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"This is what happens to black men in America."
July 20, 2009 2:19 PM   Subscribe

Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates was arrested for "breaking into" his own home.
posted by ocherdraco (985 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
It'd be funny if it wasn't so god damned sad.
posted by milarepa at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


To be fair the police, he wasn't wearing his full doctoral regalia at the time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:23 PM on July 20, 2009 [34 favorites]


Okay, here's what you do about that. Whenever you see a black police officer, call the police in a panic. Report a black man carrying a gun. Mention that he's harassing people, or perhaps trying to impersonate a police officer. Refuse to believe it when the operator tells you he is an actual policeman. Reiterate that he's black as if they just didn't hear that part.
posted by Naberius at 2:25 PM on July 20, 2009 [43 favorites]


I thought it was once funny too.
posted by cazoo at 2:26 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Okay, outragefilter, take it as read, but here's the odd part:

A spokesman for Leone said Gates is scheduled to be arraigned on Aug. 26 and said the office could not provide details on the arrest until that time.

Arraigned for what? IAAL, but IAVMNACL (I am very much not a criminal lawyer). Can you really be arraigned for breaking and entering your own home, or is there something more here?
posted by The Bellman at 2:27 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


There aren't even that many Harvard professors I can name without thinking hard, and they manage to arrest one of them? For being inside his own home? I assume his ID showed his address, etc?

Stay classy, Cambridge.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I read the AP article about this. They report that the policy were called by a neighbor who spotted someone trying to break in (and being that Gates was locked out, I'm sure thats what it looked like).

FTA:

An officer ordered the man to identify himself, and Gates refused, according to the report. Gates began calling the officer a racist and said repeatedly, "This is what happens to black men in America."

So if you're a cop and you show up at a house where a guy who won't identify himself appears to be breaking in, what do you do? Am I missing something here?

Maybe there's more to the story, but so far I just can't whip up any outrage.
posted by ben242 at 2:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


What? He was arrested after he was already in his house and showed ID!? If I thought it'd work, I'd be all, "Ok officer, quiz me! Ask for something weird, anything, I can tell you exactly where it is! 'Cause you see, I FUCKING LIVE HERE."
posted by iamkimiam at 2:30 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The AP story says someone called the police to say a man was on a front porch trying to pry the door open, and that when the police arrived, Gates initially refused to identify himself. The articles don't agree on whether he was already inside at the time. Maybe the police can just put a note somewhere that anyone trying to break into that house is to be left alone?

Of course it probably depends on the cops' attitudes when they asked, but who would be surprised by this?
posted by dilettante at 2:32 PM on July 20, 2009


Maybe we should read the police report instead of guessing at what happened.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:34 PM on July 20, 2009 [24 favorites]


He wasn't arrested for breaking in --they established pretty quickly that it was his own house -- but for "disorderly conduct." You can read the full police report as a PDF here.
posted by cider at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


I can't whip up much outrage either. When you actually read the police report, it sounds like Gates was being rude, uncooperative, and offensive to an officer trying to investigate a possible crime.

Be nice to the police: often, they're just trying to do their job and make the neighborhood a safer place.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


Maybe there's more to the story, but so far I just can't whip up any outrage.

Apparently he showed two forms of photo ID that confirmed his identity and home address. At that point, it's not obvious why the police officers would have cause to continue with the arrest. It sure seems like some questions need to be answered.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


So if you're a cop and you show up at a house where a guy who won't identify himself appears to be breaking in, what do you do? Am I missing something here?

Right. Well dressed white guys rattling on their locked doors late at night never get the benefit of the doubt.
posted by felix betachat at 2:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


You can read a redacted version of the police report here. I would trust little to none of the narrative. He wasn't arrested for breaking-and-entering. He was arrested for being black. Er, I mean disorderly conduct. Most likely, he didn't say massah when asked why he had the gall to be black and own property.

And I want to know the cop's name. Like now. And throw in his home phone number, I've got a few opinions to share with him and his family.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


I recommend reading the linked police report in the Globe article. He was not arrested in his own house, but rather when he followed the police officer outside, and shouted at him persistently (according to the police).

Not saying this justifies an arrest (I have no idea if it does or not), but it does not appear to be the case that he was suddenly handcuffed in his house, just because of racial profiling.
posted by a womble is an active kind of sloth at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


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.

Police then sent in Amos Odell to try and fool the professor into thinking that the whole thing was actually an attempted kidnapping gone wrong.

In the end, his house was burned down, but he made new friends and developed a broader view on race relations.
posted by quin at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]




Perhaps you could read the police report, which is a pretty good indication that the cop was a dick.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


"Disorderly conduct" is a catch-all charge that frequently means "annoyed the arresting officer."
posted by adamrice at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [35 favorites]


Oops, the name is in there. I didn't realize the blacked-out section was probably the reporting neighbor.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2009


The comments at the bottom of that article make me sick.
posted by contessa at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I encourage y'all to read the police report linked above. If it is to be believed (and I am happy to give the benefit of the doubt until proven otherwise), it seems the following happened:

1. He was having trouble getting in, and a neighbour called to get police to investigate.
2. Police came, pretty quickly realized that everything was ok, and tried to defuse the situation as Gates immediately accused the officer of racism.
3. The arrest was made not because of confusion due to breaking and entering into his own house, but due to his actions afterwards.

Now, I'm not one to put a damper on a good outragefilter post, but let's make sure the outrage is directed in the right way. IMO, if there is outrage to be directed here, it should be towards either:

1. The woman who called the complaint in (but even the article makes it seem like it was a valid suspicion, but I wasn't there, so what do I know); and

2. The cop for seemingly not just walking away, but arresting Gates seemingly out of spite because Gates was continuing to egg him on about his rights being trampled upon. I should hope that officers have enough training and sense to leave well enough alone in a circumstance where a man (in this case Gates) has a right to be annoyed, although maybe not in the proportion witnessed.

Yes, racial profiling exists, and yes, efforts should be made to stop it. But this seems less like racial profiling than an ass of a cop who responded badly to a dude making repeated threats at him under stress. Don't know if that's better or worse than racial profiling, but there you have it...

(Upon preview, Wombie got it, but in far fewer words than I)
posted by evadery at 2:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Somebody broke into my house once, this is a good time to call the police, but mm mm, nope. The house was too nice. It was a real nice house, but they'd never believe I lived in it. They'd be like 'He's still here! [whacks the microphone on the stand] Oh my god. Open and shut case, Johnson. I saw this once when I was a rookie. Apparently this nigger broke in and put up pictures of his family everywhere. Let's sprinkle some crack on him and get out of here. - Dave Chappelle
posted by phrontist at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009 [27 favorites]


You can send officer Figueroa an email here and let him know what you think.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009


Actually, after reading the police report (linked to in the article in the FPP), it seems that Gates didn't bother to produce a driver's license or other ID with an address on it, but rather chose to offer his Harvard Faculty ID.

And they seem to have arrested him not for breaking into his own home, but for being loud and shouting at the officers who were called to investigate the potential break-in.

(Actually, I say potential break-in. It actually WAS a break-in. Only enacted by the owner of the house.)

((I don't blame him for feeling beligerant. But I do wonder, if the police report is indeed factual, whether Gates might have handled himself a tad better in this situation. Not saying he should have, just wondering if the whole arrest thing might have been avoided.)

(((I once had the cops show up at my door because I forgot my keys and had to break into my own place. I showed them my ID, explained what happened, and they soon left. But then, I'm not a black man.)))
posted by hippybear at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009


People actually do break into their own homes for illegal purposes. He was just lucky he wasn't tazed.
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009


There's a link to the police report in the actual link. Reading it through, and if it's correct, the police officer asked for ID, was shown it, then left the house. The Professor followed him outside, shouting that he was a racist cop and was arrested for disorderly conduct.

Which may or may not be cop speak for "being an asshole and not showing proper respect to a police officer".
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009


Of course it probably depends on the cops' attitudes when they asked, but who would be surprised by this?

Perhaps you could read the police report, which is a pretty good indication that the cop was a dick.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2009


From the pdf: "While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me."

That's where it goes of the rails, right there. Cop got pissed that a Gates tried to pull rank and decided to teach him a lesson. After he'd verified that Gates was in his own home, he should have backed off. Instead he escalated. Fire his racist ass.
posted by felix betachat at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The AP story says someone called the police to say a man was on a front porch trying to pry the door open

According to the police report, a white woman called the police on her cellphone and said that she saw two black males with backpacks, and one of them was "wedging his shoulder into the door as if trying to force entry." That's not the same thing as "trying to pry the door open."
posted by blucevalo at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


And of course, the white female neighbor who called the cops because she saw two black guys at her neighbor's house is completely blameless. She's not making judgements base on race at all. She's a fabulous neighbor who just can't tell what her neighbor looks like. Cause all those black guys with backpacks look alike.
posted by teleri025 at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


If the police report is accurate (that's a big if), they don't seem to have acted very unreasonably. They responded to a report of a crime, and they intended to leave when they established that the Professor was a resident, but he continued to shout abuse at the cops.

Without Gates making a statement, we really don't know enough about this case to make any conclusions.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2009


Blazecock,

It sounds like the officer tried to leave , but Gates followed him outside and continued to berate him publicly as he was exiting the premise.


This seems like disorderly conduct to me. While disorderly conduct can, and often is, used as a catchall by the police, this actually seems like a legitimate use.

The moral of this story isn't that cops are racist. It's "don't follow around police officers around and call them names, or you will get arrested."
posted by HabeasCorpus at 2:43 PM on July 20, 2009


"I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside.... His reply was, 'Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside.'"
posted by box at 2:44 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This may be an FPP-worthy event (I'm a big fan of Gates and have been following his work for years), but the language of the post is majorly misleading. Flagged.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:44 PM on July 20, 2009


Looking at the redacted report, Gates was in the foyer as the officer appeared. I have no love for police, but I suppose if a neighbor called and said that two men with backpacks might be breaking in, I might want someone to take a look.

A few things bother me:

1) Cops have all of this nifty networked gear. Surely they can't punch in an address, pull up the owners, and from there get their pictures from the driver's licenses? If we're going to have an omnipresent police state, where's the integration? Wouldn't it be handy to have a picture of the owner in mind prior to approaching the house? An enterprising burglar could have a fake ID printed up prior to a big haul, with their picture on it. It's a stretch for all but the wealthiest of targets.

2) Wouldn't this guy be smart enough to stop yelling at the police officer after identification has taken place? Or is he that carried away? Is yelling all that is required for "tumultuous behavior?" This sounds like the reaction of a hysteric, which just seems ... odd. I guess anyone can have a bad day.

Seriously, helmets with black box recorders in them, while police are on duty, at all times. Stuff like this would be settled in a heartbeat.
posted by adipocere at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


3. The arrest was made not because of confusion due to breaking and entering into his own house, but due to his actions afterwards.

This is the part I don't get. At this point, the police officer is there of his own volition now; on private property, and has determined that no crime has taken place. Why did it go further? Sure, Gates may have been uncooperative and belligerent - it sounds like it. But wasn't he on his own property, and innocent of a crime? Who wouldn't be irritated? Why did the officer not just leave? Why did the officer call for backup rather than say "Sorry to disturb you sir, no problem here, all a misunderstanding" and remove himself from the presence of the angry homeowner, his work done? Somehow, I think if this had happened to a white man like my father, around Gates' age, in a decent neighborhood like this one, that's what would have happened.
posted by Miko at 2:45 PM on July 20, 2009 [91 favorites]


Why did the officer not just leave? Why did the officer call for backup rather than say "Sorry to disturb you sir, no problem here, all a misunderstanding" and remove himself from the presence of the angry homeowner, his work done? Somehow, I think if this had happened to a white man like my father, around Gates' age, in a decent neighborhood like this one, that's what would have happened.

This.
posted by felix betachat at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


That's where it goes of the rails, right there. Cop got pissed that a Gates tried to pull rank and decided to teach him a lesson. After he'd verified that Gates was in his own home, he should have backed off. Instead he escalated. Fire his racist ass.

Gates, or Figueroa?
posted by oaf at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Could someone please link to the police report?
posted by kirkaracha at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


I’m kind of surprised the cop didn’t freak out when the guy decided to make a phone call. That doesn’t seem like the sort of thing cops would be too happy about.
posted by Artw at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2009


I'm the last guy to stand up for a cop (I was pulled over doing 70 in a 70 in kansas, and I overheard the cop tell dispatch he thought I was a mexican) or an asshole neighbor, but if I saw two people, whatever color, shouldering a door I'd call the cops.
posted by notsnot at 2:49 PM on July 20, 2009


At some point, he seems to have realized that it would be immensely beneficial to him to get arrested and be able to report a case of racial profiling, and thus he had an incentive to be as belligerent as possible.

