand that no president can change that. It’s not why he’s there. He is there to pass health-reform–not make us post-racist, or post-police power, or post-whatever. Only the people can do that. And they don’t seem particularly inclined. Here is what the election of Barack Obama says about race–white people, in general, are willing to hire a black guy for the ultimate job. That’s a big step. But it isn’t any more than what it says.

    I hope Crowley, Gates and Obama get that beer soon. They need to pour out a little something for Shem Walker. We can’t all go to Harvard.”

  • I still fail to see how Ofc. Crowley was being a dick, playing to racist “stereotype”, or really engaging in any improper behavior whatsoever, other than the question as to whether Gates’ behavior met the level of “disturbing the peace”.

    But, by all means, feel free to engage your inner teenager and call police officers every name in the book, if you so desire. I will rejoice in your arrest.

  • We have a neighbor who is in a multi-generational family of drug dealers who we call the police on all the time. There have been over a dozen, yes that’s 12(!) arrests at her address of different Recently she railed against the police for being racists and picking on her family because they’re black.

    They ARE black, but they’re also the most obviously criminal family on the block. When the police did a sweep of teenagers to look for drug dealers there were teenagers who quietly stared at the ground and her son was mouthing off and laughing at the cops and they were focusing their attention on him.

    Their family once terrorized the block and we all lived in fear of them. We stood up to their oppression and we threw off the shackles they tried to bind out hands with. We took back the neighborhood from these creeps and we used the police to do it. They, even though I’m white and they’re black, they oppressed me. I have bullets in the side of my house. I have neighbors too afraid to walk outside at night (this is changing).

    Yet despite how they oppressed me, they are black and I am white.

    If you study the Gates story you’ll see a wealthy, heavily politically-connected Ivy League man berating a working class guy. No one can argue that Gates, as wealthy as he is and friend of the president’s that he didn’t push around some working class regular joe and tell him he would “meet his mama outside.” That is the truth of what happened.

    And then you have the white police officer and black suspect dynamic as well, which has been discussed more.

    Frankly, when I lived in a neighborhood where people obeyed the law then I disliked the police. When I live in a neighborhood where criminals took away all the enjoyment I had in my property, where I was quite literally a prisoner in my own home, where shootings and rapes occurred, then I used the police to liberate myself and my family.

    All the dynamics I wrote are true just as the economy and ethnic dynamics are also true.

    You don’t have freedom of speech to talk about someone’s mother and not expect to deal with it. the only reason Gates thought he could get away with it is because he’s much more privileged than the rest of us in 2009 and is in total denial of it. this case could well be a watershed moment in racial profiling, but I think Gates looks like an idiot here.

  • LeeinDC I heartily agree. Very interesting dynamic particularly because PoP commenters can be so incredibly critical about so much and there is definitely a diverse set of viewpoints on this board.

  • Geezer – I don’t think Crowley was playing to a racist sterotype. What appears he did do is let Gates get to him. He needed to recognize his approach to Gates, who he himself was the lawful resident of the property, to get him to calm down so he could ascertain if he need to search the premises. Instead he let Gates, who should have changed his approach as well, get to him without realizing he was playing directly into Gates rant and personal sterotype of police. As I said both men behaved poorly. They seem both fine people, but unfortunately they are trying to blame each other, rather than accepting responsibility for thier own roles in the sad state of affiars. The adult thing would be to clear the air apologize to each other and let bygones be bygones. Life is too friggin short for this infantile behavior.

  • One main issue that I’ve had with black coworkers on this issue is the concept of black people who are harassed unfairly by the police or store security guards.

    I have been pulled over and harassed by the police, including some horrible situations where they were screaming at me at the top of their lungs, four separate times. One of my coworkers who is black had this happen to him three times. I am white and I had this happen one more time than he did. Why in conversations do African-Americans equate their unfair treatment by the police as a race issue when white people are also picked up and harassed by the police? Is it a situation where the police started something with me and in 3 out of 4 cases I apologized and did everything to diffuse the situation and only “stood up” to the cop when I was 19?

