Skip Gates arrested

by Henry on July 20, 2009

The Boston Globe

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., one of the nation’s pre-eminent African-American scholars, was arrested Thursday afternoon at his home by Cambridge police investigating a possible break-in. The incident raised concerns among some Harvard faculty that Gates was a victim of racial profiling. Police arrived at Gates’s Ware Street home near Harvard Square at 12:44 p.m. to question him. Gates, director of the W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard, had trouble unlocking his door after it became jammed.He was booked for disorderly conduct after “exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior,” according to a police report. Gates accused the investigating officer of being a racist and told him he had “no idea who he was messing with,’’ the report said.
… Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification. That incident was among several that ignited criticism from black students and faculty, highlighting the prejudices that many black students say they continue to face at Harvard.

{ 140 comments }

1

Barry 07.20.09 at 9:44 pm

My bet – ‘difficulty opening door’ = ‘drunk’. Then when the police came, he told them to f*ck off.

2

Walt 07.20.09 at 9:48 pm

As well he should.

3

mart 07.20.09 at 9:48 pm

He refused to hand over Teh Whitey Tape?

4

Anderson 07.20.09 at 9:56 pm

“Disorderly conduct” = “pissing off a cop,” I believe.

Wow. Just amazing. As is the fact that Gates is only 58.

5

belle le triste 07.20.09 at 9:59 pm

is “tumultuous behaviour” a technical charge or poetry?

6

snarkfree 07.20.09 at 10:11 pm

If there was racial profiling involved, it must have been by the neighbor who called it in, not by the police. It’s not like it was a random stop.

7

Salient 07.20.09 at 10:13 pm

My bet – ‘difficulty opening door’ = ‘drunk’.

At 1:00 in the afternoon?

Here’s hoping the comments here at CT don’t come to resemble anything approaching most of the reader responses on that Globe article, which are soul-crushingly unbelievable… even if many of them are insincerely provocative for the sake of getting a rise out of other readers…

But hey! I was just reading a 1994 study by S.A. Counter (on responsiveness to cochlear implants), and I remember reading some of his papers on the specific effects of lead and mercury poisoning during some kind of debate on CT about testing for lead in toys. Small world.

8

Thomas Pynchon (via Salient) 07.20.09 at 10:19 pm

is “tumultuous behaviour” a technical charge or poetry?

Ten Eyck flapped a warrant. “All you folks are under arrest,” he said…

“What charge,” people started yelling.

Ten Eyck’s timing was good. He waited a few heartbeats. “Disturbing the peace will do,” he said.

V. p. 393

9

Salient 07.20.09 at 10:21 pm

Your comment is awaiting moderation.

Hrm. I hope the “via” thing gets around the law against sockpuppetry both in letter and in spirit, since it’s a quote. If not, my apologies.

10

Salient 07.20.09 at 10:25 pm

is “tumultuous behaviour” a technical charge or poetry?

Ten Eyck flapped a warrant. “All you folks are under arrest,” he said…

“What charge,” people started yelling.

Ten Eyck’s timing was good. He waited a few heartbeats. “Disturbing the peace will do,” he said.

–Thomas Pynchon, V., p. 393

11

Aaron Swartz 07.20.09 at 10:28 pm

This is outrageous — even from the one-sided arrest report, it’s clear the police were being incredibly offensive. Anyone organizing some kind of protest?

12

Ex-PD 07.20.09 at 10:36 pm

Via TheAwl.com, the pdf of the police report is here: http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/CANON8AA683_LNOTESMAIL_07202009-153909.PDF

As a defense attorney, these charges will be dropped before arraignment. Ridiculous.

13

eric 07.20.09 at 10:43 pm

Holy crap, Salient isn’t kidding about the comments to the Globe story. I only skimmed a few, but they made me sick to my stomach.

14

David 07.20.09 at 11:22 pm

Effete easterners, those people commenting at the Globe. I skimmed the first 15 or so. Sad to say, by that far into it the Seattle PI or Times web articles would have had far more virulent comments denouncing Gates and singing the praise of the police.

15

partisan 07.20.09 at 11:37 pm

Is nobody going to say anything about the death of Leszek Kolakowski? You would think that would be some acknowledgment of it. After all, Kolakowski actually wrote the book that Isaiah Berlin never got around to doing. And after all facing all sorts of dangerous radicals in the sixties and seventies middlebrow minds (I’m thinking of you Clive James) could be relieved they never had to take Marx or Marxians seriously because the heroic Pole had dispatched them. You would think at least that a small orgy of self-congratulation would be in order. But so far only Christopher Hitchens and Roger Kimball have commented on it. Kimball’s praise means nothing: he just described Walter Cronkite as a liberal hack because Cronkite was distraught about JFK’s assassination and was outraged by Watergate. Hitchens’ wasn’t much better, making Kolakowski appear somewhat less Catholic than I remember him, and quoting a gibe at the student left as if Hitchens wasn’t that at the time. But then you know Hitchens: movements and struggles exist only to glorify his reputation. And if he can get more glory by sneering at them, even better.

16

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 12:16 am

It’s a crime to open the door to your own house? Even by racist asshole cop standards that’s a good one.

17

minneapolitan 07.21.09 at 12:23 am

The moral of this story is that if the cop tries to trick you into coming outside, you should just sit down in your own house, where a disorderly conduct charge will be harder to support.

Note that it was the police officer who initially refused to provide his identification.

18

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 12:23 am

P.S. A sociologist ought to study why newspaper comment threads attract that sort of person. The Plain Dealer has a similar infestation.

19

lemuel pitkin 07.21.09 at 12:38 am

One thing about this story — it’s got to raise your opinion of Gates.

Practical wisdom says to be polite and deferential to the cops, no matter how egregious their behavior — especially if you’re a black man.Good on Gates for not letting this slide. The world would be a better place if more racist motherf*ckers got called that to their face.

20

Salient 07.21.09 at 12:44 am

One thing about this story—it’s got to raise your opinion of Gates.

I think I agree with you, but I’m not quite sure what you mean by “raise” here — is there some past event I’m forgetting, which might cause me to not already hold him in high esteem?

21

lemuel pitkin 07.21.09 at 12:47 am

is there some past event I’m forgetting, which might cause me to not already hold him in high esteem?

No, it’s just that this isn’t the sort of gutsiness you expect from middle-aged tenured professors.

22

trotsky 07.21.09 at 12:50 am

If you get a call about a break-in in progress and go to the house and see someone there, exactly how is it racist to ask that person for their ID to verify that he is in fact the owner he claims to be?

23

Nick 07.21.09 at 12:52 am

The police responded to a call about a possible burglary. ( Had it been a real one, and had they not responded, Gates would be complaining about that.) They had every right under the circumstances to ask the person in the home for identification. What happened from that point on is what light must be shed on, but it’s entirely conceivable that Mr. Gates took a “how dare you” attitude with a cop who was just doing his job, and behaved in a manner that he himself would have taken umbrage with, had such behavior been displayed by the officer towards him. Some here have commented on Globe articles “defending” the cops and castigating Prof. Gates. On this blog, we see just the opposite. “It must be racism!” “Of course it is!” “Typical cops!” Well a closed mind is a closed mind. Making assumptions about people based on race is wrong, and so is making assumptions about police officers and treating those assumptions as “truth”.

