Dana Milbank and Chris Cillizza try improving on the participants’ beer choices for Barack Obama’s rose garden meeting with Henry Louis Gates Jr. and his arresting officer James Crowley. The duo proceed to assign beer choices to a variety of other Washington figures.
Thomas Lifson thinks the photo of Sergeant James Crowley helping Henry Louis Gates Jr down the White House steps toward that rose garden beer summit, while Barack Obama strides blissfully ahead tells us a lot about Obama.
It certainly makes an effective contrast to the other photo of President Bush assisting Senator Robert Byrd.
My class list has been obsessing over Skip Gates’s arrest in Cambridge for a couple of days. Most participants tended to agree that the Cambridge cop had not behaved unreasonably, but a few correspondents were inclined to contend that arguing with police and denouncing their presence and behavior should be considered First Amendment-protected instances of Free Speech.
Captain Brandon del Pozo of the NYPD discusses the Gates arrest from a professional police perspective on Crooked Timber, refuting, I think, effectively the Free Speech claim.
Whether or not a person should be arrested for disorderly conduct depends on subjective assessments that are nonetheless important to make. (more on discretion later) These include the extent to which the interaction is actually in public, the extent to which he has genuinely impeded the investigation by being verbally combative with an officer who needs to elicit investigative information from him, or created a situation of genuine public alarm, and, admittedly more controversially, the extent to which he fosters a climate wherein it’s acceptable for people to harass, berate and otherwise annoy the police as they are trying to conduct routine investigations that are in the interest of public safety. ...
The officer instructs the person to exit the house and talk on the porch. This is standard police safety practice. An unfamiliar building with unknown occupants that is the potential site of a burglary is not a safe place for an officer to enter, especially alone. If he is drawn into the home and attacked there, he can be locked in and will take longer to rescue. Kitchens have a variety of weapons, and rooms have limited sight lines and places for suspects to hide. Bringing a suspect to the porch is a prudent move for an officer.
The man knows what’s going on. He did, in fact, just force his own front door open. All accounts indicate the sergeant showed up moments later; the 911 caller personally informed him, in sum and substance, “he just went into the house a few seconds ago.” There is a continuity of events that indicates a reasonable person would understand why the police came to his door a few moments after he broke it open. The only thing that could indicate a race bias is the unobserved hypothetical that the police would not have been there if he was white. This doesn’t matter; for a homeowner of any race there is a facially plausible race-neutral reason why the police have come to the door.
Around this time, the person begins to accuse the officer of racism, at first refusing to cooperate with the investigation. This makes the investigation more difficult, and might make the officer wonder if he is safe. To assume Gates isn’t the type of man to use violence when he is angry and using obscenities is to emasculate him, or patronize him, or to resort to stereotypes based on age, stature, type of employment, etc. Anyway, early on, the sergeant concludes this man is not a burglar, but reports that the man continues to be verbally belligerent. ...
The police cannot be expected to leave a location simply because the person there is screaming at them and ordering them around, even if that person is apparently innocent and likely lives there. They should still thoroughly investigate. If this were a legitimate expectation of the police, then it would sometimes allow genuine criminals to berate cops into leaving the scene prior to a complete and thorough investigation of the crimes they have committed. Officers should leave when they are convinced that the investigation is complete, and that the situation is under control, regardless of the demeanor of a person.
The police need to foster an environment in which they can deliver public safety without being subject to obscenities, accusations and yelling from any party, even innocent parties. The judgments of policing are obviously difficult and subjective, and are often marred when they are made in the face of people issuing inflammatory comments even as the police are rendering routine services with an obvious cause. It is in the collective interest of citizens and police to promote an environment where the police can conduct an investigation calmly and with mutual respect. It cannot become commonplace for people to be allowed to scream at the police in public, threatening them with political phone calls, deriding their abilities, etc. Routine acts like rendering aid to lost children, taking accident reports and issuing traffic violations could be derailed at any time by any person who has a perceived grievance with the police. The police service environment is not the best venue for the airing of such grievances.