    I can accept that in the 4 cases where I was unfairly chewed out that I diffused the situation and only once did I get frisked and have to sit on the curb. I can say one time the cop yelled and yelled at me that drug dealers wore Hawaiian shirts. What if I was dressed as a gangsta? Would they have harassed me further? I don’t have any way of knowing what it’s like to be black, but please people, do not presume that white people (particularly people who were in bands or live in DC) didn’t get picked up by the police more than you.

    Why do people suggest that there’s a history of police brutality against black people without recognizing a history of police brutality against white people? We know about lynching in the 1920s, but I had a girlfriend whose grandfather lost two Italian brothers to the police breaking up a union march in the 1920s. What possesses people to suggest that white people aren’t harassed by the cops?

  • Geezer- the officer blatantly refused to give his ID/badge number and complete name, which they are required to do if asked. It is clear in the police report that he would only say “Officer Crowley”. If Gates had wanted to file a complaint it would have been nearly impossible to do without at the very least the Officer’s first name. It is probably likely that there are other Officers with the last name Crowley in the Boston Police Department.

    The Officer was clearly agitating him further by not giving him his name and badge number. The officer then proceeded to goad him into going outside so that he could arrest him for disordly conduct by saying he would give him the information if Gates went outside.

    Frankly, the fact that he clearly further agitated Gates by not offering up the information, which he is required to do is in my book being a “dick”.

    It doesn’t mean the Gates wasn’t acting like a child but he did what he was asked to do, which was provide his ID. At that point, the officer should have said, “thank you” and left the scene.

  • by the way, when I talk about the 4 above incidents, those are just the times the police were unfair. I have had interactions with the police where I was guilty and we were all polite and they aren’t the above.

  • does anyone know of similar incidents that happened here in DC?

  • The 1st Amendment applies fully *even* when it’s inconvenient for the government or for the majority of the community.

    Uhhh… not really. sedition, libel/slander, obscenity, etc.

  • Where do people get the idea that belligerence is not a crime. I have definitely seen people arrested for disobeying the police when they’re clearing an area.

  • Prince Of Petworth

    Neener, I think you have to admit the situation is a bit different when you are in your own home, no?

  • Something similar happened in Chicago a few yrs back–a prominent black person was stopped in a traffic incident. He got out of his car, which apparently wasn’t what he was supposed to do. The officer took this action as threat, drew his weapon, fortunately didn’t discharge it, and arrested the man.

    Fortunately, both sides decided to be the better man. The police department with the help of this man held a series of press conferences which were televised for the public to see. The police department explained what an officer expects a citizen to do during a traffic stop (don’t get out of the car unless instructed), when an officer knocks on your door, etc.

    The whole situation reminded officers that no matter the color of your skin or what kind of neighborhood you live in, the majority of citizens do not interact regularly with police officers and thus will find the situation scary and intimidating. And useful information was disseminated to the public.

    The same could happen in the Cambridge situation, but as someone above said, both sides are too busy trying to be the big man on campus.

  • Neener–slander, sedition, etc are not protected by the first amendment. You might want to pick up a copy of the bill of rights (or go visit it, since we are so fortunate to have easy access here in DC). And just because you’ve seen someone get arrested doesn’t mean the arrest is lawful or that they were ever charged or convicted of a crime. Remember innocent until proven guilty.

  • I’m with Cookietime420. The cops should be trained to be sensitive to know that humans will get upset if they are caught off guard and humiliated. it shouldn’t be that big of a deal — like, cop does x, human responds x. what was the guy supposed to do? yessa, nossa?

    the cop should be trained not to take it personally. I mean come on. They guy is at his own home! It sounds like one giant unprofessional nightmare. the police in Cambridge should be deescalating this now by saying that it’s not personal and the guy showed his ID. charges dropped, case closed. but instead the president of the labor union is now insulting the president and on and on.

    Recently I got into an argument with a cop and when I asked for his badge number and name — guess what? he tried to give me a ticket. cops can be jerks.

  • Respective of their positions;

    1) Professor Gates

    2) Officer Crowley

    3) POTUS

    None of these three educated, accomplished men has acted more irresponsibly than number 3.