24

Peter 07.21.09 at 12:56 am

I smell a lawsuit against the Cambridge P.D.

And the woman who called the cops had better hope she doesn’t have too many assets in her name.

25

Shawn Crowley 07.21.09 at 12:57 am

First of all, I must express my regret that someone named Crowley was involved. Second, I agree with Ex-PD’s assessment. I don’t know the elements of the statue involved but I can’t see how any crime could be charged. Being loud, or even abusive, to police in these circumstances is not a crime. The cops, by their own report, had no evidence that Gates was unlawfully in the home or that any crime had been committed. No crime having been committed, there was no longer any basis for further investigation or action. Some states have “obstruction” laws which make it an offense to “hinder or delay” an officer in his/her official duties. But this requires the predicate of an ongoing official duty.

But I am surprised that a 58-year old black man of Gates’ sophistication would engage in the described actions (if he did). Yelling or being threatening (even legally, as in “I’ll have you fired” ) with cops is a poor tactic if the goal is to go about your business without being arrested, beaten, or worse. Yes, we should all be able to engage in legal conduct without fear of arrest but then there are the realities to consider.

Trying to pull rank/status on police is a bad tactic as well. Most cops come from traditional working-class backgrounds and having someone imply that they deserve special consideration by way of employment, family connections etc. is likely to piss the cop off.

Chris Rock did a short video on how to interact with police and not get your ass beat. Funny and valuable no matter your race.

26

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 1:00 am

If you get a call about a break-in in progress and go to the house and see someone there, exactly how is it racist to ask that person for their ID to verify that he is in fact the owner he claims to be?

There we go. I knew we’d have some knob who believes whatever a cop writes in his report is true (hint- they should ALWAYS be assumed to be exercises in self-justification, not objective accounts- especially when they concern a trumped-up aggravated mopery charge.)

Remember this is a VICTIM of a breakin being harassed in his own fucking house by a whole passel of cops who are too inept to catch the actual burglar. I’d be furious too. Sadly, though, I wouldn’t be as gutsy as Gates.

27

Bloix 07.21.09 at 1:07 am

#22 – this is going to a multi-million dollar lawsuit. Gates told the cop so – that’s what the “you have no idea” line means. The interesting question is, will Gates settle it, or will he unleash a couple of dozen Harvard law students to rip the Cambridge PD a new one?

28

trotsky 07.21.09 at 1:08 am

Well I guess if you believe that the police are always liars, then you have granted yourself license to believe they are racists too.

You have, however, no evidence to that effect in this case other than your own preconceived notions, so why is your argument supposed to hold any water?

29

Salient 07.21.09 at 1:10 am

Yelling or being threatening (even legally, as in “I’ll have you fired” ) with cops is a poor tactic if the goal is to go about your business without being arrested, beaten, or worse.

Maybe that was not his goal, though.

Yes, we should all be able to engage in legal conduct without fear of arrest but

But? Gates found himself subjected to what’s pretty clearly inappropriate treatment, and it seems he was aware of the extent of his rights and exercised them. He was/is in a sufficiently privileged position to ensure he will have access to legal council and (one anticipates) remunerative justice.

Frankly, it seems like Gates took quite a personal risk in the name of demanding one’s rights. As with lemuel, I admire Gates for taking that risk. Frankly, I am greatly relieved to know that he was not tasered.

having someone imply that they deserve special consideration

I’d call it “having someone imply they have the resources to challenge inappropriate treatment with a lawsuit,” as I have no reason to think Gates wanted any special considerations above and beyond what all residents are legally entitled to.

30

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 1:12 am

Also- if you mistake the owner of a house that was broken into for the burglar, and he presents ID proving that he belongs there, and you are a cop who has any fucking business being on the street, you don’t call for backup (i.e. for your buddies who will corroborate your bullshit account of the situation) to “protect” you from a middle-aged guy with a limp – you APOLOGIZE to the man and then leave and go about your job.

31

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 1:15 am

You have, however, no evidence to that effect in this case other than your own preconceived notions, so why is your argument supposed to hold any water?

I work with cops on a daily basis- the good kind (many if not most) and this kind (unfortunately not rare) and I have read many hundreds of police reports. I know how they think and what their procedures are. From what knowledge does YOUR smug presumption of superior wisdom stem?

32

Shawn Crowley 07.21.09 at 1:23 am

Salient, I agree with your sentiments but I did qualify my remarks with “if your goal is to go about your business without being arrested, beaten, or worse.” I am aware of numerous cases where innocent individuals were killed simply because they they failed to obey a police command quickly enough. In all of these cases the police were not sanctioned in any manner. A few resulted in civil settlements prior to trial without the police or city admitting wrong-doing. The settlement for one elderly black man, shot to death in his own home for not dropping a TV remote, was under $100K.

I am all in favor of people fighting for their rights and not kissing police ass. But you should be aware that it might be your survivors bringing the lawsuit.

33

trotsky 07.21.09 at 1:28 am

I don’t know anything except what I’ve read via Boston.com. Maybe the cop’s lying. But you yourself say many if not most cops are the good kind. And the report makes Gates sound like an arrogant piece of work — maybe he was just having a bad day — who started senselessly berating the cop well before he identified himself.

Cops have been jerks to me, but that was just because I was mouthy young white guy. My minor troubles were neither newsworthy nor a civil-rights cause.

34

Substance McGravitas 07.21.09 at 1:29 am

maybe he was just having a bad day

Not illegal.

35

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 1:35 am

And the report makes Gates sound like an arrogant piece of work—maybe he was just having a bad day—who started senselessly berating the cop well before he identified himself.

Again, there is no reason to assume that the report is truthful. Once the idiot called for backup the report was guaranteed to be an elaborate exercise in self-justification. The copper knew he’d stepped in it.

And the report makes Gates sound like an arrogant piece of work

Yeah, it’s so arrogant to be pissed when the police have more time to harass you (because your stupid fucking neighbor thinks they all look the same) than to catch the thief who broke into your house (thereby creating the very difficulty in opening the door that started the whole incident). Such nerve.

36

lemuel pitkin 07.21.09 at 1:35 am

Yelling or being threatening (even legally, as in “I’ll have you fired” ) with cops is a poor tactic if the goal is to go about your business without being arrested, beaten, or worse. Yes, we should all be able to engage in legal conduct without fear of arrest but then there are the realities to consider.

Sure, no one is disputing that. And if someone holds you up at gunpoint, the smart thing to do is to give them whatever they want. If instead you act like this guy, you’re not being smart at all — you’re a hero. Same deal here.

However the lawsuit plays out, I reckon the ability of black men to go about their business in Cambridge without police harassment has just materially improved.

37

Daniel 07.21.09 at 1:56 am

Salient,
>>Here’s hoping the comments here at CT don’t come to resemble anything approaching most of the reader responses on that Globe article, which are soul-crushingly unbelievable… even if many of them are insincerely provocative for the sake of getting a rise out of other readers…

Give it a break. Your liberal conscience has the made of stronger stuff, no? The comments are temperate, if skeptical.

Damn, if I were jimmying open my door at mid-day I would want the police to stop and question me. And I would thank my neighbor for alerting the police too. And yes, where I live, white men are stopped all the time for suspicious behavior.