... really?

So you don't think that maybe if you were in your own house one night by yourself and a cop knocks on the door and wants you to step outside the front door and ID yourself, you might be a little miffed? You think it has to be that this guy is all "WOOHOO IT WOULD BE GOOD FOR MY CAREER TO GET ARRESTED FOR THIS!"

I mean, dude, the guy is Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and a Harvard professor, I don't think he needs to get arrested by some cop to boost his career.

Look, I get that cops have a tough job, and I try to make things easy for them, but the penalty for not being polite in your own house, to a cop who has made a mistake, shouldn't be getting arrested.
posted by Comrade_robot at 2:51 PM on July 20, 2009 [27 favorites]


I really like "exhibiting loud and tumultuous behavior" as a description.
posted by snofoam at 2:54 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Perhaps you could read the police report, which is a pretty good indication that the cop was a dick.

I fail to understand how you could draw that conclusion on the basis of what the police officer wrote in the report, Mental Wimp. Read it again, but substitute "European" for "Black man." Would you not conclude that it was the European who was being the dick?
posted by Turtles all the way down at 2:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The moral of this story isn't that cops are racist. It's "don't follow around police officers around and call them names, or you will get arrested."

HOLY FUCKING SHIT.

Yes, it is rude to follow a police officer, even one who has been hassling you when you're trying to get into your house, out onto the sidewalk and shout at them.

But I live in Cambridge. The police do not ordinarily arrest people who shout at them here. I see drunken youths shouting at police in Harvard Square every weekend night, and nobody gets arrested.

"Disorderly conduct" my ass.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [28 favorites]


kirkaracha, here's the police report.
posted by blucevalo at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2009


but the penalty for not being polite in your own house, to a cop who has made a mistake, shouldn't be getting arrested.

Fair enough, but -
1. the cop didn't make a mistake, the cop was dispatched to investigate a call and
2. Gates wasn't arrested for not being polite in his own house - the cop left and Gates followed him outside and continued yelling at him in front of a gathering crowd.
posted by moxiedoll at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2009


If I saw MY NEIGHBOR banging on his door, I would assume he couldn't get in and ask him if I could help.

I mean, how fucked up is that? Gates has lived in that house for years.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [14 favorites]


I can't whip up much outrage either. When you actually read the police report, it sounds like Gates was being rude, uncooperative, and offensive to an officer trying to investigate a possible crime.

Be nice to the police: often, they're just trying to do their job and make the neighborhood a safer place.


Eponysterical.

So what? The police come to an older black man's porch on the basis of a call they quickly find was erroneous and they should have just gotten back to doing their job of making the community safer. Why keep talking to the guy, let alone arrest him, just because he is boisterously indignant? Being a jerk to the police, while hardly virtuous or practical behavior, shouldn't be grounds for arrest.

In my experience police work all too often attracts the kind of person who can't walk away and enjoys the exercise of authority.
posted by phrontist at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


He was probably all hepped up on goofballs.
posted by snofoam at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2009



This is the part I don't get. At this point, the police officer is there of his own volition now; on private property, and has determined that no crime has taken place. Why did it go further? Sure, Gates may have been uncooperative and belligerent - it sounds like it. But wasn't he on his own property, and innocent of a crime? Who wouldn't be irritated? Why did the officer not just leave?


The "disorderly conduct" charge, along with "resisting arrest," is notoriously vague, and cops are notorious for using it to punish people who engage in behavior that they deem insufficiently obsequious. Patricia J. Williams devoted one of her columns in the Nation to this subject years ago, which I can't find online. In it, she recounts what happened when her (upper-middle class black) was pulled over for a minor infraction, and when she responded to the officer by saying, "Are you kidding?" The officer threatened to add "resisting arrest" to the charges.

Somehow, I think if this had happened to a white man like my father, around Gates' age, in a decent neighborhood like this one, that's what would have happened.

I think that's part of the problem. Both in the sense that justified annoyance is more likely to be percieved as inappropriate or disrespectful when the person is black, and because black people -- especially black men -- are perceived as more threatening, and police officers therefore respond in a manner that is totally out of proportion to the behavior in question. In my experience, part of white privilege is being able to assume that much of the time you'll get the benefit of the doubt. Or rather, that you won't have to fear that the color of your skin will deprive you of the benefit of the doubt.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


2. Gates wasn't arrested for not being polite in his own house - the cop left and Gates followed him outside and continued yelling at him in front of a gathering crowd.

Since when is a middle-aged short man yelling on the sidewalk in the middle of the day a public disturbance that needs to be dealt with by an arrest?

I live in Cambridge and the police never arrest people for being angry or shouting on the sidewalk. I mean, fuck, when I was hit by a car in Harvard Square, they wouldn't even take the car's license plate number.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Yeah, which is why I'd expect to be arrested if I acted like that.
posted by Artw at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2009


Stay classy, Cambridge.

But we already are. Or so I thought.

From the report: "The actions of behalf of Gates served no legitimate purpose and caused citizens passing by this location to stop and take notice while appearing surprised and alarmed."

Mr. Gates lives in the uppity, tourist part of Cambridge.

Last Thursday evening as I strolled through a busy Central Sq. in Cambridge, I personally witnessed a scraggly-looking woman swat a sitting, elderly gentleman over the head with a newspaper to which he stood up, reared back and punched her squarely in the face. The actions on behalf of the old geezer served no legitimate purpose other than to avenge the paper-swatting and caused absolutely no passing citizen, including from myself, to stop, take notice nor appear to be surprised or alarmed.

It's funny how life, and the seriousness of the Cambridge PD can change over the space of a couple of city blocks.
posted by jsavimbi at 2:58 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Seriously. Arresting the highest-profile (well, one of 'em anyway) big-brained black man in the country on his own property for getting upset about being carded in his own home seems like a not-so-big-brained move.
posted by mwhybark at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


just because he is boisterously indignant?

Actually, he was loud and tumultuous.
posted by snofoam at 2:59 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


After reading the police report, it seems to me like the neighbor was being civic minded, and Dr. Gates was a jerk, and it occurs to me that the whole incident could have been avoided if Gates and his neighbor knew one another. Maybe people shouldn't stay in their houses so much.
posted by dortmunder at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's pretty cute that some of you think that a reading a police report can help one to understand what happened.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2009 [41 favorites]


To those citing the police report as evidence that Gates is the party in the wrong:

We know that the police lie about their actions against civilians all the time. We know that the police regularly and routinely lie about taking wrong action.

The police lie. If anything happens that makes them look bad they lie.

At this point, after all the lies, I'm frankly unwilling to take the word of the police. I assume that they are lying unless they have actual evidence to support their position.

It is possible that Prof. Gates was an asshole to them. But I think, after all we have seen of the police, that the more likely event is that the police assumed he was just another black criminal, treated him in an unprofessional manner, and that if he really did say anything rude to the police it was perfectly justified.

I do not trust the police. Unless there is video, preferably shot by a third (non-police or police sympathizing) party I really don't believe their account of any event.

Maybe these police really are telling the truth, I doubt it but it is possible. But after all the efforts of the so-called "good" police to cover up for the bad ones, I don't think its either irrational or surprising that many people automatically assume all police are lying, and will lie to cover up for their fellows.

Maybe Prof. Gates was in the wrong. I can't say for sure. But I can say that the mere fact that there's a police report claiming he was in the wrong is not sufficient evidence for me, or I would hope any reasonable person, to assume that he is. The police lie all the time.
posted by sotonohito at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2009 [27 favorites]


Seriously, helmets with black box recorders in them, while police are on duty, at all times. Stuff like this would be settled in a heartbeat.

Which is why it will never happen. They already hate the way the keep getting busted by their own patrol car cams.
posted by emjaybee at 3:01 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Click your heels three times and say Oprah. Riot anyone?
posted by JohnR at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2009


Pretty much everyone involved seems to have been a dick.

In any event, I find the fact that a professor at Harvard is "shaken" and "horrified" to hear that one of his colleagues was taken downtown for a disorderly conduct arrest kind of funny. I mean, disorderly conduct is a bullshit misdemeanor used by cops when they're pissed. It's not something to be horrified about, unless you are easily horrified.
posted by moonbiter at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I always have the most respect for the umpires of baseball games that just walk away from the manager when one comes out to argue and the most contempt for those that go toe to toe and further inflame the situation. This police officer seems to be the latter. Good policemen like good umpires understand that their job sometimes puts them in contact with people who are highly emotionally charged and the best thing to do in that situation is to put their ego in their pocket and diffuse the situation.
posted by any major dude at 3:02 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


This is a police are dicks story rather than a scream "racist" story. Any attempt to exercise your civil rights annoys the police. Their view seems to be, if you are innocent, just show us the id/comply/answer all questions.

I recently was in an aquaintances house when he was raided for drugs and was threatened with being cuffed - for asking to see the warrant.

no drugs were found - due mainly to their non existence
posted by fistynuts at 3:03 PM on July 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


I fail to understand how you could draw that conclusion on the basis of what the police officer wrote in the report, Mental Wimp.

From the report: "Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police."

To what end? He had established that the lawful owner of the house was in his own house. What purpose did hanging around serve, other than being a dick to a black guy he considered unpleasant. Is this a cop's duty? Really? REALLY?
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


I mean, disorderly conduct is a bullshit misdemeanor used by cops when they're pissed. It's not something to be horrified about, unless you are easily horrified.

Or, you know, if you're African-American.
posted by blucevalo at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


At some point, he seems to have realized that it would be immensely beneficial to him to get arrested and be able to report a case of racial profiling, and thus he had an incentive to be as belligerent as possible.

Immensely beneficial, indeed! Perhaps he'd be even considered for a professorship at Harvard University. Maybe even a tenured one at that! Perhaps, in fact, staging such an incident might be the key to making himself one of the most eminent public intellectuals in the United States, a major figure in contemporary American cultural life, and one of the most powerful academics in the country.

Oh, wait.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [34 favorites]


Somehow, I think if this had happened to a white man like my father, around Gates' age, in a decent neighborhood like this one, that's what would have happened.

I don't know about that — I'm pretty sure that if you're a white person, and you start railing at a police officer, maybe follow them out onto the street and continue yelling at them in public, you're going to get your ass arrested. I'm not about to try it as a controlled experiment, but some of my friends over the years have tried the yelling-at-cops thing and it generally goes rather poorly. Sometimes you can get away with a smartass remark or two, but once you start obviously challenging their authority (like they say "stop yelling" and you keep yelling), you're probably getting a ride in a cruiser.

You could argue that if Gates hadn't been black then the whole situation never would have gotten so confrontational — I think that's probably true. Without the race tension it's just a sort of comical mistaken-identity, "guess you should talk to the neighbors more often" thing. If Gates had been white he probably wouldn't have had any reason to start yelling at the cop, and thus wouldn't have gotten arrested.

I don't know if just from the facts provided, you can really conclude that the arresting officer really was racist; from his perspective he showed up to possibly investigate an in-progress B&E, and instead got some guy from Harvard calling him racist. Bad day all around.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I fail to understand how you could draw that conclusion on the basis of what the police officer wrote in the report, Mental Wimp. Read it again, but substitute "European" for "Black man." Would you not conclude that it was the European who was being the dick?

POLICE REPORT SUPPORTS OFFICER'S VERSION OF EVENTS, FILM AT 11
posted by rkent at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


After reading the police report, it seems to me like the neighbor was being civic minded

It's not very "civic minded" not to recognize your own neighbors, actually.

Ware Street is not a busy street. It is a quiet, leafy little street with very little traffic.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cambridge police have always been famously racist. They've also been rather deferential to Harvard. This has created similar collisions in the past.

The obvious answer is for Harvard to cease hiring black faculty or recruiting black students. Then the Cambridge police can be sure that when they see a black man it's someone they can pick on with impunity. It's just so confusing when they start getting all educated and shit.

/irony

Come one, people . . . you know this would not have happened to a white Harvard professor living in that neighborhood, no matter what he shouted at the police. Gates is a bit theatrical and self-important sometimes, but if they arrested white men for that there would be no male faculty members left at Harvard.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


I'm pretty sure that if you're a white person, and you start railing at a police officer, maybe follow them out onto the street and continue yelling at them in public, you're going to get your ass arrested.