  • you are really a romantic dreamer of sorts generally in a wonderful way and you are very generous to share your preceptions and observations of the beautiful life with the readers . frankly though i think you are totally, completely nnuts if you think that something like this couldnt hapen to you or someone you know. now that is stupid

  • Pirate – Obama used poor phrasing in a news conference and appologized/clarified/diffused the next day – it’s not like he spent months devising a scheme to start a war with the wrong country or something.

    Neener – true vintage Hawaiin shirts are valuable, hope you still have it!

    – Clearly, only people who don’t like their mothers should be allowed to be cops.

    – Poor Prof. Gates just got off a flight from China for Christ’s sake! Clearly we should be blaming the airline! (Unless he flew first class.)

  • I am well aware of the ebay prices of what I own.

    I’m not totally defending the cop here. Obviously the arrest shouldn’t have been made because Dr. Gates is politically powerful and would retaliate / is retaliating. But I mean, my gosh, the whole arrest has “Do you know who I AM? Do you know who I AM?” written all over it.

    I agree with most that for Barack Obama to forget that he’s the most privileged man in America is mind-numbing. I was floored by his comment like he’s some guy off the street. Chris Rock’s old adage “no white man would trade places with him and he’s rich!” does not apply to Obama, you know?

    I’m in a special position because I have no expectation of privacy and am not in that sense a private citizen. I’m not going to go into more explanation than that. So people asking me if I should be allowed to do something in my own home hasn’t made sense to me in years. Random urine tests and the like, you know?

    I’m just blown away by this idea that it’s all about racism when nothing about this situation reminds me of racism at all.

  • Neener, no one is saying that white people aren’t harassed by the police. But please don’t be one of those people who (for example), when women are talking about rape, start talking about “well what about all those men who are sexually harrassed! Huh? Huh? Huh?” It makes you come across like you think there’s some kind of one-to-one equivalence here, but there’s really not.

    Which is not to discard your point that police harassment happens to all kinds of folks, because that’s clearly true, and you’re right. Which brings me back to my original question, which is, why is that okay? Why do we practically expect such a thing to happen and we’ve come up with all kinds of techniques to prevent ourselves from getting hurt by the people who are supposed to be protecting us? That’s not a race conversation at all.

    I think the answer is that we all WANT it this way. We think it’s okay for the police to rough up a thug or two. Or three. Or a dozen. We turn a blind eye to that. We like it. We make whole TV shows about these kinds of cops. We think that those criminals deserve it, and they’re not us.

    But some day it may be us, in our own home, who knows? Take Gates out of this entirely, if you think Gates was an asshole. What about the mayor of that town in PG county who had the SWAT team break in his house, handcuff him, shoot his dogs dead, all because some package of pot was misdelivered to his house? Did he deserve that? And then what did we have to say then? “That’s different, those cops were rogue.” No, they weren’t rogue. They were doing just what we’ve allowed them to do.

    This is the kind of conversation I think would be worth developing from this incident, but that’s exactly the kind of conversation we’re not going to have, as long as people have this kneejerk reverence for police officers. I respect police officers. I also respect the cashier at Safeway. They’re not kings, and they’re not always right.

  • “this particular officer trains fellow officers in how to to avoid racial profiling. Who better than him than to know about walking away?”

    Wouldn’t that mean taking race into account then? If Gates was disturbing the peace and protocol was to arrest him, then walking away IS racial profiling. The accompanying black and Hispanic police officer both agreed with Crowley that he was properly following protocol by arresting Gates.

    I don’t understand why Obama said that anyone would be understandably upset by this. I would be thankful for a police officer checking up on things.

    Gates, by faking the race card, has actually disrespected the many instances where true racist behavior has been exhibited by white officers in the past, and this is wrong. And yet Gates is the one saying how this is a ‘teaching’ moment. Yeah right, let this be a teaching moment for Gates to not pull the race card falsely. Of course I would never expect a Harvard man to take the blame for anything, ever. They are too smart for that, right?

  • Doug: Obama did not that anyone would be understandably upset at someone checking up on a burglary. I think the people who are really terribly angry at Obama (Christopher, Pirate, Doug) should read his ENTIRE first statement on the matter (the first one) — not just the little excerpts that you may have picked up here and there.

    “Q Thank you, Mr. President. Recently, Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge. What does that incident say to you? And what does it say about race relations in America?