38

Daniel 07.21.09 at 1:57 am

Salient,
>>Here’s hoping the comments here at CT don’t come to resemble anything approaching most of the reader responses on that Globe article, which are soul-crushingly unbelievable… even if many of them are insincerely provocative for the sake of getting a rise out of other readers…

Give it a break. Your liberal conscience is made of stronger stuff, no? The comments are temperate, if skeptical.

Damn, if I were jimmying open my door at mid-day I would want the police to stop and question me. And I would thank my neighbor for alerting the police too. And yes, where I live, white men are stopped all the time for suspicious behavior.

39

David 07.21.09 at 2:10 am

Yes, and your literary namesake was a hero and we all know how well that worked out for him. One limb at a time. Exception that proves the rule. And in the case at hand in Boston, an awfully thin (Blue) line between “hero” and martyr. And please, I am not excusing the cops.

40

StevenAttewell 07.21.09 at 2:29 am

Wow. That cop and the department is in trouble.

I can’t wait until he gets asked on the stand, “and when my client opened the door with his keys, why did you think that he might be two black men with backpacks?”

41

DN 07.21.09 at 2:38 am

I grew up with cops around on a regular basis. Assuming they are racist is an intelligence test. No means you’re stupid. I remember my brother coming home after a LA cop beatdown because he was driving while white with black people in the car. I wonder what sort of neighborhood the Trotsker in comments above grew up in? Almost nobody growing up in a poor, non-white neighborhood sees police the same way he does.

A man in his own house owes the police shit. The cop quickly understood he was a resident. He should have said sorry and left without anything more, except giving his own ID.

DN

42

Michael Bérubé 07.21.09 at 2:55 am

Here’s hoping the comments here at CT don’t come to resemble anything approaching most of the reader responses on that Globe article, which are soul-crushingly unbelievable.

Check out the comments at the Huffington Post. Soul. Utterly. Crushed.

I thought Obama’s election proved that racism was killed dead.

43

Billikin 07.21.09 at 2:59 am

There is a lot to comment on in Officer Crowley’s report, but this is one of my favorite statements:

“”I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case.”

Taking out his handcuffs was very calming, wasn’t it? ;)

44

Walt 07.21.09 at 3:08 am

Not only has racism been killed dead, but the word “racism” itself has been retired, except when modified by “reverse”.

45

engels 07.21.09 at 3:11 am

I have no doubt there is racism involved in the blog comments, but there’s probably something more general as well: as a rule, if someone posts on a widely read web site about some experience in which he or she has clearly been victimised, this invariably attracts a flurry of angry and sometimes abusive responses pointing out that he or she brought it all on his/her self, that s/he acted in a stupid way, that other people suffer worse things every day and don’t complain, that the people who hurt her/him did a great job and deserve to be thanked, etc, etc…

46

Nick Caldwell 07.21.09 at 4:11 am

Engels, yes — and the greater the outrage, the louder the insecurity management in response. They had it coming; it could never happen to me because I’m smart.

47

Michael Bérubé 07.21.09 at 5:19 am

the word “racism” itself has been retired, except when modified by “reverse”

Fair enough. I blame Maria Sonia Sotomayor.

48

derrida derider 07.21.09 at 6:16 am

A little OT, but what sort of neighbourhood does Gates live in when his neighbour doesn’t even recognise him in broad daylight?

49

dsquared 07.21.09 at 6:46 am

Yelling or being threatening (even legally, as in “I’ll have you fired” ) with cops is a poor tactic if the goal is to go about your business without being arrested, beaten, or worse.

well, hassling university professors in their own houses and calling for backup even after they’ve been kind enough to warn you who they are, is a poor tactic if your goal is to go about being a cop without being fired and sued. Perhaps Chris Rock should do a little stand-up routine for police officers about how to behave if they don’t want to get sued and fired.

50

John 07.21.09 at 7:01 am

A standard police procedure when responding to a 911 call reporting a break-in and finding the resident in the home is to request to speak to said resident outside of said home, to minimize the possibility that the resident is under any hidden duress. It also reduces the risk that the officer and resident will be surprised by any intruders that the resident is not aware of.

51

Shawn Crowley 07.21.09 at 7:11 am

D2: But that’s the problem, in most cases the cops win the civil suit and are not fired. Juries side with police in the vast majority of cases even when there is video evidence that seems damning. It may well be that Prof. Gates’ status will trump the usual excuses for police misconduct.

If my earlier comment has been taken as blaming Gates (it remains to be seen if he did anything like what is described in the police report) that was not my intention. I am concerned that some posters seem to think that getting into conflict with armed police is something to be done lightly or that the law favors citizens asserting their rights. It varies from state to state but here in Washington there is no right to resist even an unlawful arrest unless you can show that you were at risk of severe bodily harm from the police. (And good luck with that.) Fight back and at a minimum you will be charged with felony assault on the police who unlawfully arrested you.

But if anyone wants to become a martyr to police violence, more power to him or her.

52

sg 07.21.09 at 7:40 am

This is hilarious on the back of a post just 2 days ago in which the relative personal qualities of the police were under dispute.

53

bad Jim 07.21.09 at 9:00 am

A few years ago in Southern California the police killed a business owner who was unexpectedly spending the night at work and walking around at 2 am. This resonated with me because my father used to split his nights between the workplace with his girlfriend and home with his wife, and also because I too used to spend excessive amounts of time at the factory, perhaps less satisfactorily, and one Sunday afternoon surprised a sheriff’s deputy by opening the door just as he reached for it. He exclaimed, “Don’t do that! I might shoot you!” even though he hadn’t drawn his gun. Cops even frighten themselves.

Gates had every right to act as he did, and may have felt a responsibility as a professor and a public intellectual to exercise and so demonstrate his, and our, civil liberties.

54

jake 07.21.09 at 9:21 am

Lefkowitz-Martin revisited, anyone?

55

ajay 07.21.09 at 9:43 am

Having read both sides of the story, I think at least the neighbour should be excused blame: she saw two unfamiliar men (Gates and his driver) arrive at his house in the middle of the day, try and fail to force the door, and then disappear round the back of the house, so she called the police because she thought there was a burglary going on. Fair enough. (Especially as there had been one break-in at Gates’ house already in the recent past.)

(I can’t help feeling that, if she and her next-door neighbour had ever bothered to introduce themselves to each other, this whole thing would have been avoided – “oh, hi, Professor Gates, you’re back early, how was China?”)

30, 35, 49: it’s fairly clear that the cop never called for backup, before meeting Gates or after. Read it again.

Being loud, or even abusive, to police in these circumstances is not a crime.

Actually, yes: disorderly conduct, even swearing in public, can be a crime.

56

sls 07.21.09 at 10:27 am

The ‘neighbor’ doesn’t live there. That building belongs to “Harvard Magazine,” and the woman who called is an employee.

57

dsquared 07.21.09 at 10:38 am

yes, looks like you’re right on that one. I still think the cop should be fired and sued anyway. Ideally I’d like a situation where these kind of stories generate 100 comments saying “WHAT WAS THAT GUY THINKING!!!! everybody knows that sixty-year old disabled black professors are hair-trigger litigious nuts!!! maybe the cop was in the right or maybe not, but sheesh, a little bit of courtesy could have saved him from losing his job and pension!!! didn’t he learn this shit in high school?????”.

58

ajay 07.21.09 at 11:27 am

I still think the cop should be fired and sued anyway.