Come to Cambridge any night of the week, and I will show you people conducting this very experiment and not getting arrested. Many of them are intoxicated and/or mentally ill. Fun for everyone!
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


After reading the police report, it seems to me like the neighbor was being civic minded

"Civic minded," or nosy and possibly obtrusive and ax-grindy?

You decide.
posted by blucevalo at 3:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


(That said, I'd pay good money to see Harvey Mansfield cuffed by a woman cop.)
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


...the penalty for not being polite in your own house, to a cop who has made a mistake...

the cop didn't make a mistake. he was called to investigate a break-in, and that's exactly what he found. everything goes into the toilet after gates' innocence is established.

</nottakingapositiononthisatall>
posted by klanawa at 3:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why did the officer call for backup rather than say "Sorry to disturb you sir, no problem here, all a misunderstanding" and remove himself from the presence of the angry homeowner, his work done?

I think you've got to read between the lines of the police report a bit, but it would appear the officer believed Dr. Gates was in the process of committing the (lesser and included) crime of attempted uppityness. Can't be having that in a nice upscale neighbourhood. Bad for property values.
posted by gompa at 3:12 PM on July 20, 2009 [9 favorites]


Yes, seriously, you "he's doing it for the attention" folks are kind of not getting who Henry Louis Gates is. He doesn't need this attention--he gets lots of the good kind because of his professional achievements.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:12 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gates is a bit theatrical and self-important sometimes, but if they arrested white men for that there would be no male faculty members left at Harvard.

Except maybe Harvey Mansfield.
posted by blucevalo at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2009


(That said, I'd pay good money to see Harvey Mansfield cuffed by a woman cop.)

Please, Jesus. Please.

He is a walking punchline, with his high-pitched squeaking about "manliness" and his giant Stetson hat.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So you don't think that maybe if you were in your own house one night by yourself and a cop knocks on the door and wants you to step outside the front door and ID yourself, you might be a little miffed?

I'd be glad, actually, if the buggers had bothered to turn up to a report that my house might be getting broken into.

I've had to force my own front door a couple of times in my life, and during both of them I was constantly mentally preparing what I'd say to the cops when they turned up, how I'd prove myself and so on.

Strangely, none of those times did I think "when the police turn up and ask me who the hell I am, I will refuse to identify myself, and assume I'm being asked because of my race rather than the busted-up front door. I will then become incandescent and start shouting at the police officer. That can only end well."

(The neighbour, though, sheesh.)
posted by fightorflight at 3:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Phrontist,

It sounds, from the police report, like the officer tried to do exactly that: leave and go back to his job. It further sounds like Gates followed him through the house, outside, and continued shouting at him.

Sidhedevil, I think there is a difference between Gates behavior, and that of a drunken youth. A drunken youth can shout out obsenities at police for fun, but it doesn't really rise to the same level of verbal engagement that Gates engaged in. It seems like Gates sustained for a length of time, a verbal tirade against the officer.

I see two problems with this whole situation. (1) I think this is all based on conjecture, and right now on the police report. The police report is obviously going to paint the officer in a better light than whatever statement Gates may release. Not having all the facts, we should reserve judgement.

(2) A lot of people have expressed reservations about the use of "disorderly conduct" as a legitimate means of arrest. I agree that it can be used as a catchall for everything a police officer doesn't like, and is problematic. But this is a seperate issue. Was it fair that the cop arrested Gates for being annoying? No. But that does not necessarily mean that the officer should be accused of making a racially motivated arrest.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 3:14 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Being a jerk to the police, while hardly virtuous or practical behavior, shouldn't be grounds for arrest.

Yeah. If (again, if) the police report is accurate, it sounds like Gates was being a jerk, but I agree that that's not a good reason to arrest the guy. I'd say the officer got peeved about the situation and reacted unprofessionally by arresting the guy instead of just leaving. Is the cop racist, though? Maybe, maybe not. I honestly don't think we can tell, so it seems a bit trigger-happy to jump to a clear conclusion about that. There are plenty of cops that act badly or unprofessionally out unchecked anger or arrogance, without being spurred by racism. I'm not sure what emailing him is going to do.
posted by the other side at 3:15 PM on July 20, 2009


"If I saw MY NEIGHBOR banging on his door, I would assume he couldn't get in and ask him if I could help."

posted by Sidhedevil at 2:56 PM on July 20


Obviously she didn't recognize Gates as being her neighbor. (I realize I'm giving her a little benefit of the doubt here, but do you seriously think this woman knowingly called the cops on her neighbor? I don't see anything in this story to suggest that.)
posted by sriracha at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2009


At some point, he seems to have realized that it would be immensely beneficial to him to get arrested and be able to report a case of racial profiling, and thus he had an incentive to be as belligerent as possible.

It's true: Getting arrested by the police is actually how professors at Ivy League schools get tenure. Just do a weekend stint wearing Cambridge County blues (in your choice of tweed or herringbone), and sit back and wait. Puff pensively on a pipe, if needed. When that invitation to an impromptu faculty cocktail party shows up the following week, show mock surprise while giving a quiet moment of thanks to the PD. Guaranteed to work every time.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sidhedevil, I think there is a difference between Gates behavior, and that of a drunken youth. A drunken youth can shout out obsenities at police for fun, but it doesn't really rise to the same level of verbal engagement that Gates engaged in. It seems like Gates sustained for a length of time, a verbal tirade against the officer.

And?

The officer could have gotten in his car and driven away at any moment, just like they do when drunken youths and the mentally-ill homeless shout at them (and if you want to see drawn-out verbal tirades, some of the homeless denizens of Harvard Square have astonishing gifts in that regard).

Arresting people for losing their temper after an upsetting event in the middle of the day in front of their own home is shitty police work. It may or may not be racist, but it's shitty police work.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm going to say that this had nothing to do with race and everything to do with class. I mean showing your Harvard identification card? Telling the cop he's going to regret this? Making a phone call and loudly asking for the chief of police?

The police report is incredibly bias, in so much as it makes the professor look crazy, absolutely crazy. I've been enough airports to know that when someone is frustrated it doesn't take much for some people to go off the deep end very quickly. This guy was probably late, saw the cop show up and thought "fuck it is because I'm a black guy," and totally went ballistic. The cop, some kid from the south side of Boston is at this guy's house which is probably costs 10x more than he makes a year and is getting completely dressed down, being called a racist, reminded that he's talking to a highly distinguished professor, etc. Then a crowd forms and the cop feels as if he has to do something, or has enough witnesses that if he arrests this guy no one will dispute the fact that he was acting like a total crazy.

Personal anecdote: I spent the 4th of July in a very chi-chi old money neighborhood where some little shits were shooting off fireworks. The cops came, went to confiscate the fireworks when coming flying out the door is Mr. Lawyer who is a Big Time Lawyer and, "Why are you taking my kid's fireworks," "It is illegal to have fireworks," "Oh it is just the forth of July they're having fun, what's your problem?" followed by a long line of expletives, a lot of name dropping, mentioning that they've been doing this for years when their father owned this house, some more name dropping, some more crazy talk, etc. They got off with a fine but the cop was definitely going blow for blow in who can be a bigger dick.

So the moral of the story is never try to out dick a cop because in the end they have handcuffs. Yes it sucks, but when it comes to authority figures some people totally act irrational.
posted by geoff. at 3:18 PM on July 20, 2009 [22 favorites]



(That said, I'd pay good money to see Harvey Mansfield cuffed by a woman cop.)


I will pay good money for someone to post a Mansfield FPP just so I could share my opinion on this matter, in detail, and offer additional suggestions.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2009


Obviously she didn't recognize Gates as being her neighbor.

Yes, that is why I'm quibbling with the description of her as being "civic-minded." Civic-minded people know who their neighbors are in this kind of setting--it's a small, quiet street.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I am not an anti-police "fuck the pigs" kind of guy. But I've been giving the police the benefit of the doubt for a long, long time now, and in the past couple of years, it's really started to bite me in the ass.

It pains me to type this, because most of the cops I know personally are good, moral people, but there is absolutely no reason we should trust the police report as a realistic, accurate reporting of what actually occurred.

And I'm saying this as a paramedic, as a guy who works closely with the police day in and day out, as someone who tends to believe that the police are trying to do a tough job on a day-to-day basis.

After Amadou Diallou, after Oscar Grant, after Prince Jones, after story after story after story of people, inevitably black males, running into "trouble with the cops", from getting savagely beaten all the way up to murdered, and seeing the police departments straight-out lie about these incidents, I'm done.

The benefit of the doubt is gone. At this point, if a police officer told me the sky was blue, I'd be inclined to check it myself and get witnesses. The long slide from protecting the public trust to occuping public spaces as an invading army, that started with Daryl Gates and his SWAT teams in Los Angeles, is reaching its apex across the United States.

Jim Webb is fighting the good fight to reform criminal justice in this country, but until he gets somewhere with it, when there's an incident involving a black person and the police in the news, my inclination (as someone who wants to trust the police) is to look at everything in the official report and assume that pretty much the inverse happened.
posted by scrump at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2009 [28 favorites]


Was it fair that the cop arrested Gates for being annoying? No.

You missed the clarifying clauses following this statement that move it out of the misty realms of simple misunderstanding: Was it fair that the cop arrested Gates for "being annoying" in his own yard after attempting to arrest him for breaking into his own goddamn house, after which absurd intrusion on his privacy the cop decided to take umbrage with the tone Gates may or may not have used to voice his completely justified insult and disgust with the very fact of the situation? No.
posted by gompa at 3:20 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I'm not concerned that the cop was racist, I'm concerned that he was gates-ist. The police are preferable to roving gangs of citizen vigilantes precisely because they're supposed to be able to act with self-restraint and impartiality.

It sounds, from the police report, like the officer tried to do exactly that: leave and go back to his job. It further sounds like Gates followed him through the house, outside, and continued shouting at him.

Any sense of decorum for someone entrusted with enacting the law would have kept him walking.
posted by phrontist at 3:22 PM on July 20, 2009


after attempting to arrest him for breaking into his own goddamn house'

When did he do that?
posted by the other side at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2009


Of course the cop was a dick. There is zero doubt. Gates was probably also a dick. But it is the cop who was in the wrong. Once he established that Gates was the owner of the house, he should have left, period, end of story. Instead, he hung around making pointless calls (to Harvard) and inflaming the situation. It didn't matter that Gates was a dick - obviously Gates was annoyed, and probably went way overboard with racism charges and general douchebaggery, but he was on his own property having committed no crime. The cop should have left at that point.

Gates followed him, because the cop was arrogant and unapologetic about the fuck-up, and on the contrary, being a dick. Why is it a crime to follow the officer onto a public street? What, are they pharaohs whose faces commoners are not allowed to see? A cop is a public servant, and the public should be able to monitor and document the cops work in public (as long as they don't obstruct their work).

And I do believe that Gates asked the cop for his name, which the cop took to be uppity. And I think he lies in his report about providing the name, because of the way he phrases it, how he "tried" to provide it, and how Gates kept asking him. Bullshit, had the cop provided it, there would be no reason for Gates to keep asking for it. Clearly he wanted to assert his authority and concocted a bullshit charge (which disorderly conduct usually is).

The cop should be fired. Enough of this "cops as occupying army" bullshit. Time we made it stick, that they work for us. As ever in history, the security services turn on the very people they are supposed to protect. Enough.
posted by VikingSword at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2009 [16 favorites]


That's pretty cute that some of you think that a reading a police report can help one to understand what happened.

I think the point is that even if you believe the police report, the conclusion can still reasonably be drawn that Gates' behavior did not warrant an arrest for disorderly conduct.

Given that he probably already upset about having gotten locked out of his house and having to force his way back in, I can easily imagine that the last thing he wanted to deal with is being questioned by a police officer about it. The whole thing was probably fairly embarrassing and frustrating, and the racial element only compounded matters. Yes, he vented his anger and frustration at the officer, and that was probably a poor choice, but the officer's response should have been to defuse the situation by leaving with an apology, not to arrest him.

Basically, the disorderly conduct only happened because of the officer's presence. The officer could have left, ending the 'crime' but instead chose to stay until things got bad enough to (in the officer's mind) justify an arrest.
posted by jedicus at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


after attempting to arrest him for breaking into his own goddamn house
Didn't do this

after which absurd intrusion on his privacy
Policeman gets report of men trying to break into home. Arrives at home, finds men fitting description inside home, asks them to provide ID (which they refuse). This is absurd?

the tone Gates may or may not have used
The good thing is that Gates is very eloquent, and more than able to put his side of the case, probably much better than the officer can. So shortly we'll be far better able to judge the mays and may nots.

to voice his completely justified insult and disgust with the very fact of the situation?
Again, you break in anywhere and you're not terribly justified in being insulted by a police officer asking you who you are.
posted by fightorflight at 3:25 PM on July 20, 2009


You come home. Your door won't open; either you forgot your key, or the lock is old and jammed. You spend what seems like an eternity trying to get in, and frustration easily sets in.