    PRESIDENT OBAMA: Well, I — I should say at the outset that Skip Gates is a friend, so I may be a little biased here.

    I don’t know all the facts. What’s been reported, though, is that the guy forgot his keys, jimmied his way to get into the house; there was a report called into the police station that there might be a burglary taking place.

    So far, so good, right? I mean, if I was trying to jigger into — well, I guess this is my house now, so — (laughter) — it probably wouldn’t happen.

    (Chuckling.) But let’s say my old house in Chicago — (laughter) — here I’d get shot. (Laughter.) But so far, so good. They’re — they’re — they’re reporting. The police are doing what they should. There’s a call. They go investigate. What happens?

    My understanding is, at that point, Professor Gates is already in his house. The police officer comes in. I’m sure there’s some exchange of words. But my understanding is — is that Professor Gates then shows his ID to show that this is his house, and at that point he gets arrested for disorderly conduct, charges which are later dropped.

    Now, I’ve — I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home.

    And number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there is a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcing disproportion ately. That’s just a fact.

    As you know, Lynn, when I was in the state legislature in Illinois, we worked on a racial profiling bill because there was indisputable evidence that blacks and Hispanics were being stopped disproportionately. And that is a sign, an example of how, you know, race remains a factor in the society.

    That doesn’t lessen the incredible progress that has been made. I am standing here as testimony to the progress that’s been made. And yet the fact of the matter is, is that, you know, this still haunts us.

    And even when there are honest misunderstandings, the fact that blacks and Hispanics are picked up more frequently, and oftentime for no cause, casts suspicion even when there is good cause. And that’s why I think the more that we’re working with local law enforcement to improve policing techniques so that we’re eliminating potential bias, the safer everybody’s going to be.”

    I know that’s long, but please read it all and tell me where Obama said that people should be angry at the police investigating a burglary. My reading tells me he is saying the exact opposite. He said that someone would be angry for being arrested for disorderly conduct after proving they already live at the home. He also said that SEPARATE AND APART from this issue, race in America blah blah blah.

    And, I’m also just curious how some folks are so sure that the “race card” has been pulled “falsely.” You may be right! I don’t know. But why are you so SURE of this? All I know is that the officer wrote a police report that, as ALL police reports do, will justify that officer’s actions. That’s nothing new. It’s not even anything wrong, per se. But it’s not proof that the officer was right and that Gates is wrong. It’s just one side of a story.

    If all police reports were 100 percent right, we’d have no need for a judicial system. We’d just arrest people and throw them directly into jail for whatever the police said they did.

    And I also think it’s interesting how people are trying to distinguish between “true racist behavior” and whatever this was between Gates and Crowley. I don’t think this was some horrendous racial incident. Please don’t get me wrong on that. But I think that *some* people, not necessarily you Doug, don’t believe that something is “truly racist” unless crosses are burning and folks are swinging from trees.

  • And, it was the *president* saying that this was a potential “teaching moment,” not Gates. And he’s correct about that. I’m certainly learning a lot. I’m sad about it, but I’m learning.

  • The “in your own home” argument that the media is throwing out there is absolutely ridiculous. People are arrested in their own home ALL THE TIME, does anyone ever watch Cops anymore?

    Gates is obviously an egomaniac and just needed to take a chill pill in that situation. I’m white and it has always been “yes, sir” and “no, sir” for me when I deal with the police regardless of the officer’s race or demeanor. Being polite to the police has gotten me out of a couple of tickets. People should have the right to say what they want to cops, but they should also expect to see their **** ****ed with as a result.

    Gates had the right to be somewhat irritated, sure, but he should have done that on his own time a after the officer left. The officer was investigating a suspicious situation and responding to a call, just trying to do his job. If Gates would have not insulted the officer’s mother, just showed his ID, and explained the situation he would have gotten out of it without a problem. Instead, he decided to create a media frenzy out of this, which is what I think he may have wanted to do.

  • “And, it was the *president* saying that this was a potential “teaching moment,” not Gates.”

    Here is the statement from Gates, “I am pleased that he, too, is eager to use my experience as a teaching moment, and if meeting Sgt. [James] Crowley for a beer with the President will further that end, then I would be happy to oblige.”