I think we should take the financial sector approach and keep the cop on, because only he has the expertise needed to solve this situation. In order to persuade him to stay, it may also be necessary to pay him a $300,000 bonus – otherwise he might just leave and take his skills elsewhere.

59

Paul 07.21.09 at 11:44 am

We assume (some of us) that the cop is in the wrong…Perhaps Henry Louis Gates was in the wrong…It sounds to me like a situation that got out of hand and escalated…I know who Gates is – a citizen like any other…The fact that he teaches at Harvard is immaterial in this situation…Cop bashers eat this stuff up…If the cop was in the wrong then action should be taken against him, but let the legal system decide before you make a rush to judgement ! …

60

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 12:12 pm

We assume (some of us) that the cop is in the wrong…Perhaps Henry Louis Gates was in the wrong…It sounds to me like a situation that got out of hand and escalated

And we know exactly WHEN it escalated. It escalated the moment the cop found out he was talking to the rightful occupant of the house yet DIDN’T back off, apologize, and GO AWAY. Period. The moment he failed to do that but instead let his ego dictate his actions, he WAS in the wrong. There really aren’t two sides to this.

61

nickhayw 07.21.09 at 12:19 pm

Paul @ 57, I agree: it’s no more logically coherent to assume the police officer is guilty than it is to assume the black man is guilty.

My liberal tendencies (like, I suspect, most posters here) tend me towards the former conclusion – particularly because a) Gates is an educated man, b) I am averse to racism in all its insidious forms, and c) the facts, as they appear, seem to be in favour of Gates. But a) and b) do not count in front of the law – those are my prejudices. I’m always going to side with the academic’s account of things and/or the oppressed minority’s account of things. It remains to be determined what actually happened.

Note that this is not me offering a circumlocutive defense of indiscriminate racial profiling, nor is this an attempt to subtly undermine some other poster here. Just sayin’. I find it very easy to criticize others for jumping to false conclusions, but catch myself doing it aaall the time.

62

Josh 07.21.09 at 12:26 pm

There’s some very thoughtful conversation over at TNC’s in response to the question of “Why are people questioning the police report?”

63

John 07.21.09 at 12:35 pm

And we know exactly WHEN it escalated. It escalated the moment the cop found out he was talking to the rightful occupant of the house yet DIDN’T back off, apologize, and GO AWAY. Period.

No. It escalated when the rightful occupant provided a satisfactory explanation for the original report, and the officer didn’t go away. Up until that point, there is still reasonable suspicion of a crime in progress.

And no, I’m not saying that Gates was under suspicion at that point, but the risk remains that someone has entered the house without Gates’ knowledge, and the officer has the responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure Gates’ safety.

Imagine if the officer left after being suitably impressed by Gates’ Harvard ID card, Gates entered the house, and was stabbed by the burglar waiting inside?

Once a satisfactory explanation was provided (and all Gates had to say was, “That was me forcing my way in”), then the officer should have left. An ID card alone does not suffice to dispel reasonable suspicions of a crime in progress.

64

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 12:44 pm

John- bullshit. If the homeowner doesn’t want the officer there, game over. If the homeowner really is taking a foolish risk that a bad guy is hiding in his house, so be it- that’s on him. Regardless, if you’re in your own house, are not suspected of committing a crime yourself and want the cop to go away, the cop must go away. Period.

Here’s what I think REALLY happened- the cop went apeshit when Gates demanded his name and badge number. Anybody who doesn’t understand that a lot of cops will look for an excuse to kick your ass if you do that, knows nothing about cops and really should refrain from commenting.

The number of cops who basically are legally armed thugs is unfortunately not small. Here’s a nice story that should serve as a reality check for the naive:
http://www.philly.com/philly/news/51196597.html?

65

John 07.21.09 at 12:52 pm

If the homeowner doesn’t want the officer there, game over. If the homeowner really is taking a foolish risk that a bad guy is hiding in his house, so be it- that’s on him. Regardless, if you’re in your own house, are not suspected of committing a crime yourself and want the cop to go away, the cop must go away. Period.

Exigent circumstances can allow the police to execute warrantless search or arrest if the facts known to them lead them to believe that public safety could be compromised.

66

Paul 07.21.09 at 12:53 pm

Muhammad Ali once said ( I paraphrase here) that a great boxer never punched when he should be ducking and never ducked when he should be punching. Gates and the cop could well heed such sage advive.

67

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 12:55 pm

Exigent circumstances can allow the police to execute warrantless search or arrest if the facts known to them lead them to believe that public safety could be compromised.

And no such circumstances existed in this case. Moreover, even in his bullshit CYA report the cop didn’t try to invent any. Perhaps he should hire you as his lawyer, since you seem to be even more inventive than he is.

68

ajay 07.21.09 at 1:10 pm

67: didn’t need to because he didn’t actually carry out a search.

Steve, you don’t know anything more than anyone else here about the situation, but it’s fascinating how much more than anyone else you think you know about it.

69

John 07.21.09 at 1:17 pm

And no such circumstances existed in this case.

A 911 report introduces a reasonable suspicion of a crime in progress. An explanation from the homeowner should dispel such suspicion. Whether such a reasonable suspicion rises to the level of an exigent circumstance is debatable.

Perhaps he should hire you as his lawyer, since you seem to be even more inventive than he is.

Why are you being an ass about this? I’m not defending the arrest: I agree that once the officer was satisfied that there was no crime, he should have worked to defuse and de-escalate. The arrest is a failure on the part of the officer, plain and simple.

But there is also nothing outrageous or racist about expecting cooperation during the investigation of a potential crime.

70

Paul 07.21.09 at 1:36 pm

John I agree with you…Some people let their personal prejudices control their thought processes and rush to judgement…Their preconceptions imprison their good common sense!…

71

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 1:42 pm

Right, because it’s so unheard of for cops to abuse their position. How dare anyone think otherwise.

72

magistra 07.21.09 at 1:47 pm

But there is also nothing outrageous or racist about expecting cooperation during the investigation of a potential crime.

No, but if the police don’t get cooperation, that shouldn’t entitle to them to arrest the uncooperative person on some flimsy pretext. Otherwise, you effectively have the police able to arrest people almost at will: the police provokes someone, and when they react with hostility, arrest them.

73

SATSQ 07.21.09 at 1:58 pm

“A little OT, but what sort of neighbourhood does Gates live in when his neighbour doesn’t even recognise him in broad daylight?”

A mostly white one?

74

rea 07.21.09 at 2:07 pm

Especially as there had been one break-in at Gates’ house already in the recent past.

Which is an important clue to the reason for Gates’ attitude. He’d had a recent interaction with the police about an earlier break-in, and we don’t presently know what happened. Did he even understand that a neighbor had reported a second break-in in progress? Did he expect the police responding this time to know the background? Don’t they run LEIN checks? Why were they treating him like a suspect when he’d dealt with them only a day or so before?

75

dr 07.21.09 at 2:13 pm

It really does sound as if Gates flew off the handle. We can interpret this as “courage”, but from where I sit that sounds like spin. Other things being equal, you would hope that a home owner who had suffered a previous break in would be solicitous to police officers investigating the possibility of another.

But, first, other things aren’t equal. Gates lives in a country where black men are more heavily policed than any other group, a country which has only recently begun allowing a few blacks to occupy some elite positions. In such a country, is it any surprise that a black man might harbor some small measure of resentment?