As a black man in America, well-versed in the history of racial profiling and poor treatment by authority figures, you might laugh at yourself because, how suspicious must you look trying to force open your own door in this nice neighborhood? But, then again, this is the nice neighborhood you had made your home for years, after you became the W.E.B. DuBois professor of African-American studies at Harvard. It's a nice neighborhood.

Then again, how well do you know your neighbors? No, no, this is America. Racial profiling happens, but ... well, what if somebody actually did call the Police? After all, you are a black man trying to force open a door in a nice neighborhood.

Your palms are sweating. You're getting very frustrated, cursing under your breath, because right now you just need to have the comfort and safety of being in your own home.

Finally, you make your way in. Not long after, you see a police officer come up to your door. Shit. You. Are. Not. In. The. Mood.

"Please step outside, sir," says the Police Officer. Out of your own home? Why? So he can put the cuffs on me?

"No, I will not. I live here."

"Please step outside, so we can talk."

"You can talk to me just fine from where you're standing."

"Can I see some identification," he demands. Is he serious? Asking for your identification? Of course. He's going to assume, because I'm black, that I'm some sort of criminal. In my own fucking home.

"Can I see some of your identification, officer?"
posted by jabberjaw at 3:25 PM on July 20, 2009 [53 favorites]


Anyone remember that professor who was arrested in Atlanta in 2007 for jaywalking? Sometimes police can be dicks, regardless of the race of the academic in question.
posted by found missing at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2009


That Officer Joseph Wilson III, by the way, is a huge fucking baby. "Oh noes, he called me racist in front of a crowd of affluent-looking white rubbernecking folks. I better arrest him so I don't look like a fool."
posted by jabberjaw at 3:27 PM on July 20, 2009


"I should hope that officers have enough training and sense to leave well enough alone in a circumstance where a man (in this case Gates) has a right to be annoyed,"

I don't understand this at all. Police were on scene to investigate a possible B&E reported from a traceable source. Why oh why would the home owner be annoyed? Did they tear gas/tase him on the way in the door? I'd be happy the cops showed up fast enough to actually catch the guy.

"After he'd verified that Gates was in his own home, he should have backed off. Instead he escalated. Fire his racist ass."

The is Police SOP everywhere I've been, whether the parties are white, black or romulan. Cops lurve it when you follow them around yelling at them for doing their job and accusing them of being a racist while playing the special privilege card.

"the racist here is the neighbor, who apparently doesn't recognize the guy who lives across the street."

WTF!? How does that indicate racism? The neighbour, for what ever reason (maybe they are new or have a visual disablity) didn't recognize the guy breaking into the house across the street and then calls the cops instead of either just ignoring it or taking pot shots out the window. How is that racist? The neighbour should be commended for being a decent citizen. We should all be so lucky to have neighbours like this up and down are street.

For all the people saying the neighbour is racist what would you have liked her to do when she saw someone breaking into the house across the street that she didn't recognize? What possible action could she have taken that wouldn't be considered racist?

Comrade_robot writes "So you don't think that maybe if you were in your own house one night by yourself and a cop knocks on the door and wants you to step outside the front door and ID yourself, you might be a little miffed? "

I don't know, did I just force my front door open?

Sidhedevil writes "I mean, how fucked up is that? Gates has lived in that house for years."

Great. How long has the neighbour been there?

Mental Wimp writes "'Upon learning that Gates was affiliated with Harvard, I radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.'

"To what end? He had established that the lawful owner of the house was in his own house. What purpose did hanging around serve, other than being a dick to a black guy he considered unpleasant. Is this a cop's duty?"


Probably. Often cities with a large university presence that have peace officers rather than rent a cops for security have agreements with the local PD. It would be normal to consult with the campus police as even off campus disturbances are often dealt with by them to prevent some special snowflake from getting a police record for being an ass.
posted by Mitheral at 3:30 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Well, I wasn't there so I don't think it's fair for me to comment.
posted by Ron Thanagar at 3:32 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Gates wasn't arrested for not being polite in his own house - the cop left and Gates followed him outside and continued yelling at him in front of a gathering crowd.

The police officer admits in his own report that he repeatedly asked Gates to follow him outside, and outside in front of his house is still probably on his own property. There is no indication in the report that Gates said or did anything menacing to the (armed) cops or to provoke the spectators. It seems pretty clear that he was taken into custody for being angry-while-black.

I'm betting that very soon these officers are going to be wishing real, real hard that along with a homeowner photo, their cruiser's computer could have downloaded a copy of Gates's CV because then they might have been forewarned about the righteous hailstorm of shit they were about to bring down upon themselves.

Meanwhile, the $64,000 question is:

How the fuck does anybody manage not to know that she lives on the same block as Skip Gates? I mean, if this neighbor moved in after he did, you know her realtor was name-dropping the whole time. And if he moved in after she did, the place would have been buzzing. He's had a series on PBS, for heaven's sake. How could you get more famous than that among the NPR-ites in Cambridge, Mass.?
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:33 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thinking about class, I started doing a little Googling to try to determine if Joseph Wilson III was also a third-generation police officer. Instead, I learned that Lieutenant Wilson makes $172,000 a year.
posted by box at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2009


"It would be normal to consult with the campus police as even off campus disturbances are often dealt with by them to prevent some special snowflake from getting a police record for being an ass."

Also the Harvard police could verify the Hardard ID presented was legitimate, something the Cambridge Police would be unable to do.
posted by Mitheral at 3:34 PM on July 20, 2009


"And?"

Sidhedevil,

I think we disagree on the amount of respect and deference that should be afforded to a police officer on active duty.

It's one thing to ignore the ramblings of a mentally-ill homeless man, and entirely something else to follow a police officer attempting to leave your home, and shout at him as he is leaving in front of the crowd. It's not the length of the tirade I was referring to when I was talking about "sustained". It was the continued attempts by Gates to keep the argument going- to continue to keep yelling, insulting and making a public scene when officer had cleared Gates of any wrongdoing and was trying to leave.

But maybe this is a pointless arguement, because Gates might have an entirely different version of events. Lets wait for what he has to say.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 3:37 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm amazed that so many people find it unfathomable that a guy with an endowed professorship who is director of a significant part of one of the world's preeminent universities just might have a rather large ego.
posted by oaf at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Regardless of who was on the right side of this thing, I just want to chime in and say that I think anyone who says, "Do you know who I am?" is a giant tool.
posted by kbanas at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [23 favorites]


to prevent some special snowflake from getting a police record for being an ass.

Now there's a phrase I'd love to see retired one of these days.
posted by metagnathous at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is there any screw-up by police that somebody on Metafilter won't excuse? "Contempt of cop" is not a crime. In Gates' case, I'd say it was well-deserved.
posted by jonp72 at 3:39 PM on July 20, 2009


It's nice that in cases like this, everybody waits until all the facts are in before passing judgment, and that nobody relies on preformed social scripts peopled by one-dimensional caricatures.
posted by yoink at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


How the fuck does anybody manage not to know that she lives on the same block as Skip Gates? I mean, if this neighbor moved in after he did, you know her realtor was name-dropping the whole time.

I was equally mystified by this. In Cambridge, a guy like Gates isn't the equivalent to a celebrity, he is a celebrity. It's like living in the Dakota circa 1979 and not knowing that your neighbor is John Lennon.

What I'm afraid of is that she did know him, and somehow, in darkness, he became just another black guy.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Regardless of who was on the right side of this thing, I just want to chime in and say that I think anyone who says, "Do you know who I am?" is a giant tool.

There are exactly six people who are allowed to say that and get away with it. Henry Louis Gates is one of them. So is Stephen Hawking.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Also the Harvard police could verify the Hardard ID presented was legitimate, something the Cambridge Police would be unable to do.

wHat!?????!
posted by Mental Wimp at 3:41 PM on July 20, 2009


Did anyone notice this:

Gates told me that the door was un securable due to a previous break attempt at the residence

Now, while I agree that the neighbor calling the police was probably slightly racist, and the cop was probably a jerk, and Gates probably got a little too upset, wouldn't you want the cops to come and check if it looked like there was suspicious activity around your home?
posted by hazyspring at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2009


There are exactly six people who are allowed to say that and get away with it. Henry Louis Gates is one of them. So is Stephen Hawking.

Touche.
posted by kbanas at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2009


How could you get more famous than that among the NPR-ites in Cambridge, Mass.?

"Hi, Skip, you're on Car Talk."
posted by oaf at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


"I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside.... His reply was, 'Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside.'"

This is where the officer tips to us that his intention was to escalate the situation and arrest Gates.

The officer wanted him outside so he could potentially charge him with things like creating a public nuisance which would not apply inside Gate's home.

In fact, I bet the officer was trying to get him outside so they could arrest him on suspicion of public drunkenness, give him a blood alcohol test at the station, and then if it was high enough, try to nail him for drunk driving and really cause him some problems.

If they did actually give him a blood alcohol test, I'd feel pretty certain of it.
posted by jamjam at 3:42 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


Looking at the report, I think Wilson was just the commanding officer and that Crowley and Figueroa performed the arrest. I linked to an email form above for Figueroa, but he was second on the scene and it seems Crowley was the real instigator here.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:43 PM on July 20, 2009


I think we disagree on the amount of respect and deference that should be afforded to a police officer on active duty.

I can't speak for Sidhedevil, but I think what a few people here have been trying to say is that a police officer should have the good judgement to know when to walk away, and to draw a distinction between a pissed-off crotchety outraged guy and a genuine threat to public safety.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Also the Harvard police could verify the Harvard ID presented was legitimate, something the Cambridge Police would be unable to do.

Not a lawyer, but if you read the report, it says that he requested the ID even after he was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence. Why?
posted by jsavimbi at 3:44 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


DON'T TALK TO POLICE. Jesus Christ, people. Show them your ID with a smile if they ask for it, and shut the hell up. "I have no statement at this time." I don't care if you're a Supreme Court Justice. There is nothing good that can come of talking to the damn police.
posted by blenderfish at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


The officer wanted him outside so he could potentially charge him with things like creating a public nuisance which would not apply inside Gate's home.


Yup. It's really weird to me how many people are giving the benefit of the doubt to a cop, unknown, with an unknown history and an obvious motive to lie, over a well-known and respected academic. Who was in his own home, committing no crime.
posted by kathrineg at 3:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


a police officer should have the good judgement to know when to walk away, and to draw a distinction between a pissed-off crotchety outraged guy and a genuine threat to public safety. (foxy_hedgehog)

You got to know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em,
Know when to walk away and know when to run?
posted by ocherdraco at 3:48 PM on July 20, 2009


I think anyone who says, "Do you know who I am?" is a giant tool.

I've pulled that before with nightclub door staff. Sometimes it's warranted. There actually are cases where some jack-ass routinely abuses his authority on people who either don't know better or can't do anything about it and he deserves to have his ass handed to him when he pulls it on the wrong person. Then he'll think twice about acting like a jackass with the next random nobody who might not be a random nobody.
posted by empath at 3:48 PM on July 20, 2009


(Feel free to respect the police, especially the ones who aren't assholes. But respect them silently.)
posted by blenderfish at 3:48 PM on July 20, 2009


Come on these are cops discretion is really above their pay grade.
posted by Rubbstone at 3:49 PM on July 20, 2009


Foxey,

I agree with you there. It's definitely a distinction that police have been unable to draw in the past with much success.
posted by HabeasCorpus at 3:49 PM on July 20, 2009


I can't whip up much outrage either. When you actually read the police report, it sounds like Gates was being rude, uncooperative, and offensive to an officer trying to investigate a possible crime.

Bullshit. You're in your own damn house, not doing anything illegal and the cops come up and accuse you of being a criminal, why the hell shouldn't be allowed to be rude? Why should people sit there and meekly take it like good like peons in a police state.

If some door to door salesman came to your house and you yelled at him, that might make you an asshole but it certainly isn't illegal or "disorderly conduct" to get into an argument with someone. And Gates may have very well been being a dick, but that's no reason to be arrested.

The idea that police can arrest you simply because they, personally are offended is ridiculous and has no place in a free society. They are there to protect society not their own egos.

Apparently being a Harvard professor gives you the right to yell at a police officer doing his job.

Why shouldn't you be able to yell at a cop who's "just doing their job" in your own home? Since when is yelling at someone illegal?