    This should be a teaching moment for Obama not to make statements without knowing the facts, (thanks to Gates’ lying), and a teaching moment for Gates not to play the race card falsely.

  • I agree with you Christina. I think a lot of people said things that they believe to be exactly true. One guy I worked with said that I’d never know what it was like to be harassed by the cops solely because of my race. Yet I have harassed by the cops because my car fit a general description of a drug dealer’s car and I’ve been harassed by the cops because I was putting up band flyers at night and I was harassed by the cops because I did a rolling stop (where the cop told me “you white boys got it all figured out”) and I was harassed by the cops when they broke up a loud party I was having.


    where does cop being a jerk end and cop being a racist begin? Why do people suggest that I’ve never had to deal with a rogue cop just because of my race? How would anyone else know?

  • Here’s another thing. I wear a suit and tie to work every day. When I go anywhere after work, from my children’s school to Target to the grocery store invariably once a week an African-American person will ask me a question like I work at the store. Why? Do I look like I work there? Because I’m a white man in a suit and tie? I’ve had two teachers spin around and tell me where the principal’s office is and I was like, “My kids go to school here.” They laughed because they thought I was a police detective. ???!!! I had a woman yell at me years ago where she accused me of being a security guard following her around. ???!!! I’ve basically started shopping west of the park more and more to avoid these kinds of petty slights.

    I’m not trying to say that I have it bad. I’ve only been called Mr Charles or Ofay a few times and never been mugged. The times that people said some really nasty things to my wife, the people who did it were crazy street people, not specifically racist.

    What I have a hard time dealing with is the idea that some of these slights on either side are solely about race. I am pretty sure that if I was 20 years younger, wore jeans and a band t-shirt, no one would think I was a security guard. But I’m not young and I’m easily confused with a store manager in the mind of someone who doesn’t normally see people walking around in a tie.

  • Doug, isn’t it clear from your quote that Gates must be responding to someone else who brought up the “teaching moment” thing? That he’s not the one who initated that phraseology?

    I don’t feel like we’re communicating well. But, I get your major point: you think that Gates is lying, full stop, no other way to look at it. I guess there’s not much more I can say to that. We disagree.


    “What I have a hard time dealing with is the idea that some of these slights on either side are solely about race.”

    I understand where you’re coming from. But what I see, from my perspective, is people arguing that it ABSOLUTELY IS NOT about race, and that’s where I would say, how do you know? Something can be about class, and ego, AND about race. Arguing (correctly, in my opinion) that class and ego drove part of this confrontation does not mean therefore that race is out of the picture as a factor. If you have one, you can’t have the other? I don’t believe that. Life is complicated.

    It sounds like race had to do with one of your run-ins, if someone told you “you think you white boys had it all figured out.” I’m assuming that came from a black copy? Minorities are not immune to perpetuating bigotry. I don’t think that’s acceptable, but that goes back to the question I keep asking, which hasn’t really been addressed: which is why do we think it’s okay that we have to tiptoe around cops or risk being arrested? That has nothing to do with race at all.

    As for Gates-gate: we weren’t there. I don’t know. Judging by what both men have said, I just think “wow, that should not have happened.”

  • fair enough. Class, ego and race I can live with. just race I can’t live with.

    I have too many memories of the guys on the corner with baggie pants and Lil Jon hat n braid combos complaining about racist cops when my first reaction to them is how they’re dressed!

  • “you think that Gates is lying, full stop, no other way to look at it. I guess there’s not much more I can say to that. We disagree.”

    Well, considering that there was both a black and hispanic officer backing up what happened, I don’t see how you can ‘disagree’ without looking foolish. That’s ok, I get it. Maybe it’s a class thing, and you just agree with anything a rich, powerful Harvard professor says.

  • You’re going to have to tell me exactly where I said I agree with everything Gates said and did, Doug. Please don’t put words in my mouth.

  • Christina, I always appreciate your thoughtful commentary on POP issues.

  • You wrote, “But, I get your major point: you think that Gates is lying, full stop, no other way to look at it. I guess there’s not much more I can say to that. We disagree.” One would therefore assume that since you disagree with my assessment, then you think that he is not lying. I never wrote anything about you agreeing with what he did. That’s not the issue here as almost everyone agrees he shouldn’t have done what he did.