Let’s assume, to make the case for the cop as strong as possible, that Gates harbors more resentment about the condition of blacks in America than is strictly justifiable. And let’s further assume that this resentment led him to see racism in actions which had no racial intent.

So here we have the police officer, doing his job responding to a call, and here we have a late middle-aged black man, ranting and raving in his own home. On these facts, how do we want the cop to act?

Well, I want him to grasp what’s going on, and to take active steps to defuse the situation. I want, when Gates yells at him, for the cop to back down. Instead of escalating the interaction in an attempt to regain control, I want the cop to allow Gates the dignity of being in control of his own home.

This is what puzzles me about all of the defenses of the cop. Why wouldn’t you want him to back down? Even giving him the benefit of the doubt at every turn, assuming he’s not a racist and that Gates has flown off the handle, this still looks to me like a misunderstanding that need not have resulted in an arrest.

76

Mike Licht 07.21.09 at 2:13 pm

It’s not racism. It’s just a crackdown on that horrible Tumultuous Behavior crime wave.

See:

http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/07/21/tumultuous-behavior-crime-wave-in-cambridge/

77

Anderson 07.21.09 at 2:33 pm

Exigent circumstances can allow the police to execute warrantless search or arrest if the facts known to them lead them to believe that public safety could be compromised.

A little learning is a dangerous thing, isn’t it? Cite me a case, please, where “exigent circumstances” could possibly be found on these facts, once the officer conceded that Gates was the rightful occupant of the residence.

The classic “exigent circumstance” is when the cops hear someone inside yell “help, he’s killing me!” and burst in without a warrant. Protecting Gates from himself, because there MIGHT be a burglar in the house, is not an exigent circumstance.

78

CJColucci 07.21.09 at 2:36 pm

None of us knows what really happened, but I’ve read the police report. Based on the dubious assumption that every word in the report is true, Gates was, at worst, ill-mannered and the cop was, at best, hassling the already-identified lawful owner of the house for no good reason. And that’s the cop’s story. Reality is likely worse.

79

ajay 07.21.09 at 2:40 pm

a country which has only recently begun allowing a few blacks to occupy some elite positions. In such a country, is it any surprise that a black man might harbor some small measure of resentment?

Do you mean a random black man, or one who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a presidential advisor, a millionaire, and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans?

80

dsquared 07.21.09 at 2:48 pm

Do you mean a random black man, or one who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a presidential advisor, a millionaire, and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans?

Do you mean a random tenured professor at Harvard, presidential advisor, millionaire and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans, or one who has made his career out of studying and writing about racism?

81

dr 07.21.09 at 3:08 pm

ajay – Read this. Slightly OT, but maybe it will help you get it.

82

Lichen 07.21.09 at 3:12 pm

When a person with a gun is in the wrong, I feel it best to proceed with my objections carefully. Some people don’t though.

And everyone knows (or should) that loud mouths will be the first to be jacked up even when they’re in the right. We’ve all seen it (or should have) in the course of living our lives.

If it’s necessary to prove that you’re right and challenge the officer, instead of some later point which in most cases is going to be possible, then have at it.

One assumes the IQ points of one individual are well above the other. (But which person that applies to, we’re not sure)

However, my comments should not to be construed to apply to this situation, or others, real or fictional.

83

PT 07.21.09 at 3:19 pm

A few thoughts on this:
1. The Police in every community know where the high crime areas are. I’d be hard pressed to believe that The director of Havard’s W.E.B. Du Bois Institue of African and African American Research lives in “the hood”, if Cambridge even has a “hood.”

2. The population of Cambridge, as per the 2000 census, is 101,355. Of that number , just under 12% is African-American. Also, the total population between the ages 55 to 59, is almost 4%. Gates fits into a very small demographic, in this community. Cambridge has 272 police officers, and keep in mind that they must cover 3 shifts around the clock. My point is that this is a small city, with a major university attached, and they can’t seem to figure out who belongs, and who doesn’t. And yes, I do know that crimes are sometimes committed by guys in shirts and ties.

Stats website – http://cambridgema.areaconnect.com/statistics.htm

3. As a matter of past practices and precedent, generally, people of lower social-economic status, AND people of color ARE treated and approached differently that others, particularily those in a position of authority.

4. Are we to believe that this 58 year old, African-American, director at Havard who specializes partly, in African-American reseach, is not familiar civil rights violations, racism, and police brutality? After all, he only researches it, taught it, AND lived through it, while growing up in 1950′s and 60′s America.

5. Finally, I live in an area that is almost 8 square miles, with a population of 9 times Cambridge. Yet, I know the neighbors on my street. What happened here? Neighbors can be unique in that, when something sinister or criminal actually happens, nobody ever sees anything, but in this case the police were called.

Something is terribly wrong with this entire picture. Fromthe neighbor who called the police, to the handling of the matter by the police, to the response by Skip Gates. Seems there were many errors in judgement.
There may be a lawsuit in the future, in Cambridge. Cambridge, as a whole, may also need to work on their people skills.

FYI, Skip Gates boi.
http://aaas.fas.harvard.edu/faculty/henry_louis_gates_jr/index.html

84

dsquared 07.21.09 at 3:37 pm

When a person with a gun is in the wrong, I feel it best to proceed with my objections carefully. Some people don’t though.

when a person who’s a politically powerful member of the local community, a senior manager at my town’s local employer and who can get his calls placed immediately to the Chief of Police is in the wrong, I’d proceed carefully, but some cops don’t. And the reason can be expressed by an extremely unpleasant joke based on comment #78, which begins “what do you call a black man who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a presidential advisor, a millionaire, and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans?”

85

Matt 07.21.09 at 3:49 pm

Gates’s statement on the events is here:

http://www.theroot.com/views/lawyers-statement-arrest-henry-louis-gates-jr

(I don’t think it’s been linked to yet- apologies if it has.) I’d be surprised if he wasn’t somewhat more animated than the statement suggests, but then, I probably would be more animated, too. I’m pretty surprised that an apology hasn’t been issued by the Cambridge PD yet (assuming it hasn’t) and I’d expect one very soon.

86

Salient 07.21.09 at 3:52 pm

when a person who’s a politically powerful member of the local community, a senior manager at my town’s local employer and who can get his calls placed immediately to the Chief of Police…

…is treated wrongly, he has an opportunity not afforded to an impoverished and powerless black person: he can raise hell about it and hopefully leave an impression in the minds of Cambridge police officers that haunts them the next time they’re about to act/react inappropriately in similar circumstances.

I think D^2^ at #57 and especially lemuel in #36 both nail it. Here’s a guy who has a unique opportunity to raise holy hell about (an incidence of) the stupidly inappropriate behavior of the police in his community, and takes full advantage of the opportunity — whether or not this was his precise intention, and whether or not he was genuinely angry, is not exactly the point. Hopefully, for years to come, the aftermath from this incident will ring sour in the minds of police right as they consider whether or not to overreact.

Tumultuousness has its place.