It sounds, from the police report, like the officer tried to do exactly that: leave and go back to his job. It further sounds like Gates followed him through the house, outside, and continued shouting at him.

So what? You ignore him, get into your car and leave. What's the problem?

--
Also think video recording of police is a good idea, if it had been done all we would have to do would be to check the tape. Plus prominent people would probably a lot less likely to act crazy if they knew it was going to show up on youtube.
posted by delmoi at 3:50 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I mean, dude, the guy is Director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and a Harvard professor, I don't think he needs to get arrested by some cop to boost his career.

And he's one of only 20 Harvard faculty members with the distinction of having the title and chair of 'university professor' (Alphonse Fletcher University Professor). Among numerous other accomplishments he also received a John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation "genius grant."
posted by ericb at 3:51 PM on July 20, 2009


I keep seesawing about which side I believe more, waiting to hear Gates statement. But it interests me that Sgt. Crowley is the Neighborhood liason with the police department. Shouldn't those officers have even more training on diffusing problems?
posted by saffry at 3:51 PM on July 20, 2009


It's not very "civic minded" not to recognize your own neighbors, actually.

According to Gawker, the neighbor is a fundraiser for Harvard Magazine. That ought to make for some awkward charity events in future.
posted by Combustible Edison Lighthouse at 3:51 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Mental Wimp "wHat!?????!"

I'm assuming of course but I doubt Cambridge police are able to access the Harvard database containing verifiable details of the ID to confirm it wasn't stolen, forged, expired or suspended. Have you never presented your DL to a cop? They always go back to their cruiser to verify the license with the computer. Well and to check for warrants.

I don't know how good Cambridge IDs are but would it be common to present that as proof of identity instead of a state ID?
posted by Mitheral at 3:53 PM on July 20, 2009


Not taking sides, but it _was_ odd that the police reports attributes the crowd buildup to his antics and not the plurality of police cars parked outside his house. Though, presumably, if he was causing a crowd buildup, there are impartial witnesses.

Anyway, speculation sure is fun.
posted by blenderfish at 3:53 PM on July 20, 2009


There is a lot of hyperbole being tossed around in here.

1) Yes, police reports have been falsified in the past. This does not mean that any and all information contained within a police report is false. This is a logical fallacy and many of you are committing it. You might just as easily say "Authors lie all the time! Books can't be trusted!" Smug condescensions such as these are neither constructive nor do they logically follow.

2) It is entirely possible and perhaps probable that the police office overstepped his bounds -- that is what investigations will determine. However, inviting others to email him probably isn't the best tactic, especially when you have also indicated that you have opinions to share with him and his family. I'm not sure how his family enters into this equation. That's mob mentality at its worst; what could MeFi readers -- who were not present for the incident in question -- possibly have to add to this incident that a formal investigation won't?

3) Assuming that the neighbor who called the police is a) racist or b) not civic-minded is malicious conjecture at its worst and flat-out ridiculous at best. No one knows why she called the police, nor is it her job to know what every resident on her street looks like. Not everyone in America is an enlightened MeFi reader who can recognize prominent scholars on the street; nor does everyone in America know all of their neighbors, their professions, and their accompanying statuses. It was indicated that there were prior break-in attempts at the house; perhaps she was being quite civic-minded and trying to prevent another. The last I checked, it was not a neighbor's responsibility to verify the identity of a possible perpetrator before calling the police.

4) Dichotomous thinking is dangerous; quickly rushing to victimize Professor Gates, demonizing Lieutenant Wilson, or vice versa are baseless at this point and most likely not representative of what transpired. From the police report (see point 1 above), it sounds as if everyone could have cooled off a bit and walked away from the situation. It is certainly possible that the police officer overreacted or discriminated against Professor Gates. It is also certainly possible that Professor Gates overreacted by pulling the "do you know who I am" card. Is it not possible that when one has a hammer (studies racism), everything can look like a nail? Is it not just as possible that when one has a different hammer (is a racist police officer), everything look like a different nail (black men are offenders)? It's worth considering both points of view -- especially because none of us were there to witness the events.
posted by proj at 3:54 PM on July 20, 2009 [31 favorites]


This reminds me of something sort of similar that happened to my friend. He's a black guy that lives in a rather affluent neighborhood of Houston. He had just pulled into his driveway when he got a call on his cell phone, so he just took the call in the car. Someone called the police on him, they showed up, and he had to explain that he lived there.

They didn't believe him even when he opened the door with his own key. Who knows what would have happened if one of his much older relatives hadn't been home and vouched for him.
posted by Nattie at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]



2. Gates wasn't arrested for not being polite in his own house - the cop left and Gates followed him outside and continued yelling at him in front of a gathering crowd.


Welll ... that's not exactly what the police report says. Also, maybe I'm a bit of a cynic, but when someone starts writing things like

I again told Gates I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units.

I immediately get the impression that somebody is trying to sell something.

Again, some of you are saying you shouldn't be rude to a police officer, and I totally agree -- but where I come from, that's also not how you treat a Harvard professor.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


The is Police SOP everywhere I've been, whether the parties are white, black or romulan. Cops lurve it when you follow them around yelling at them for doing their job and accusing them of being a racist while playing the special privilege card.
Oh, for God's sake, if you can't be a cop and deal with someone following you around screaming that you're a racist for you doing your job, get a new job.

Look. It goes with the territory. When your job is stopping people from doing things that they are enjoying but are possibly illegal, harmful, stupid, or all three, they tend to react poorly. You will get called names. Your parentage will be called into question. Unpleasant things will be said to you and about you.

The whole point of being a cop that you are allegedly trained and equipped to nonviolently defuse these situations, not throw gasoline on them. There used to be a saying in the Pennsylvania State Police: "one riot, one Trooper". Contrary to popular interpretation, this wasn't because Pennsylvania state cops are such total badasses that one of them by themselves could fight off an army. Any cop with half a brain will tell you that one cop versus more than four opponents, even with a gun, is a situation that brings up Custer and the cop's widow getting handed a folded flag.

The aphorism indicated that Pennsylvania State Troopers were expected to be total Zen masters at taking an out-of-control situation and disassembling it into a bunch of drunk people wondering what the big deal is and wanting to lie down. With any luck, without any arrests.

If you can't handle someone calling you a racist, you should sure as hell not be a cop, because that's just about the nicest thing you'll get called on a day-to-day basis. It's part of the background noise. Is it pleasant? Of course not. But it's noise. They're not yelling at you. They're yelling at the uniform. They're yelling because life isn't fair, and you're a convenient figure of authority. And if you can't figure that out without someone telling you, or without a map and a flashlight, please find another line of work where you aren't armed and given authority.

A good cop could have turned this entire situation into a footnote, at best. An excellent cop would have turned this into a nonstory. Instead, we have a situation that's making the front page nationwide. As the man said, this isn't right. This isn't even wrong.
posted by scrump at 3:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [31 favorites]


According to the arrest report, Gates was standing on his porch when he was arrested. He never left his own property.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 3:57 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"if you read the report, it says that he requested the ID even after he was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence. Why?"

Ass covering, led to believe doesn't cut it if something goes sideways. If it turns out at a later date that the guy the cops thought was Gates was instead his meth addict cousin who killed gates and buried him in the shed the cop can go to his notes and say he verified "Gates" ID.
posted by Mitheral at 3:59 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


She's a fabulous neighbor who just can't tell what her neighbor looks like.

FWIW -- Ware Street is basically one block long (between Harvard St. and Broadway). Check out street view at Google maps.

While there are single family homes on the street, there are numerous larger apartment buildings. The neighbor could conceivably have never seen Gates or recognized him as a neighbor, if she has been living in one of the larger buildings.
posted by ericb at 4:01 PM on July 20, 2009


Assuming that the neighbor who called the police is a) racist or b) not civic-minded is malicious conjecture at its worst and flat-out ridiculous at best. No one knows why she called the police, nor is it her job to know what every resident on her street looks like.

I live in this city and know the neighborhood in question well. I have lived in that neighborhood myself.

You can assert all you want that "you don't have to be civic-minded to know your neighbors" but if you lived in that neighborhood, you would know your neighbors if you were remotely civic-minded. It's that kind of neighborhood.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2009


Get over yourself proj.

1) People aren't saying the reports are falsified but biased. Again, why would anyone trust a self-gratifying and unverified account by one of the parties, a local police officer with a lot at stake, especially given that the the opposing side is one of the most highly respected academics in the country?

2) Fuck you. I live in Cambridge, and my tax dollars pay not only for these officer's salaries, but the goddamn mail server. They're public servants and this is a matter of national concern. If you don't want people to email you, don't go around arresting famous academics in their own homes for no cause other than they hurt your feelings.

3) I wish many MeFi readers were as "enlightened" as much of Cambridge and this is certainly a part of town where most know their neighborhood. I wish ms. Whalen was as "enlightened" as much as Cambridge. It's also a noxious word and that's not the accusation being made here.

4) Extreme moderation for the sake of not hurting feelings is not a virtue but a vice. There ought to be a very high bar against which we hold the police whenever anyone is arrested in their own home for no reason other than they hurt the officer's feeling. It ought to be a higher bar in this circumstance.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:02 PM on July 20, 2009


I think there is a heightened sense of racial injustice among older well-educated African-Americans that may be hard to understand unless you are one. If you grew up in the Sixties or Seventies the whole struggle for basic civil rights would have been a big part of your cultural upbringing. Consider the case of Connecticut State Superior Court Judge E. Curtissa Cofield. Cofield, sixty, became the Connecticut’s first female African-American judge in 1991, certainly would have been aware of legal realities and should have been treated with some deference when she was arrested for drunk driving, but really, read her drunken tirade.
posted by twoleftfeet at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


What I like is how everyone is thinking with an open mind and not just reacting to preconceived notions.
posted by Bookhouse at 4:03 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I don't know how good Cambridge IDs are but would it be common to present that as proof of identity instead of a state ID?

You're obviously not a stoner. In Massachusetts, one does not have to ID themselves to the police with anything. The mere fact that Mr. Gates handed his University ID to Mr. Crowley (I so hope I didn't grow up with this bastard, looking now...) shows that he was more than cooperative with the police officer. And what did Mr. Crowley hope to gain from calling the Harvard cops? Get Mr. Gates in trouble at his job? Other than that, I cannot think of any other reason. And I'm basing that on the fact that the regular police powers far outweigh those of the university cops.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


While there are single family homes on the street, there are numerous larger apartment buildings. The neighbor could conceivably have never seen Gates or recognized him as a neighbor, if she has been living in one of the larger buildings.

The apartment buildings aren't very large (lived there myself).

But in any case, the person who called was apparently calling from the offices of Harvard Magazine.

Savor the irony there. Someone who works at a university's glossy alumni magazine, on which Gates has been the cover many a time, calls the police on one of the university's best-known professors who is trying to get into his own home.

So on the one hand, she wasn't actually "a neighbor"--she was someone who was calling from her Harvard office. And on the other hand, she was calling from her Harvard office.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:05 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


According to Gawker, the neighbor is a fundraiser for Harvard Magazine. That ought to make for some awkward charity events in future.

Oh ... she doesn't live there. She works in the offices of Harvard Magazine which are on Ware Street.

FWIW -- Harvard Magazine is an independent entity and separate from the University.
posted by ericb at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2009


I think if you read my post a bit more carefully, you'll notice that I don't mention not hurting feelings or not holding police to a high standard. What I actually propose is letting investigations take their course before proclaiming guilt or letting our individual political points of view predetermine our view of these events.

Also please note that I do not tell anyone to "get over" themselves, nor do I say "fuck you" at any point. I am making a plea for calmer heads.
posted by proj at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [6 favorites]


The person who, if Gawker is correct, called from the Harvard office lives in--Massachusetts residents will know why this is funny--Hingham.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Harvard office. And on the other hand, she was calling from her Harvard office.

No, as above. The magazine was founded by alums in 1898 and continues to publish outside of the Harvard-owned publishing enterprises. It is not part of the College or University.
posted by ericb at 4:09 PM on July 20, 2009


I made it through about 80% of the comments... sorry if this is what you said.

The cop baited him to come outside and make a scene because his radio was supposedly not functioning well inside... meanwhile, outside he had called BACK UP! after already realizing this was his home! The white woman who called already was surprised and alarmed... get a bunch of other cops around and an angry black man in that area, and of course people are alarmed. Some of that alarm and surprise (or whatever the adjectives were) was possibly in consideration that they were seeing racial profiling in their lovely liberal Cambridge.