  • Doug, I’ve tried to type a response a couple of times now but, I keep erasing it because I figure, what’s the point? I don’t think that you’re really interested engaging me on this, because I’ve said a lot that hasn’t really gotten any response at all.

    So, you got me! You win. I surrender completely. Enjoy boxing with that straw man.

    And Neener, thanks.

  • To my white friends on this blog:

    I feel like you guys cannot see this from the perspective of a black man, and only then can you understand why Dr. Gates’ reaction is just, and why the officer needs to apologize.

    As a black man who has been racially profiled more than once, I can tell you it is one of the worst and lowest experiences you will ever have. I see some of you describing situations in which the police were rude to you or someone assumed you were XYZ just because you were dressed a certain way and you were white. I have had those experiences too; it is not even remotely close to being racially profiled. Humans judge each other based on stereotypes and indicators, it’s just what we do and I think it’s pretty rational. I really don’t like it when people assume I work in a store just because I’m black, but most black people get slightly offended and let it go.

    I also see some of you describing this as a class issue and/or saying that Mr. Gates was wrong for disrespecting a police officer. With all due respect, I have seen how police treat all types of white people, and I have yet to see a white person be racially profiled. I have had cops pull me over for completely legitimate reasons and been completely disrespectful to me. I have had situations where cops come over and investigate a situation and done so in courteous and respectful manner, even though they indicated that they thought I might have done something wrong. I have had cops pull me over when I clearly violated the law, and let me go with a warning. These are all normal things that ANYBODY of any race will encounter with the police. I can tell you wholeheartedly, none of these situations represent racial profiling. I’m not going to give the full details of my FIRST experience of being racially profiled but it happened like this:

    I was 22, and had just bought a used BMW so I thought I was hot shit. I admittedly was not well dressed and young so I probably don’t fit the stereotype of a guy buying a new BMW (still had temp tags). I’m driving straight, I’m following the speed limit, I have not made any moving violation. Capital police pull me over, I don’t understand why, but its not my first time being pulled over so I know how to handle myself in that situation. Police calls for backup and two additional cars come over. Officer asks for license and registration which I give him, without any form of disrespect. Officer passes info to other officer so he can due their normal due diligence. Officer begins to make small talk as if he is a friend, then starts asking some slightly offensive questions which clearly indicate that he believes the car isn’t mine. Where did you buy the car? How much did you pay for it? How many miles does it have? Wow you are really young to afford a car as nice as this. . . Where do you work? How much do you make?

    Your first thought is, he is just doing his job, no big deal. Then he keeps questioning you and switches with another officer so they can do the good cop bad cop thing. The second officer walks around the car and starts shining a flashlight through all of your windows looking for any type of clue that the car has forced entry. 45 minutes go by . . . you start to question the police officers motives. I know I look like a bum, but why did he pull me over? He never said what it is that I did wrong. Why did he call for back-up? I didn’t do or say anything that threatened him. I have been pulled over before and I have never had a police officer call for back-up. Why is this taking so long, I showed them a GOVERNMENT ISSUED identification proving that I am who I say I am, and that this car is registered to me. I have the keys, there are no signs of forced entry. Why are they STILL investigating?

    Then it hits you. The police have already made up their mind that you are a criminal. There is no amount of evidence that you can show them that will prove you are innocent. They have made a judgment about you maybe in part it was due to your clothes, your age, or something else, but you know that part of the judgment had to do with the fact that you are black. You think to yourself: I come from a good family, I’m well educated, I have a great job that pays well, I am a responsible citizen, I pay my taxes and that pays for your salary!!

    You want to say something to demonstrate that you are a good person, but you realize there is nothing you can say to this person to make them change their mind. All of your life’s accomplishments have been completely stripped away, you are no different than a common thief. You realize that this person, this representative of the law who has deemed you as a criminal, now has complete control over your freedom and could possible arrest you (rightly or wrongly) as if you were in a communist country.

    You are about to go to jail because you are black, and there is nobody who can save you. It’s the most humbling feeling you will ever have. I have been pulled over for speeding 3 times in the middle of nowhere in South Carolina by the most hillbilly-racist-looking cops you will ever see and still to this day I have never felt fear like I did when I was racially profiled.