87

sg 07.21.09 at 3:52 pm

I wonder if Gates’s “tumultuous behaviour” had anything to do with the way the police responded to the previous break-in? Anyone who has experienced much crime in their lives knows that the response of the police can be pretty hit-and-miss. If he’d had a hit-and-miss experience (whether or not it included racism) just a few days before, then the cops refuse to believe he wasn’t the rightful owner…

A few months ago while my partner was at home here, some kids started trashing the school fence across the road. She called 999 and their first question was “Are they black?” We aren’t black but I can imagine that this sort of experience is pretty soul-destroying if it happens even once in the course of going about one’s law abiding life. If things like this have been happening to Professor Gates for years and then he cops this (pardon the pun), of course his behaviour is going to be tumultuous. I suspect this cop is going to be in a lot of trouble in time…

88

someguy 07.21.09 at 3:56 pm

“He and I both raised the question of if he had been a white professor, whether this kind of thing would have happened to him, that they arrested him without any corroborating evidence,” said S. Allen Counter, a Harvard Medical School professor who spoke with Gates about the incident Friday.

It almost certainly would have happened. No matter what your color lipping a police officer is a bad decision. If your dressed nice you are asking to be arrested. If you look scruffy expect to be handled. Whatever you do don’t run.

No, I don’t think that is ok. No, I am not denying that racism exists and that your odds are worse if you are black.

I am actually not sure this is a good example to get outraged about. There is a some what fine line between a citizen very vigorously expressing a view and disorderly conduct. A few inches closer to the face and a few minutes too long.

It is a very tough job but police very routinely abuse there powers. That is an issue for people of all colors.

89

Steve LaBonne 07.21.09 at 3:59 pm

90

Anderson 07.21.09 at 4:08 pm

And the reason can be expressed by an extremely unpleasant joke based on comment #78, which begins “what do you call a black man who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a presidential advisor, a millionaire, and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans?”

Oh yeah, *that* joke. Which I’ve used more than once as an acute example of how racial prejudice functions.

91

ajay 07.21.09 at 4:10 pm

86: equally, with any luck, the next time Professor Gates feels himself hard done by, he will think twice before blowing his stack, yelling and screaming and calling people’s superiors, because he’ll remember that the last time he did that he ended up in handcuffs.

92

sg 07.21.09 at 4:22 pm

Why “with any luck”, ajay? Are you suggesting that physical intimidation by an armed representative of the state in your own home is okay? Or that this kind of response is a good way in general for people to be taught they should agree with you?

93

dsquared 07.21.09 at 4:30 pm

I think with any luck, Prof. Gates will end up thinking that this was all a bit of a jape and that a short period in the cells was a price well worth paying for the opportunity to shove it right up the collective bottom of the Cambridge police department and will regularly remind lairy young coppers that the last time they acted disrespectfully to a black academic, they paid for his Ferrari.

94

james 07.21.09 at 4:33 pm

Gates handled the situation wrong. Not legally or morally wrong, but wrong none the less. When dealing with the cops, always, always, be polite. Identify yourself. Make sure you seem non-threatening. If it looks like they want to question you as more than a witness, get a lawyer and shut up. This is basic stuff.

95

Salient 07.21.09 at 4:41 pm

Not legally or morally wrong, but wrong none the less.

I feel like a dope for asking, but if by “wrong” you mean something other than “legally wrong” or “morally wrong” — what is it that you do mean?

When I use the word ‘wrong’ and don’t mean in the legal or moral sense, it’s usually equivalent to “that which makes me vaguely uncomfortable” or “that which will result in undesirable consequences.”

When dealing with the cops, always, always, be polite.

Why?

Out of common human decency, I’d support the general principle that one ought to be kind to other human beings in the absence of justifications for unkindness. But I don’t think it’s reasonable to say “always, always” here, even taking the generous interpretation that you mean “always, unless your safety is threatened.”

96

ajay 07.21.09 at 4:42 pm

92: “with any luck”, because it would be nicer for everyone else he has to deal with in the course of his working and social life. Loud obnoxious people aren’t nice to have around.
And I think the evidence is rather against his having been intimidated in any way. Intimidated people don’t normally scream and shout and threaten to call people’s superiors.

97

Salient 07.21.09 at 4:44 pm

And ajay, you could have saved yourself some typing by replacing “blowing his stack, yelling and screaming and calling one’s superiors” with “getting uppity.”

98

ajay 07.21.09 at 4:46 pm

if by “wrong” you mean something other than “legally wrong” or “morally wrong”—what is it that you do mean?

I think it means “practically wrong” – ie will lead to bad consequences. It’s not legally or morally wrong to go hiking without checking the weather forecast, but it’s still the wrong thing to do.

99

dsquared 07.21.09 at 4:47 pm

Loud obnoxious people aren’t nice to have around

As I understand it, he’s the soul of politeness and bonhomie when not being threatened with arrest in his kitchen. And in any case, his putative obnoxiousness is only a problem for a small number of students and academics – the copper deals with the general public every day and he seems to have been quite obnoxious himself.

100

Ex-PD 07.21.09 at 4:48 pm

The charges are being dropped: http://www.reuters.com/article/domesticNews/idUSTRE56K47G20090721

My only contribution, based on reading hundred of police reports, is police have all the incentive in the world to bend their recollection of events when writing their report. Remember, police reports are written based on memory of the officer, and maybe some hasty notes, hours after the arrest and in the station house. They then become the official record of what happened and police will refer to the report at every stage of proceeding to “refresh their memory.” It is a one-sided record of what happened. In fact, I’m always surprised when a police report contains some obvious (to a lawyer) 4th amendment violation that I can argue.

Cops need better training and attitudes, even at the expense of my livelihood.

101

ajay 07.21.09 at 4:48 pm

97: oh, I see what you did there, Salient, you fiendishly clever disputant you.

102

Barbar 07.21.09 at 4:53 pm

The cop handled the situation wrong. Curiously missing from the police report are

(1) things he said to calm Gates down and defuse the situation
(2) how he entered Gates’s house
(3) a clear response to Gates’s request for his name and badge number
(4) any reason to stick around the house after Gates has been ID’d (sure there could be such a reason in principle, but the police report is silent on that matter)

Normally the cop would get away with all this bullshit, because ordinary citizens “should” be scared of exercising their rights and of being anything other than fully deferential. Unfortunately the cop happened to mess with the wrong person this time. It’s interesting that all the people busy genuflecting to police authority can’t muster the energy to bow before a well-connected superstar Harvard professor.

103

dsquared 07.21.09 at 4:57 pm

It’s interesting that all the people busy genuflecting to police authority can’t muster the energy to bow before a well-connected superstar Harvard professor.

cf #84, which references a joke told by both white people and black people, in somewhat different registers of voice (something which I believe is known to the academics and postmodernists as “signifying”).

104

Salient 07.21.09 at 4:57 pm

I think it means “practically wrong” – ie will lead to bad consequences.

I’d respond:

* Bad = Undesirable is not always an appropriate equivocation.

* It’s entirely reasonable to suppose Gates already experienced “bad consequences” in the form of irritating harassment in his house. Raising one’s voice and threatening to call the harasser’s superiors are fairly reasonable forms of self-defense, if one feels unfairly treated.

* People shouldn’t have to feel intimidated or threatened by a police officer in their home. If they want to scream and yell and call the cops, they aren’t doing anything your average participant in a domestic violence dispute does. Police know (or ought to know) how to defuse such situations, and the officer should have known how to defuse this one, insofar as it even was a “situation.”

* I’m not grooving on this “you better play along nicely” vibe. People have a right to be disrespectful to police officers, just like people have a right to be disrespectful to other people broadly speaking. The fact that the police can (inappropriately if not illegally) bring down violence one your head in response, should not take away your right to not treat the police with respect and deference.