My opinion is that the cop took offense to Gates' accusations, and wanted to out-maneuver the "uppity" black man. I think it's easy to see in the police report that the officers baited Gates, in my opinion, and that should be enough to dismiss the charges. I don't think he'll get them on profiling just because his neighbor is ignorant and clearly thought she was saving someone from a break-in.

Regardless, the officer should have just walked away once he confirmed it was all a misunderstanding perceived by Gates (and a lot of commenters) to be stoked by the woman's prejudice.
posted by quanta and qualia at 4:09 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


FWIW -- Harvard Magazine is an independent entity and separate from the University.

FWIW, that's not exactly true--it's a quasi-independent entity, which describes itself as "a non-profit affiliate" of the University.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2009


What I actually propose is letting investigations take their course before proclaiming guilt or letting our individual political points of view predetermine our view of these events.

Can I talk about Emmett Till yet, or is it too soon? That one still hasn't quite sorted itself out.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


What I like is how everyone is thinking with an open mind and not just reacting to preconceived notions.

My favorite comment was the one about how everyone here is defending the cops.
posted by smackfu at 4:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, as above. The magazine was founded by alums in 1898 and continues to publish outside of the Harvard-owned publishing enterprises. It is not part of the College or University.

ericb, look at the magazine's own website--you don't have to take my word for it. It's a non-profit affiliate of the University, and staff members above a certain level are issued "Officer of the University" ID cards.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:11 PM on July 20, 2009


I've had a cop more or less threaten to shoot me while I was locking up a store I was managing. Something I'd done nearly every night for years. The same demand for papers, same "don't fuck with me" attitude, same failure to show any hint that he might be an idiot.

Cops may or may not be racist. But it's a safe bet cops won't give a rat's ass about escalating something reasonable into a reason to shove their authority in your face. They have few motivations for being polite to you, and plenty of motive for being an ass about having a gun and a badge.

Calling a cop names is a good way to get arrested, no matter what color your skin is. Because they have a badge, and they can. This seems like a simple and race-nuetral reaction. Fair? No. Expected? Yes.
posted by y6y6y6 at 4:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


I would not like to turn this into a back-and-forth, but I'll refer you to the same logical fallacy that I referred to in point 1 of my original post. Emmett Till was a miscarriage of justice, agreed. However, to claim because justice was not served in that case is to mean that all investigations involving race will turn out the same way is fallacious. Further, comparing Emmett Till to Professor Gates' arrest is not only callous to the gravity of the Till case, it's also ludicrous.
posted by proj at 4:12 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Yes, that is why I'm quibbling with the description of her as being "civic-minded." Civic-minded people know who their neighbors are in this kind of setting--it's a small, quiet street.

I live on Ware Street, literally two doors down from Gates's house. I was on the local news as a "witness" earlier today, which is somewhat comical because I can't see Gates's house from my window, I didn't go outside, and when I first noticed what was going on, it was probably pretty late into the incident because Harvard police were already here.

First, I would contend with Sidhedevil's contention that the neighbor should have recognized Gates. As I said, I live two doors away, and while I am familiar with Gates as a personage, I don't know him as a person, wouldn't recognize him on the street, and was completely unaware that he lived two doors down. Directly across the street from him is a fairly large four-story apartment building, next to another fairly large four-story apartment building. Next door to his house is a three-story apartment building. I live in a three story apartment building. Farther down the block is another large student housing building. The only person I know in the area is my neighbor across the hall. This area has many short-term residents and students, and is one block from Harvard's campus. I don't think the neighbor can be faulted for not recognizing Gates.

As to what I did see occur, there were at least five police cars, both Cambridge and Harvard police. Two or three had their lights running, one was parked just outside my door. One was parked going the opposite direction down this one-way, one-lane street. I saw probably a half-dozen, maybe more, officers outside and people gathered just down the street. I heard an officer say that there had been a reported break-in. I couldn't tell from my window if the "break-in" was at the apartment building next door or just beyond that (which is was). I'm afraid I can't add any other details or corroborate what is in the police report.
posted by stopgap at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [22 favorites]


Also, 7 Ware Street is a Harvard-owned building.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:14 PM on July 20, 2009


A scanner archive of the Middlesex police archive for 15th, 16th, and 17th is missing, but here is the lexington police for the period 12:13- 1:34. Here's the audio with the silences removed. (mp3)
posted by acro at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


It sounds, from the police report, like the officer tried to do exactly that: leave and go back to his job.

So drive around the corner, kick back with the windows of the cruiser open and see if the front stoop sermon continues. If one of the peanut gallery neighbors who've come out to see the show (or a neighbor just trying to get a kid back to sleep) calls in a complaint, go back and tell him the neighbors are upset by the noise. Not that the cop feels his authority is threatened.

There are plenty of stories about cops leaving a scene that escalates and something bad happens which could have been prevented if they'd stayed. This doesn't sound like one of them.
posted by morganw at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2009


Oh, I should also add that from the time I noticed that the street was full of cop cars (I think after someone honked their horn trying to get through the street), it was probably another fifteen minutes before they all left. And as I said, this was already after the Harvard police had arrived.
posted by stopgap at 4:15 PM on July 20, 2009


This area has many short-term residents and students, and is one block from Harvard's campus. I don't think the neighbor can be faulted for not recognizing Gates.

Well, fair enough, stopgap. When I lived there, it was a very tight neighborhood with lots of meetings about this and that. Things change, so I sit corrected.

But in any event, apparently it wasn't a "neighbor"--it was someone from Harvard Magazine who called.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2009


Seriously, stopgap, you surely realize that not knowing every single person who lives on a street full of multi-story apartment buildings is proof positive that you're racist scum. I'm amazed to see you admit such a thing here on the blue.
posted by yoink at 4:16 PM on July 20, 2009


proj - I'm not comparing them. I'm telling you that it's ridiculous to make bland calls for "level-headedness" in order to let an investigation proceed. There will not be an investigation unless people demand it. Some of us know this area quite well, the idea that we are getting all uppity without the facts is unfounded. And besides which - the thing speaks for itself. If Stephen Hawking was shot dead by a SWAT team, would you wait for all the criminal appeals to settle before expressing an opinion?
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


a street full of multi-story apartment buildings

Ware Street is not "a street full of multi-story apartment buildings."

It's one fucking block long.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:17 PM on July 20, 2009


From the police report (see point 1 above), it sounds as if everyone could have cooled off a bit and walked away from the situation.

No, actually you can't walk away from the police. And that's the problem here; another cop arresting another innocent black man for a bullshit charge. The only reason this wasn't buried by the system is that the black man in question is a powerful individual.
posted by anti social order at 4:19 PM on July 20, 2009


Also, let me be the first to say that Harvard Magazine is pretty unreadable, but if it was the people at 02138 who called, I'd change my opinion on the death penalty. Hell, just thinking about that awful piece of dreck makes me angry. God, what an awful magazine.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:20 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Ware Street is not "a street full of multi-story apartment buildings."

So, was Stopgap not telling the truth here?:

Directly across the street from him is a fairly large four-story apartment building, next to another fairly large four-story apartment building. Next door to his house is a three-story apartment building. I live in a three story apartment building. Farther down the block is another large student housing building.
posted by yoink at 4:21 PM on July 20, 2009


If Stephen Hawking was shot dead by a SWAT team, would you wait for all the criminal appeals to settle before expressing an opinion?

WHAT, Stephen Hawking was shot dead by a SWAT team!
posted by batou_ at 4:21 PM on July 20, 2009


And I wouldn't say "full of" either. I mentioned pretty much all the large apartment buildings on the street in my post above. The rest of the street is mostly single-family houses, like Gates's, a large building on the other side of the street that has been repurposed for Verizon switching equipment, and at the south end is the Harvard Magazine offices.
posted by stopgap at 4:21 PM on July 20, 2009


Construction on Quincy led me to bike down Ware frequently over the past few months. stopgap is describing it accurately, but the trick is understanding what qualifies as "large" for the area. It's plainly residential, but like much of mid-Cambridge, densely packed.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:23 PM on July 20, 2009


Get over yourself proj.

...

2) Fuck you. I live in Cambridge


This is a shit response to a pretty thoughtful comment on the part of proj. You disagree? That's cool, and maybe you even had the capability to make some kind of coherent argument rather than making yourself look like an asshole for throwing bits like that into the comment. Shut the hell up if you can't be more civil.
posted by namespan at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2009 [11 favorites]


True. Larger and denser than the triple-deckers you find all over the place in Cambridge, but I wouldn't say truly urban either. And it's sort of an odd street because it has these larger-scale (for Cambridge) apartment buildings next to single-family houses.
posted by stopgap at 4:25 PM on July 20, 2009


Yes, yoink, as stopgap said, there are a few small apartment buildings on the street, which is a block long and mostly single-family houses. And when I lived there (which was before Gates lived there), it seemed to me pretty much all the residents, especially the civic-minded ones, knew each other, because there were frequent block meetings. Cambridge had a lot more crime in those days.

I defer to stopgap's superior knowledge of the neighborhood as it is today, and withdraw my statements that a civic-minded neighbor would necessarily know most of the longtime residents of this very small street. But do keep sawing away at how much of a jerk I am, because it's adorable.

Look, this is my city and my alma mater and I am obviously taking all of this way too personally, so will bow out. Thanks, stopgap, for bringing the perspective of a current Ware Street resident.
posted by Sidhedevil at 4:26 PM on July 20, 2009


Fuck you. I live in Cambridge

On a t-shirt, please
posted by found missing at 4:27 PM on July 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


God, what an awful magazine.

My mother keeps her copy in the can. I tried to read that Cuba piece, but there were so many names listed with a year and a degree after them that I had to let it go and finish my business.

In retrospect, Gates was lucky that he walked outside to continue his tirade. Look what happened to the poor bastard who barricaded himself in the basement after yanking out the cable wire. The Cambridge PD shot him dead.
posted by jsavimbi at 4:27 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Shut the hell up if you can't be more civil.

Uh...
posted by kathrineg at 4:28 PM on July 20, 2009


there were at least five police cars, both Cambridge and Harvard police. Two or three had their lights running, one was parked just outside my door. One was parked going the opposite direction down this one-way, one-lane street. I saw probably a half-dozen, maybe more, officers outside

Well, that accounts for the "alarmed" crowd. Thanks for the factual details, stopgap.

I know it didn't help Gates's situation any, but "Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside" is still totally cracking me up.
posted by FelliniBlank at 4:30 PM on July 20, 2009


Metafilter: If Stephen Hawking was shot dead by a SWAT team, would you wait for all the criminal appeals to settle before expressing an opinion?

I guess that's a little long.
posted by blenderfish at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


This is a shit response to a pretty thoughtful comment on the part of proj. You disagree? That's cool, and maybe you even had the capability to make some kind of coherent argument rather than making yourself look like an asshole for throwing bits like that into the comment. Shut the hell up if you can't be more civil.

He called me out specifically in a comment that essentially said "everybody calm down, you don't know what you're talking about." And if you think his comment is thoughtful, go back and re-read it. Then wonder what kind of a situation would have to exist in order for proj to be comfortable with people being upset. The most famous Black academic in the country was arrested in his own home after falsely being accused of breaking-in. The only charge is disorderly conduct. But don't get upset. YOU DONT KNOW ALL THE FACTS. DONT YOU DARE PARTICIPATE IN THE AFFAIRS OF YOUR DAY BEFORE ALL THE FACTS ARE IN.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:31 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Thinking about this from the police officer's perspective, it appears that he wanted to leave from the start, and frankly I can't blame him. Can't be easy having your ass chewed out by Henry Louis Gates… so you know he's in kind-of a bind. He has to verify Gates' identity, and once he does he leaves. So far, so good. But then he couldn't stand the public verbal beat-down.

But I don't see this as much a racial problem as a problem of authoritarian insecurity. I see up in some comments people saying, "What if Gates had been a white guy?" and frankly I have to call bullshit on that. What would have happened is that he still would have gotten arrested. Probably tased, to boot. Hell, the crowds probably saved Gates a worse fate than simple arrest. Cops don't like it when you belittle them, even when it's perfectly legal to do so. I doubt very much this particular asshole gave two shits that Gates was black. These days, dare to insult a cop to his face—even worse in public—and it won't matter what your skin color is.

Saying this is a racial thing reduces the scope of the problem. White people aren't safe from this kind of abuse of power, either.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:32 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


But do keep sawing away at how much of a jerk I am, because it's adorable.