The police should not be cowed by threats of phone calls to people such as mayors, police chiefs and presidents of the United States, along with allegations that “you don’t know who you’re messing with.” It is traditionally whites who have had this type of crooked access and influence. These appeals to higher authorities are often meant to exempt the ruling castes from following the rules and laws that the rest of the community will be expected to follow. It happens, it is unfortunate, and it is not in the interests of justice for it to continue. Nobody trying to do their job fairly deserves to hear the equivalent of “My daddy donated fifty million to this university, and you’ll be getting calls from everywhere in the administration about raising my grade enough for this class to count as a distributive requirement.”
It is possible for a person to commit disorderly conduct by unabated screaming and verbal abuse in a public setting. Without drawing conclusions about the Gates case, there comes some point where a person is genuinely causing public alarm, and where he is acting with a rage that exceeds what we can expect from a reasonable person in a heated moment. The mere presence of the police conducting a legitimate investigation should not provoke continuous rage and epithets from such a person. One response is that the police should just leave if the investigation has been conducted successfully, and that this will calm the person down. In practice, this is indeed often the best thing to do. On the other hand, it should be noted that it is just as much the responsibility of the citizen to see that his actions are an inappropriate way to relate to police officers who have not, in the specific case at hand, acted unreasonably. This point may be hotly contested, but I believe it is true: there is no obligation for the police to hurry in their activities or to leave as soon as possible because they have incited the rage of a person who is acting unreasonably. There is a distinction between hanging around to show them who’s boss and working at a steady, professional pace, to be sure. But in the end the mere presence of the police cannot be seen as an acceptable reason for disorderly conduct, and should therefore not spur the police to leave a scene simply to de-escalate it. A police strategy of “winning by appearing to lose” emboldens citizens to attempt to get the police to lose in more and more serious matters, including walking away from situations where a person is genuinely guilty of a crime.
It is in the civic interest for cops to have discretion over violations and some misdemeanors.
Power Line’s John Hinderaker aptly identifies Barack Obama’s potentially fatal flaw.
Obama… continues to overestimate his verbal skills. All his life, he has been rewarded for assuming a certain pose and offering up platitudes in a reasonably glib fashion. These are minor talents at best, but they got Obama elected President, notwithstanding his lack of original insight into any issue of public policy. Now that he is President, however, these limitations are starting to haunt him. Obama’s foolish and entirely needless assertion that Cambridge policeman James Crowley “acted stupidly” when he arrested Harvard professor Henry Gates is beginning to turn into a political issue that will hurt Obama with broad sectors of the electorate.
This is one more in a series of self-inflicted wounds that have contributed to Obama’s steadily declining standing with Americans.
Phantom Negro in Salon sprinkles an otherwise very intelligent piece with conventional complaints about the sufferings of Ivy-League-educated African Americans dealing with racism “on a daily basis” (poor souls!), but apart from the we-have-to-keep-our-grievances-alive! bows in the direction of political correctness, I think he nails Gates dead center and from a privileged and shared perspective.
As a black Ivy Leaguer, something funny happens as you become ensconced in ivy. You’re smart enough to understand that race and racism are a reality you deal with on a daily basis, but you also know that your university ID sets you apart. Does this mean you are kept from hurtful incidents? No, but it is to say that much of the outrage felt at a racial slight is replaced by outrage at a class slight. Sure, we get pissed, knowing we’re getting hassled because we’re black, but the real indignation comes from being hassled as members of an elite group. How dare you hassle me? I go to school here. I go to work here. ...
Which brings me to Skip Gates. He isn’t outraged because he feels he was the victim of racial profiling by the police (that dubious honor goes to his foolish neighbor) [in fact, the woman who called the police is not a neighbor, but works nearby]. He’s outraged because he was the victim of class profiling. He didn’t resent being identified as black; he resented being identified as that kind of black, the kind of black that can be hassled and pushed around by simpleton cops. How dare you hassle me? I’m Skip Gates: Harvard professor!