105

ajay 07.21.09 at 4:59 pm

Raising one’s voice and threatening to call the harasser’s superiors are fairly reasonable forms of self-defense, if one feels unfairly treated.

Hmmm. How well did they work out for him, in this case?

106

dsquared 07.21.09 at 5:03 pm

We won’t know until he’s bought the Ferrari.

107

Salient 07.21.09 at 5:04 pm

How well did they work out for him, in this case?

Dunno yet. Ask me after any lawsuits are settled. Ask me after we see some reports on whether or not incidents of police harassment of blacks decline in Cambridge, over the next year or two.

Getting arrested and arraigned for a bogus case is not that big a deal, when one has the resources to get the case dropped. And even in cases dissimilar to this one, when one can’t get the case dropped and arrest is indeed a big deal, sometimes acting on principle is worth the consequences. Cf. King, Dr. Martin Luther, obviously.

108

kmack 07.21.09 at 5:15 pm

ajay @ 91: What took you so long? And why hold back now? The real threat to uppity types isn’t handcuffs and a charge for “loud and tumultuous behavior.” Of course, you know that already–as does Gates. Sometimes we prefer not to respectfully submit to disrespectful authority, even when it carries a badge and a gun. Of course, you and many commenters elsewhere know that, too.

First Soto-mayor, now the Gates affair. But maybe it’s not too late to bring back the good old days.

109

Barbar 07.21.09 at 5:18 pm

Gee ajay, so much concern for poor Professor Gates. I wonder if the Director of the WEB DuBois Institute for African and African American Research will ever recover from a bogus arrest on his own property.

Does your heart not bleed for the idiot police officer who messed with someone way out of his league? Something tells me that someone’s career took a big hit on Thursday, and I don’t think it was someone once named as one of the 25 most influential Americans.

What’s weird is that you seem to be fully aware of Gates’s privilege and status (comment 79), and yet you still hope he’s been taught some kind of lesson in dealing with authority here. Interesting.

110

lemuel pitkin 07.21.09 at 5:18 pm

I think it means “practically wrong” – ie will lead to bad consequences. It’s not legally or morally wrong to go hiking without checking the weather forecast, but it’s still the wrong thing to do.

This seems to exclude the possibility of acts that are dangerous or risky, but are nonetheless the right thing to do.

111

bjk 07.21.09 at 5:25 pm

This is what happens when a privileged and protected class is lead to believe that the rules don’t apply to them. And the cop too, I suppose.

112

watson aname 07.21.09 at 6:07 pm

Something tells me that someone’s career took a big hit on Thursday

A little hit, anyway, one can hope. Hopefully not out of proportion, but incompetence shouldn’t be encouraged.

113

Billikin 07.21.09 at 6:41 pm

What do you call a black man who is a tenured professor at Harvard, a presidential advisor, a millionaire, and one of Time Magazine’s 25 most influential Americans?

OK, I’ll bite.

Mr. Tibbs?

114

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.09 at 6:49 pm

I suspect most likely nothing is going to happen to the cop. Who died, who got injured, where’s the beef?

15 years ago their (Boston’s) SWAT team stormed a wrong apartment, chased a 75 year-old retired minister thru the apartment into his bedroom, cuffed him, and watched him die of a heart attack. They paid $1 mil compensation. And now a Ferrari for something like this? Tsk, I’m skeptical. They might settle for a Camry – maybe.

115

Anderson 07.21.09 at 7:09 pm

Billikin: rhymes with “jigger.”

116

bjk 07.21.09 at 7:32 pm

Is that supposed to be funny?

117

Salient 07.21.09 at 7:38 pm

They might settle for a Camry – maybe.

Settling for a ‘Civic’ would be funnier.

118

JMS 07.21.09 at 8:00 pm

I can guarantee there will never be a true accounting the of the events so I’m not going to take sides. I will just suggest people watch the following link and make sure they always remain calm and level headed when dealing with the police.
http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&oi=video_result&ct=res&cd=1&url=http%3A%2F%2Fvideo.google.com%2Fvideoplay%3Fdocid%3D-4097602514885833865&ei=aBxmSqHTFoHssQOVjpHcDg&usg=AFQjCNEpVmS5L7fOaQNmq7R5jTND1O-YvQ

119

Salient 07.21.09 at 8:12 pm

They’ve all shook hands and gone home, but the “street-cred” Gates has now is incalculable.

120

Anonymous Coward 07.21.09 at 8:21 pm

Whoops! That last post by Salient is by me. I don’t know what happened, I was thinking one thing and looking at the previous post, and out came the wrong word, and I didn’t proof-read.

Great thread, great comments all!

121

Salient 07.21.09 at 8:37 pm

Whoops! That last post by Salient is by me.

Umm?

122

Henri Vieuxtemps 07.21.09 at 8:42 pm

Calm down, everybody. No tumultuous behavior, please.

123

sg 07.21.09 at 10:50 pm

Just getting this straight here ajay – arresting someone on no grounds for asking you your name and id is okay, but asking a cop their name and id makes you not a nice person to be around?

124

wwerle 07.21.09 at 11:51 pm

Dudes, Are there any thoughtful people out there? Let’s show some campassion for the policeman and Professor Gates.The”Blame Game” is defintley getting boring.

125

Mrs Tilton 07.22.09 at 1:55 am

It will be nice if Gates gets a Ferrari out of this, I suppose. More important, though, is that Officer Crowley lose his job, his pension and his employability in any but the most menial of positions. That might possibly have a salubrious effect on the behaviour of other cops.

BTW, would it be too much to ask “Trotsky” to adopt a more appropriate and intellectually honest nym? Like, maybe, “Bob Grant”?

126

ajay 07.22.09 at 9:15 am

I rather like the idea that, next time a Cambridge cop is tempted to hassle some nineteen year old black kid one evening, he will think “Oh, no, I’d better not, because he might be a Harvard professor.”

127

ajay 07.22.09 at 9:16 am

Just getting this straight here ajay – arresting someone on no grounds for asking you your name and id is okay, but asking a cop their name and id makes you not a nice person to be around?

Yes, sg, that’s exactly what I said. Word for word.

128

Danielle Day 07.22.09 at 5:01 pm

“A little OT, but what sort of neighbourhood does Gates live in when his neighbour doesn’t even recognise him in broad daylight?”

Well, maybe the neighbor’s eyesight is not so good. My far-away vision has gotten pretty bad— even in “broad daylight”.

129

harry b 07.22.09 at 5:14 pm

james should have used the words “bad idea” or “unwise” rather than “wrong”. Gates’s reaction was completely reasonable and natural, and maybe in his case not unwise, but it would be unwise for most of us. When dealing with people who are armed, unreasonable, and have the de facto power to make your life very unpleasant for no good reason, it is a good idea to be polite and moderately deferential. This helps you both to avoid very bad short-term consequences, and helps with subsequent lawsuits/criminal trials etc. My guess (and hope) is that most of the people here have had limited direct experience of such situations. I have had considerably more than I would have liked, though not for a very long time, and my advice to people would be to behave as james suggests.

In this particular case, the cop has invited a lawsuit, the city will settle on reasonable terms, and Gates will in all probability donate most of the proceeds to some worthy charity, because he’s a decent bloke. The cop will probably act somewhat more carefully in future when dealing with upper middle class people, but that’ll probably be it.