    Read Mr. Gates’ interpretation of what happened. This is a clear case of being racially profiled, and Sgt Crowley should apologize.


  • @faster,stronger: Disorderly conduct charges require that the conduct be exhibited in public. You may be apprehended later in your home, or you may be arrested in your home for other behavior that is criminal regardless of location.

    It seems Doug arguing with himself at this point.

  • My take-away lesson here is not about race at all. It’s that, in America, free speech and rule-of-law be damned: “mouthing off” to a cop is a de facto crime you can and will be arrested for, and not even the President of the United States can stand up to the cops’ bullying behavior.

    Yeah, there are some really good cops. And then there’s the other 90% that are in it for the sheer power trip.

  • Christina, I’m quoting your words directly to show exactly how you don’t make sense. It’s plain for all to see, and that’s ok.

    As for Just J, there are plenty of instances where officers engage in inappropriate racial profiling, however Gates’ case is not one of them, and in fact he is doing a disservice to the real ones that happen possibly so he can get some some street cred in the black community, make some more documentaries etc. What do you expect from a Harvard professor with delusions of grandeur?

  • Yep. I’m the one not making sense.

    Have you even read a thing I’ve posted in this thread? If the “gotcha” moment is that you want me to admit that I don’t think Gates is lying, then yes, you have indeed got me, Doug. As I’ve already said a dozen or so times, I wasn’t there. I don’t actually think either man is lying, because I don’t know. I think that they have different perceptions of how a fast-moving, heated situation went down. It’s very important to you to believe that Gates is lying, but you weren’t there either. Saying that a black and Hispanic officer agree with Crowley isn’t exactly a mind-blower or “proof” of anything, because (news flash!) it’s not like all members of any given minority group agree on everything.

    But, let’s just say you’re right. You have the power to tell truth from lies by reading a police report and media accounts and you KNOW that Gates is lying. Determining the truth of this situation was never my point in participating in this thread, so you’re arguing with someone else’s points, not mine.

    What we know for *sure* happened is that a police officer arrested a guy because he doesn’t like the way that guy was talking to him. That’s the part that troubles me, and that’s the part that I have been laboring to get across in this thread, while you keep dragging it back to racial profiling, just like you claim Gates is doing, whom it seems like you despise. (Did you get kicked out of Harvard or something?) Take any racial profiling out of it. Is it all right for a police officer to arrest a person, absent any other physical threat or proof of crime occurring, for being a loudmouth?

    What I’ve been trying to say is we need to think about why we’re at that place, and it worries me. Of course police officers are worthy of respect, they have a damn difficult job. But there’s more than a few incidents I’ve heard about where it seems like there’s more going on than just trying to keep the peace. Neener listed a bunch just on his own.

    If you want to believe that it could never happen to you, I just hope that you are right.

  • Here’s a shotgun response to a lot of comments here:

    A) Obama’s a moron for speaking about something he hadn’t witnessed and I’m sure once his people got a hold of the police report that when he started to backpedal. And he’s also an asshole for not apologizing to Sgt. Crowley. And don’t start with “he did apologize!” because he didn’t.

    B) If you read the police report, it’s extensive and more professionally written then most arrest paperwork narratives I’ve read. He lays out the elements of a disorderly charge in the narrative, which in MA must include exhibiting ‘loud in tumultuous behavior’ to the ‘surprise and alarm’ of passersby. Considering that berating an officer doing his job your front porch in the middle of an investigation with seven witnesses would pretty clearly constitute disorderly conduct. Sgt. Crowley even gave Gates two separate chances to go back inside and avoid the arrest and he didn’t.

    C) In general, don’t berate or argue with the police because you’re going to lose that argument every time, whether or not you get arrested. The smartest thing to do is just answer questions simply, get their name/badge/car and then, if necessary, file a complaint.