Skip has fallen victim to the Ivy League Effect. Check out his articles—you can definitely go to the Root—the Web site he is editor in chief of—if you want to see a repository for the whole masturbatory display. He all but says, “Do I look like that type of (black) person? I was wearing a blazer and a polo shirt!” Gates is Ivy League pissed with a dash of black anger. Not the other way around. ...
Skip Gates thought that he’d worked hard enough, achieved enough, become Harvard enough that this sort of treatment did not apply to him. And now, rather than channel that outrage in a way that is subtle but effective, he’s very publicly suffering the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, having “joined the ranks of the million incarcerated black men in America.” That’s laughable. He does not see those million men as kin and he doesn’t, by and large, give a damn about those guys. He’s merely annoyed that such an irritation as police misconduct found its way into his home. If he read about this story happening to a plumber in Roxbury, he’d shake his head in disappointment and then go on with his life.
So before we heed the call of racism, let’s be mindful of the tower from which that call came. This has something to do with race. But it has a lot more to do with messing with Skip Gates.
Barack Obama stooped from the office of the presidency to takes sides in last week’s incident in Cambridge, Massachusetts in which Henry Louis Gates, Jr., a prolific author and African American Studies professor at Harvard, wound up arrested for disorderly conduct.
Gates and a friend were observed by a neighbor trying to force open Gates’s own front door on a street in Cambridge near Harvard. Seeing two black men fiddling with a locked door (and apparently failing to recognize her eminent neighbor), that neighbor summoned the police.
Studying matters African American inevitably promotes hypersensitivity with respect to racial relations, and Mr. Gates predictably responded to the arrival of a police officer with indignation, asking if he was under suspicion “for being a black man in America.”
Gates accused the cop of being a racist, and proceeded to whip out a cell phone and attempt to pull strings with the chief of police. You have no idea who you’re messing with, the mighty Harvard faculty member arrogantly informed the policeman.
Despite all this, merely producing his Harvard ID was sufficient to persuade the officer to leave, but Gates was not content. Bent upon retaliation, he insisted that the cop identify himself, responded to a request to move the discussion outside the house with “yo mama,” and persisted in voicing indignant accusations and abuse.
Not completely surprisingly, in the end, Gates succeeded in getting himself arrested for disorderly conduct.
As this posting of less than a week ago shows, I am not myself inclined to defend exaggerated police sensitivity and amour propre in dealing with the public. In a possible life-or-death situation, that Michigan dispatcher should have taken into account the caller’s emotional distress and overlooked a little bad language.
But, in this case, it is only too clear that Skip Gates himself turned a minor and understandable misunderstanding on the part of a neighbor, where the police were in no way at fault, into his own private melodrama of racial martyrdom. He didn’t get arrested for being black. He got arrested for abusing and trying to intimidate a police officer who was just doing his job.
If Gates had spoken politely to that Cambridge cop and treated the incident with a little understanding, it would all have ended with a handshake and a smile. Gates preferred to manufacture a symbolic national incident. And our supposedly post-racial president can be relied upon to intervene in favor of Professor Gates.
The Boston Globe removed the police report it previously posted (for some reason); but, too bad! it was saved here.
Was Gates profiled? Sure, he was profiled… by his neighbor, who mysteriously could not even recognize him. But, face it, male minority members seen forcing open doors in affluent Cambridge neighborhoods really do fall more logically into the burglars-breaking-in conceptual category than the homeowner-lost-his-keys interpretation even to a not particularly racially prejudiced observer. Minorities really do commit more break ins, and minorities genuinely less frequently own expensive town houses. It is not unfair prejudice to operate prudently on the most probable assumptions.
If that neighbor had taken out her .44, and filled Professor Gates with lead on suspicion, I’d say she leapt to a conclusion. Calling to police to look into what was happening was not any sort of irrevocable act, and normal middle class people can encounter police officers in circumstances featuring minor misunderstandings without feeling victimized.
Stereotypes were obviously at play here, but the most active, hostile, and determinative images were those running furiously inside the head of Henry Louis Gates.