130

michael e sullivan 07.22.09 at 5:35 pm

Is that supposed to be funny?

If you’re a racist cracker, it’s funny in one way.

If you’re not, it can be darkly funny in a wry, world-gone-to-hell, post-racial-america-my-ass kinda way.

131

Chris 07.22.09 at 6:00 pm

When dealing with the cops, always, always, be polite. Identify yourself. Make sure you seem non-threatening. If it looks like they want to question you as more than a witness, get a lawyer and shut up. This is basic stuff.

Yes, it’s the curriculum of Surviving Police Abuse Of Power 101. (I wonder if they teach that at Harvard?) You left out “All those legal rights you have on paper only exist if the cops feel like respecting them, so don’t try to assert them if they don’t.”

The existence of such a program does not justify the behavior that makes it necessary – rather the reverse, if anything. If police reliably didn’t arrest anyone who hadn’t committed a crime, and didn’t threaten or attack anyone who wasn’t threatening or attacking them, and obeyed the law while trying to enforce it, most people really wouldn’t have much to fear from the police, except maybe mistakes. But we don’t live in that country. Some of us would like to move in that direction – which requires more public critical scrutiny and oversight of law enforcement officers’ actions than we presently have.

Liberals aren’t against police, only against bad police. Conservatives (it seems to me, although I don’t want to construct straw men) don’t even want to find out which is which.

132

lamont cranston 07.22.09 at 6:19 pm

@130 re: the joke, I believe it was Malcolm X’s, which tells you a little bit about where it was coming from: not exactly world-gone to hell, but an illumination of often unstated belief.

133

james 07.23.09 at 4:24 am

Maybe its a problem of perspective. By wrong, I mean Gates handled it incorrectly, wrongly, with poor judgement, lack of reasoned thought, basic stupidity. Should Gates have had the right to scream at the cop? Yes. Should he have been arrested for doing so? No. Should the cop have arrested him at all? No. These points have absolutely nothing to do with how Gates should have handled the situation. Making cops nervous can get you killed. Its as simple as that. Unless Gates was trying to be a mayrter, there are better ways to push back against over reaching police.

134

JanieM 07.23.09 at 5:42 am

“A little OT, but what sort of neighbourhood does Gates live in when his neighbour doesn’t even recognise him in broad daylight?”

This sort of neighborhood: There are only a couple of buildings on that street that can properly be called “houses,” and I wouldn’t be surprised if one of them is chopped up into apartments or condos. Everything else is large, multi-story buildings: apartments, dorms (? I don’t live around here, I just took a walk tonight and passed by the street, which had 2 news vans sitting along it or I wouldn’t even have noticed it), a few offices. It’s not the least bit surprising that people don’t necessarily know their neighbors. There must be hundreds of people living in a stretch of road a couple hundred yards long. (Wikipedia says Cambridge is the 5th most densely populated city in the US. FWIW.)

@83: My point is that this is a small city, with a major university attached… Two major universities, actually.

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ruralcounsel 07.23.09 at 2:34 pm

“I reckon the ability of black men to go about their business in Cambridge without police harassment has just materially improved.”

Including the business of breaking and entering.

None of us know what actually happened here, and both scenarios being advocated are possible. But IF Gates refused to show ID, the officer was well within his right to place him in custody, given the report of a crime that he was responding to. From what I’ve read, the police arrived after Gates had gained entry to the house, so the cop didn’t know how he got in, only that someone roughly matching his description had been reported trying to gain entry in a suspicious manner.

If Gates blew a fuse and started screaming at the cop just because he was asked for ID, it is perfectly understandable that the cop might place him under arrest. Welcome to the real world, Prof. Gates. And it has more to do with screaming at cops than it does the color of your skin.

“And the woman who called the cops had better hope she doesn’t have too many assets in her name.”

Ridiculous. She did nothing wrong but report a possible crime. And even if she did it full well knowing Gates was the lawful owner, which would really be reaching in the extreme based upon what little every one knows, guess what? A private citizen cannot be found guilty of violating someone’s civil rights. Only a government actor or entity can do that, because your Bill of Rights only restricts what government can do, not private citizens. There isn’t any law against being a racist or a lousy neighbor. And arguably, she was neither. Just the opposite, in fact.

Cambridge is really nothing more than Harvard on one end, MIT on the other, and a mixed ghetto/commercial district sandwiched in between, a lot of low income housing, with a few cloistered upscale residential neighborhoods guarded by lots of burglar alarms. Lots of crime, arguably because you’ve got two universities full of haves surrounded by a sea of have-nots. Lots of class-envy and class-politics, catalyzed by a lot of liberal guilt and angst in the universities. This was an event just waiting to happen.

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Salient 07.23.09 at 3:27 pm

I rather like the idea that, next time a Cambridge cop is tempted to hassle some nineteen year old black kid one evening, he will think “Oh, no, I’d better not, because he might be a Harvard professor.”

One would hope the officer would at least think, “Oh no, I’d better not unless I can solidly defend the hassling, because that lawyer guy from Harvard might take on a case against me.”

But yeah, that’s wishful thinking, I know. Point: ajay.

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Steve 07.23.09 at 3:52 pm

Nick’s comment, posted at 12:52 am, is by far the most intelligent and insightful thing I’ve read on this board. I implore anyone reading my post to go back and read his. Nick, I applaud you for your thoughtful and balanced comments.

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Wendy 07.24.09 at 3:58 am

Racism in the United States is still unbelievable. It is difficult to believe that any rational human being could still, in 2009, hold such archaic prejudices against another person. It’s ridiculous. I guess I have to conclude that these humans are NOT rational. I do not believe that any intelligent person could reasonably hold those opinions.

Racists = People with Very Low Intelligence

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Wendy 07.24.09 at 4:18 am

In reading some of the other comments, perhaps, it wasn’t a case of racism (although it seem quite apparent that it is), however, there is a case to be made for the President’s “stupidity” comment. I really do not know how any qualified police officer could reasonably suspect that a Harvard professor, in his late 50′s, who walks with a cane, could be considered a “good” suspect for burglarizing a home. It reminds me of a story I heard from an elderly friend, who happens to be a retired school teacher. She was frisked and asked to remove her footwear by a security individual in an airport. First of all, she is one of the sweetest people you would ever want to meet and secondly, she is quite “senior”. She said the young man at the airport was simply trying to be a “donkey” (translation required). She figures that because she smiled at him in her friendly Canadian way, that he decided that he had to show his muscle. Sometimes, I really think people in these authoritative positions just enjoy being “donkeys”. They want to show people that they can do anything, to anyone, at any time and get away with it. Some people are just born hateful and continue to be that way throughout their lives.

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Salient 07.24.09 at 2:38 pm

I do not believe that any intelligent person could reasonably hold those opinions.

Is racism a set of opinions, or a set of predispositions? I think it’s entirely believable and understandable, for example, that a white person could grow to feel a little irrational discomfort and stress whenever they encounter a black person on the sidewalk. It’s something one picks up unconsciously: one learns to recognize a self/other, white/nonwhite dichotomy with particular emphasis on white/black dichotomy. That doesn’t mean the feelings are themselves rational.

If one finds oneself uncomfortable around people of a certain ethnicity, for example, that’s very clearly racist — even if one firmly believes that there’s nothing about black skin that ought to justify discomfort, and even if one firmly believes one’s own discomfort is grossly inappropriate!

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