    D) Lots of things cops do that puzzle civilians are done for a reason. Backup for a traffic stop? That’s because traffic stops are some of the most dangerous situations police face and we’re trained to be constantly on guard during situations like that because they can go south very, very quickly. Speaking to you in a loud and perceivably rude manner? That’s the standard police voice that people get because we want to speak with authority, convey directives clearly and speak as simply as possible. Traffic stop taking too long? That could be because procedure takes a while, or they’re simply trying to CYA. You can get your ass handed to you administratively if you pull someone over and let them gun and subsequently you find out that the car is stolen, that they were wanted on a felony, etc. Just because an officer’s actions don’t make sense to you doesn’t mean that they’re wrong or incorrect. They make sense to us, and that’s what matters.

    E) The Gates situation has, from everything I’ve read, has no elements of racial overtones. All the situation is an an old, entitled bigot looking for a fight with an officer just doing their job.

    F) If you truly have a hardon for the police, just don’t answer any of their questions and ask “Am I being stopped/detained?” and “Am I free to go?” and just keep on walking (in a calm manner). Unless they have reasonable suspicion that they can articulate, the answer most times will be no.

  • edit:
    Unless they have reasonable suspicion that they can articulate, the answer most times will be YES you can go.

  • First, thank you for POP for noticing what I thought was the most interesting aspect of this case. I will also note that the neighbor called the description in as “two black men with backpacks.” That may have been what she saw, but I would suggest that she chose to see that because she came into that incident with a predisposed notion of what criminals look like. Did a prominent Harvard professor and his driver coming back from a trip really look like “two black men with backpacks?” I don’t blame the cop so much as the neighbor. If someone else had called this in it could have had a different description and could have gone very differently.

    On another note, Boomhauer, you didn’t seem to say upfront that you were a cop yourself, but you revealed it by using “we” when talking about how you talk to people. I have dealt with cops in my day that don’t feel the need to yell. Second, I thought there was an interesting freudian slip in your comments. You said, “if you pull someone over and let them ‘gun’ and subsequently you find the car is stolen.” I find that a lot of cops have gun, and hence, like to feel that they are more powerful.

    Aside from the neighbor, I think the real issue here wasn’t race as much as it was two guys who wanted to feel like they had the upper hand and would not budge. It was more of a pissing contest between a hotheaded professor with a chip on his shoulder about race and a cop who wasn’t going to have some rich guy make him look stupid in front of witnesses.

  • “What we know for *sure* happened is that a police officer arrested a guy because he doesn’t like the way that guy was talking to him.”

    That guy, was not “talking” to him, he was yelling at him, cursing him in the crudest fashion. Gates never mentioned that in his initial description of the issue. I wonder why? Be that as it may, he was arrested for “disorderly conduct”, and according to the accompanying police officers, who were minorities, not that that matters, it was properly executed. It seems to me that there is no real issue here apart from it happening to a powerful person who knows the president, lied to him, which caused Obama to take the Cambridge police department to task, incorrectly it turns out, and for which he subsequently apologized for, at least as much as a politician could do so.

  • Interestingly, they are saying this morning that the 911 caller never mentioned race in the call. She initially said she couldn’t identify their race because she only saw their backs. After the dispatcher spoke with her a little longer she said maybe they were Hispanic.

    However, the police report says “2 black men with backpacks” and the police commissioner said that it included other information gathered at the scene not just the 911 call.

    Something sounds fishy to me…..

  • I thought the same thing.
    Also, I know this kind of thing can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of race and class. Not that I want to come down on one side or the other, but the “culture” of the police is something to consider. Also, to balance that remark, I think that the general public do not appreciate that the police do not know that you’re a good guy when someone has reported you as committing a crime. You shouldn’t have to prove that you are not a criminal, but on the other hand for all the policeman knows you are armed and dangerous–at that moment especially to him(her).

  • I think JustJ’s piece is the most eye-opening. If it’s all 100% true then it’s the strongest example of profiling that I’ve heard. When I talk about getting yelled at by the cops, trust me, my black friends from college and my black coworkers have never told me a story as obvious as JustJ’s. I much more hear about stories that they’re followed by security guards (happened to me too) or pulled over for no reason (me too) or the police start that “what do we have here?” routine (me too).

    other times my friends’ stories go like, “They want you to call them ‘sir and I’m like F that.” uhhh… why not just call them “sir” and be done with it?

    But JustJ’s case of DWB is pretty obvious as long as he wasn’t speeding.

  • There’s a difference between “defuse” and “diffuse.”

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