Actually I hadn't even read your particular posts on this issue. I'm sawing away at many, many, many people's assumption in this thread that the person who called this in to the cops just had to be racist. It's that person I think this thread has, in some ways, been most wilfully unjust to (from what I know of Gates and what I know of cops, there's good reason to suspect that both parties in that part of this clusterfuck share part of the blame). But I'm glad you find it adorable.
posted by yoink at 4:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I know it didn't help Gates's situation any, but "Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside" is still totally cracking me up.

Aside from the police report, is there any proof that Gates actually said that?
posted by jonp72 at 4:39 PM on July 20, 2009


. . . White people aren't safe from this kind of abuse of power, either.

Indeed they aren't -- not even politicians.

I won't try to express the fury I felt walking past the news vans tonight on my way home. I live in this neighborhood, and you would have had to tell me about five different stabbings in this area before I felt as unsafe in my own home as I do now.
posted by Countess Elena at 4:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


a long line of expletives, a lot of name dropping, mentioning that they've been doing this for years when their father owned this house, some more name dropping, some more crazy talk, etc. They got off with a fine

That's weird, I read on MetaFilter that no matter what your race or socioeconomic status you get arrested if you yell at a cop.
posted by escabeche at 4:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


These days, dare to insult a cop to his face—even worse in public—and it won't matter what your skin color is.

The last one I tangled with I called a fat sack of shit. However, this was intended merely as a descriptive statement.
posted by metagnathous at 4:42 PM on July 20, 2009


I again told Gates that I would speak with him outside.... His reply was, 'Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside.'"

Because that's exactly how you would expect a Harvard professor to talk. It's not at all possible that statement is embellished or fabricated out of whole cloth by the officer, not even a little bit. We know police officers never lie in their reports.
posted by barc0001 at 4:43 PM on July 20, 2009


Harvard professors are like Gods among men!
posted by smackfu at 4:44 PM on July 20, 2009


I heard they don't fart.
posted by found missing at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2009


Well, that accounts for the "alarmed" crowd.

Until I found out today what had actually happened, I thought that something serious, warranting that size of response, had occurred. Since the cop said there had been a break-in attempt, I figured there had been a break-in attempt. In broad daylight at 1pm, on a street that, while quiet, gets a regular amount of traffic. The police report mentions one other officer arriving the scene as backup, but nothing in it explains or justifies to me why the rest of the police were there. Well, he did say he called the Harvard police.

As I type there are three satellite trucks (for local channels only so far) on the street. Kind of bizarre, to say the least.
posted by stopgap at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2009


Bullshit. You're in your own damn house, not doing anything illegal and the cops come up and accuse you of being a criminal, why the hell shouldn't be allowed to be rude?

So, that time I was living in a multi-flat house and called in a domestic violence incident with the neighbours, and the police came to the wrong flat and wanted to talk to my girlfriend even after I explained to them I was the one calling in the domestic violence, not performing it, I should have started screaming abuse at them for having the temerity to make sure I wasn't the one beating the shit out of my girlfriend?

Are you on drugs?
posted by rodgerd at 4:45 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


"Police? There's some kind of fight happening on my neighbor's porch. I don't know what color they are but the text is white. They're yelling in all caps and appear to be drunk. The address is 174.132.172.58. You'll send someone right over? Thank you."
posted by benzenedream at 4:46 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Two black men trying to enter a house wearing visible backpacks.

This shit writes itself.
posted by seanyboy at 4:49 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


YOU DONT KNOW ALL THE FACTS. DONT YOU DARE PARTICIPATE IN THE AFFAIRS OF YOUR DAY BEFORE ALL THE FACTS ARE IN.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:31 AM on July 21 [+] [!]


allen, maybe you want to read Tim Krieder's piece on anger as an addictive drug.
posted by rodgerd at 4:50 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


As I type there are three satellite trucks (for local channels only so far) on the street. Kind of bizarre, to say the least.

Go stand outside and wave a 'Happy 10th. MeFi' behind Jorge Quiroga (or whoever got that story).
posted by ericb at 4:50 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


...if it was the people at 02138 who called, I'd change my opinion on the death penalty. Hell, just thinking about that awful piece of dreck makes me angry. God, what an awful magazine.

Didn't that go 'belly-up' last year?
posted by ericb at 4:51 PM on July 20, 2009


He called me out specifically in a comment that essentially said "everybody calm down, you don't know what you're talking about." And if you think his comment is thoughtful, go back and re-read it.

Just read it again.

It was civil. Yours wasn't.
posted by namespan at 4:54 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


rodgerd - I remember that post, but I used the allcaps to mock, not necessarily to express rage. There's a particularly odd sentiment that disparages others in discourses like this, cloaking itself in a tempered language of moderation. While ostensibly drawing on some claim to "the truth" or "fairness," there's always a real condescension. Throw in the fact that he specifically and directly accused me of being over-the-top, and yeah, I'm ticked off. But now that I know that 02138 folded, all is well in the world. Well, other than the fact that heads need to roll at CPD.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Regardless of who was on the right side of this thing, I just want to chime in and say that I think anyone who says, "Do you know who I am?" is a giant tool.

There are exactly six people who are allowed to say that and get away with it. Henry Louis Gates is one of them. So is Stephen Hawking.


Is this a well known joke? Who are the other four? And why are they allowed to get away with it? And what's happened to other people who've messed with Prof. Gates?
posted by IndigoJones at 4:56 PM on July 20, 2009


And what's happened to other people who've messed with Prof. Gates?

Let's just say ... they're now going to state school.
posted by geoff. at 4:59 PM on July 20, 2009


Let's just say ... they're now going to state school.

Or are running the National Economic Council. So watch out.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:02 PM on July 20, 2009


There is a lot of hyperbole being tossed around in here.

1) Yes, police reports have been falsified in the past. This does not mean that any and all information contained within a police report is false. This is a logical fallacy and many of you are committing it. You might just as easily say "Authors lie all the time! Books can't be trusted!" Smug condescensions such as these are neither constructive nor do they logically follow.


This is a particularly limp piece of faux-deep pedantic bullshit. Who outside of an insane asylum - and apart from your imaginary ill-logician - would actually think or assert that "any and all information contained within a police report is false"? You are not bringing us the precious truth we are in danger of forgetting - that not all police reports are entirely false, after all. Yeah, we get it. Thanks for that. It's a logical fallacy to say that "since in the past there were false reports, therefore all reports must be false" - you don't say! Again, thanks for keeping the logic banner flying high. Only I don't know who exactly is attacking this banner here.

The skepticism that was expressed regarding the police report was a very justified one. We don't have proof that this report is false. Yes. But neither do we have proof that it was not falsified. That's also logic - keeping up with it, are you? The question is, is it reasonable to have doubt about the veracity of the report. And if it is a not uncommon occurrence for police reports to be falsified, then it is reasonable to be cautious and express unwillingness to simply take the report as being true. That's how past police falsifying reports comes in. It is reasonable. In the same way, that if the court is aware that a witness/organization has frequently lied in the past, then future statements from that source will be seen in that light. Get it?

And in this particular case, there are additional reasons for caution and skepticism. The cop was in an adversarial position - so his report is particularly prone to being colored or biased... it is unlike a report about events that do not involve him or his interests. Don't you think caution is advised, Mr. Logician?

Further, we are not kids here. We all have our BS detectors and life experiences. This report stinks. Yes, it's a gut feel, and not proof by any means, but that's the reaction people are reporting - and backing up their reaction with detailed reasons (as f.ex. I gave for thinking that the report was likely a lie).

For you to waltz in, and blithely declare that in effect STUPID UNFAIR PEOPLE!!! - don'tcha realize the awful logical error (HA!!!) of saying "they lied in the past, therefore no report can be true" - is to bring the level of discussion to a farce. Nobody but you made such an absurd claim. And people have very good grounds for being somewhat skeptical of this particular report.

People's skepticism is warranted not just by the long history of such abuses, but by the particulars of this case. And that skepticism has been expressed as "why should we take this report as gospel" - and not your infantile and false characterization.
posted by VikingSword at 5:09 PM on July 20, 2009 [14 favorites]


According to the redacted PDF police report, there had been a previous break-in at Gates' house. That is why the door was troublesome.

If there have been break-ins in my neighbourhood and I see a guy trying to, well, break into a house, damn skippy I'm calling the cops. And when they ask me to describe him, I'm going to include that he's black if he's black and that he's white if he's white.

But in general, we're assigning motivation and bias to a lot of people here - the neighbour, the cop, and Gates himself - based on very few facts and a lot of assumptions. The police report may or may not be accurate; we haven't heard from the neighbour; and lacking a statement from Gates, everything attributed to him is heresay.

I'm perfectly willing to brand the Boston PD a bunch of racist thugs. I'm just not that interested in doing it for sport.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:09 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Aside from the police report, is there any proof that Gates actually said ["Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside"]?

No, there's no corroboration of that, nor did I mean to suggest that I was accepting it as proven fact. Regardless of whether he actually said it, the comment totally cracks me up because:

a) I could never think fast enough on my feet (or have the guts, chutzpah, whathaveyou) to come up with a line like that if I were in those circumstances.

b) it seems like a perfectly appropriate, albeit insulting, rejoinder given the situation.

c) Gates is a seriously brilliant, eloquent person, but he's not some stick-up-the-ass hoity-toity stuffed shirt caricature who's unfamiliar with the vernacular. I can easily picture him deploying that phrase just to get the cop's goat.
posted by FelliniBlank at 5:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I don't care who you are or what color you are, it's always a bad idea to get belligerent with cops. You will get arrested for disorderly conduct without fail. Everybody I know who has ever arrested was arrested for disorderly conduct. They don't have to arrest you for this, but they almost always do.
posted by borges at 5:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Seriously, helmets with black box recorders in them, while police are on duty, at all times. Stuff like this would be settled in a heartbeat.

Which is why it will never happen. They already hate the way the keep getting busted by their own patrol car cams.


True, although I would love to see someone with gobs of money and a philanthropic foundation, like Bill Gates issue a release talking about how to ensure first-class police service and to protect society and the officers themselves from allegations in the field that there should be a huge initiative to get something like this exact thing built and in service as soon as possible. Then let a bunch of the bigger forces' top cops, like LA, and NYPD chiefs go on news programs to say the usual "we think this is a great idea, we'd love to implement something like this, but unfortunately there's nothing available right now like that, and even if there was we don't have the budget for it, can't afford to maintain and train, etc. etc.". Then wait a week or two and then have Bill (or whoever) issue a statement about how he's already had such a system designed and built, and there's 3 container ships full of these helmets already in port waiting to be shipped to the departments who have already stated they want to implement it. Oh, and he'll also foot the bill for training and maintenance on the systems for the next 10 years as well.
posted by barc0001 at 5:16 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Moreover, Gates was already in trouble and indeed, on the wrong side, when he refused to identify himself and thus interfered with the investigation.
posted by borges at 5:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, I don't know any of my neighbors in a 10-unit building. I think the people across the hall are a white guy and an Asian girl, but that's mostly conjecture.
posted by Epenthesis at 5:22 PM on July 20, 2009


Who outside of an insane asylum - and apart from your imaginary ill-logician - would actually think or assert that "any and all information contained within a police report is false"?

Is this close enough? "That's pretty cute that some of you think that a reading a police report can help one to understand what happened."
posted by smackfu at 5:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Is there any screw-up by police that somebody on Metafilter won't excuse?

Is there any screw-up by police that somebody on Metafilter won't decry as jackbooted facism that should result in firings if not jail time?

This whole thread is absurd. We have a news story and a police report on an incident--in other words, we know shit about what actually happened. And we're now 200 comments into it within an hour.

Once again, an FPP is more of a Rorschach blot for Mefites than anything informative or useful.
posted by fatbird at 5:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [13 favorites]


The Rev. Al Sharpton is vowing to attend Gates' arraignment.

Highly unethical, but would be nice if Obama showed up there. His mere presence in the courtroom. . .

Seriously though, the Cambridge police know damn well where Prof. Gates lives.

And Oglethree would defend. A well-known leader at the local, world-class best in the nation institution in the town. Arrested in his own home after showing ID. No brainer for the DA, Drop!

You know, if I was one of those "my home is my castle" GOP people, I'd make him a cause to support. Would cut the other way.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:38 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


To be fair, they thought he was Cornell West.
posted by klangklangston at 5:41 PM on July 20, 2009 [18 favorites]


The Rev. Al Sharpton is vowing to attend Gates' arraignment.

Is that a "help" or a "hurt"?
posted by rodgerd at 5:43 PM on July 20, 2009


Also, Harvard Magazine is a really good magazine.
posted by escabeche at 5:44 PM on July 20, 2009


the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units

That sounds like a plausible reason for the police officer alone to step away from the door. Note that at this point in the officer's own narrative, Gates is no longer a suspect and the officer is "preparing to leave", so by merely handing over his id and stepping away from the house he would have been able to talk in peace while Gates copied the name down.

But unless "pertinent information" is shorthand for "Here, I'm handing the radio to the professor now, you can talk to him directly", these acoustics sound like a ludicrous reason for the officer to ask Gates to step outside the door. In fact, asking Gates to step outside, closer to the officer, would accomplish the exact opposite of what the officer claimed to want: to be able to communicate clearly with others while Gates was being loud.

But if that's just an excuse, what's the real reason? Looks like the report tells us in between the lines: "loud and tumultuous behavior, in a public place". Apparently it's still legal to shout rudely at a cop, as long as you're lucky enough to be on your own property at the time. So if Gates hadn't done as the police officer told him, the officer wouldn't have have gotten to report "continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public", and wouldn't have been able to order Gates to shut up or to arrest him when he didn't. Nice little trick, that.
posted by roystgnr at 5:59 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Moreover, Gates was already in trouble and indeed, on the wrong side, when he refused to identify himself and thus interfered with the investigation.

There shouldn't have been an investigation, because it was obvious that there was no crime--just a man trying to live in his own house.
posted by jonp72 at 6:00 PM on July 20, 2009


Is there any screw-up by police that somebody on Metafilter won't decry as jackbooted facism that should result in firings if not jail time?

And you just proved my point that people will defend any act of police overreach on the grounds of oh-so-hipster contrarianism.
posted by jonp72 at 6:05 PM on July 20, 2009


Moreover, Gates was already in trouble and indeed, on the wrong side, when he refused to identify himself and thus interfered with the investigation.

What? Not answering police questions is now interfering with an investigation. I guess the whole "right to remain silent" only applies if you've been arrested, otherwise you must answer all questions a police poses.

Please.
posted by delmoi at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is this close enough? "That's pretty cute that some of you think that a reading a police report can help one to understand what happened."

Interesting - because that's not at all how I took it. I took it as clearly snark. Snark - a "cute" way of alerting us that you can't take police reports as gospel. In snarking, the writer employed what seemed to me intentional hyperbole. It was not meant to be taken literally, it was clearly snark.

To read it literally strikes me as obtuse.

Important context here is that prior to that remark, there were many comments to the effect "read the report!!!" as if that would give us the low-down on what actually happened. The snarker was pretty much the first to raise the skepticism flag - and so he used hyperbole.

At least that's how I took it. I didn't think - and I doubt the writer actually thought no report can be true. Rhetorical devices, people - use of irony, hyperbole and dead-pan - learn to recognize it - let's not go willfully stupid here. "Oh, you ate my ice-cream! I'm gonna kill you" "Kill me??? 911, I'm calling to report an imminent murder!".
posted by VikingSword at 6:11 PM on July 20, 2009


There shouldn't have been an investigation, because it was obvious that there was no crime--just a man trying to live in his own house.

Not obvious until Gates showed his ID, which he allegedly refused to do when first asked. Recall that the police were responding to a call from a citizen who claimed to have been witnessing a break-in.
posted by borges at 6:13 PM on July 20, 2009


someone e/mail me when we have an eyewitness posting here in this thread, until then I won't know what the fuck to believe and refuse to participate..

you all have fun with this!
posted by HuronBob at 6:15 PM on July 20, 2009


What stands out to me in that Gates is reported to have kept yelling and yelling and yelling at the Officer but once he was handcuffed there is no report of his yelling anymore.
He suddenly seems civil, which could just be resignation at being humiliated or something.
But it seems to me at that point he would be yelling even more. So it makes me question the report a bit.

That said, if a police officer enters someone's home accusing them of breaking and entering they should expect some push back.

My initial reaction to this is that the officer was doing his job but probably overpursuing the case a bit and Gates, for his part, was making an assumption that their job was predicated on racism. I do think there is an element of that - although it is more systemic than specific. It begs the question, if a white man was breaking into his own house would there have been a call?

And what about the neighbor? I guess they don't know Mr Gates by site? I live in LA but I know my neighbors enough to know them by site.
posted by Rashomon at 6:15 PM on July 20, 2009


What? Not answering police questions is now interfering with an investigation.

In many jurisdictions, failing to identify oneself to the police (or provide ID, again, depending) is legally identified as such, yes.
posted by blenderfish at 6:15 PM on July 20, 2009


Prof Gates, through his lawyer Charles Ogletree, has issued a statement. You can find it as an update to the Gawker post here.

Just my opinion, but it strikes me as light-years more believable than the police report.
posted by ferdydurke at 6:18 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


It sounds, from the police report, like the officer tried to do exactly that: leave and go back to his job. It further sounds like Gates followed him through the house, outside, and continued shouting at him.
To which the ideal response would be, 'Sir, I'm not a racist and I'm sorry if you think I am. If so, feel free to register a complaint with my watch commander. Meantime, everything here seems in order so I'm leaving. Have a good day/evening, and my apologies for disturbing you' instead of 'How dare you yell at me, thereby disturbing the peace, you're under arrest.'

The only thing provoking the disturbing of the peace/disorderly conduct was the continued presence of the police officer. There's no evidence (or any suggestion) that Gates is likely to go on a rampage. If the police officer had extricated himself as quickly and unobtrusively as possible, even while getting shouted at, that would have been it. Gates is more likely to go back into his home and call his lawyer/the papers/TV channels than go around busting up fences venting his frustration.

This is nothing but a bruised police ego. How dare he call a police officer a racist? How dare he embarrass a police officer like this? We can't have citizens just ... shouting ... at police officers. It sets a bad example. A lesson must be taught.
posted by kaemaril at 6:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


According to the arrest report, Gates was standing on his porch when he was arrested. He never left his own property.

Another comment above noted that the Police request that Gates leave his house and come outside to answer questions is suspect.

IANAL, but I have heard that this is a standard practice for law enforcement in order to avoid running afoul of the much tighter restrictions on what they can do inside someone's home. That they ask you to step out on your porch, which is considered to be "public", which then allows them to do all kinds of things that they couldn't do inside your home.
posted by darkstar at 6:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess the whole "right to remain silent" only applies if you've been arrested, otherwise you must answer all questions a police poses.

You have a right to remain silent and the police have a right to detain your silent ass for not identifying yourself.

Your welcome.
posted by borges at 6:20 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Jesus that Gawker writeup is shit poor.
Makes this thread look measured by comparison.
posted by blenderfish at 6:21 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


In many jurisdictions, failing to identify oneself to the police (or provide ID, again, depending) is legally identified as such, yes.

Hmm. I thought the SC settled this. If there is reasonable suspicion of a crime, a LO has the right to ask an involved party to provide their name and address. However, that's not the same thing as demanding ID. There is still no "papers please" demand that's obligatory, as far as I understand it. Maybe I'm wrong. Anyhow, it seems that Gates could have simply given his name and address. He didn't have to give his ID - the fact that he did, was taking an extra "good will" step. Again, I'm not a lawyer, so I could be all wrong.
posted by VikingSword at 6:24 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just my opinion, but it strikes me as light-years more believable than the police report.

To place a great deal of faith in a police report strikes me as an identical error to placing a great deal of faith in a lawyer's statement of the facts on behalf of his client. Imagine you're Gates's lawyer for a second. Is there any other version of this story that you would tell? If so, you're not worth your fee.
posted by yoink at 6:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


To clarify: I thought you have an obligation to verbally identify yourself and give your address of residence, but nothing further, and are certainly under no obligation to provide any kind of paper ID (unless there are special circumstances, like a driver being obliged to provide his DL etc.).
posted by VikingSword at 6:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


To place a great deal of faith in a police report strikes me as an identical error to placing a great deal of faith in a lawyer's statement of the facts on behalf of his client.

Perhaps this is true in the abstract, but this Henry Louis Gates and Charles Ogletree we're talking about here. The general principle you describe just doesn't apply to this situation, where we have enough extrinsic information to properly weigh the statements. To not put faith in Ogletree's statement, or to equate it with the statement of Officer Dipshit seems pretty odd.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:30 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Yoink: As I explicitly said, it's just my opinion. And I'm a civil rights lawyer myself, so you can take my opinion with a heaping serving of salt if you really wish.
posted by ferdydurke at 6:36 PM on July 20, 2009


My opinion is that both of those accounts are not entirely nonfiction.
posted by found missing at 6:39 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Christ, . . .
posted by flotson at 6:39 PM on July 20, 2009


To clarify: I thought you have an obligation to verbally identify yourself and give your address of residence, but nothing further, and are certainly under no obligation to provide any kind of paper ID

I think it depends on the nature of the stop and the law in the state. In this case, the purpose of requesting the ID would be to establish that there was no crime being committed and that the person in the house was a lawful resident. The police clearly cannot run around forcing people to randomly establish that they are residents, but in this case there was a reasonable suspicion give the phone call reporting a crime in progress.

If this went down as Gates' says it did in the statement, I don't see why he would have been arrested. Especially with the other officers present. It just seems so profoundly stupid to arrest somebody who established they were a professor.
posted by borges at 6:40 PM on July 20, 2009


As a quick note, the report is likely accurate when it represents Gates as saying "'Ya, I'll speak with your mama outside." People familiar with Gates’s The Signifying Monkey: A Theory of African-American Literary Criticism will recall Gates’s discussion of signifying as a way of undercutting authority. One of the generic modalities of signifying is "Yo mama" jokes and Gates discusses this genre with humor, insight, and documentation in his book.

As a (somewhat relevant) self-plug, in a footnote to my article on Invisible Man, I explain that
Henry Louis Gates references Clarence Major’s Dictionary of Afro-American Slang, which compares signifyin(g) to the “Dirty Dozens,” “an elaborate game traditionally played by black boys, in which the participants insult each other’s relatives, especially their mothers. The object of the game is to test emotional strength. The first person to give in is the loser” (qtd. in Gates 68).
This tradition of black vernacular in mind, I’m especially tickled at Gates’s strategic use of a "yo mama" joke to goad the officer into losing his cool and breaking out the cuffs; Gates’s taunting forced a move that will likely cost this officer his job.
posted by mistersquid at 6:41 PM on July 20, 2009 [19 favorites]


Hiibel v. Nevada, 542 U.S. 177 - A state may require a person to identify themselves to police officers if such police officers have reasonable suspicion that the person has committed a crime. Such identification may be satisfied simply by providing your name.

This follows Terry v. Ohio, 392 U.S. 1, which allows police officers to detain (not arrest) you if they have reasonable suspicion of your involvement in criminal activities.

Note that requirements to identify yourself as the perpetrator of a crime patently violate your 5th Amendment right against self-incrimination.

There is no federal law requiring you to show identification if asked by a police officer. Massachusetts does not have a law requiring people to identify themselves to officers (as far as I can tell).
posted by jabberjaw at 6:43 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


No, I don't think Massachusetts has a stop-and-identify law covered by Hiibel.
posted by stopgap at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2009


I think it depends on the nature of the stop and the law in the state. In this case, the purpose of requesting the ID would be to establish that there was no crime being committed and that the person in the house was a lawful resident. The police clearly cannot run around forcing people to randomly establish that they are residents, but in this case there was a reasonable suspicion give the phone call reporting a crime in progress.

I guess a lawyer would have to settle this. I was under the impression that federal law - as enunciated by the SC - took precedence over state law. Therefore there can't be "you don't have to provide a paper ID according to the SC, except for Alabama where it is state law". This is a 4th amendment issue isn't it? State law can't override the interpretation of that amendment by the SC, no? Again, I'm not a lawyer, if that isn't already clear enough.
posted by VikingSword at 6:47 PM on July 20, 2009


Ogletree's statement is just plain weird. The officer steps out of the kitchn, then mysteriously lots of police cars have arrived for no reason at all, then Gates is thanked and arrested, again for no reason at all, after a polite and quiet conversation? I was hoping for something better than that.
posted by fightorflight at 6:53 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


was under the impression that federal law - as enunciated by the SC - took precedence over state law.

This is largely correct.

Therefore there can't be "you don't have to provide a paper ID according to the SC, except for Alabama where it is state law".

This is where the confusion is.

This is a 4th amendment issue isn't it?

Yes.

State law can't override the interpretation of that amendment by the SC, no?

Correct.

So, the Supreme Court ruled that a state law such as the one in Hiibel was not unconstitutional. Yet not all states have such a law. The ruling is therefore limited only to those laws in question - it does not affect states without such laws. Therefore, if a police in MA asks you for your id, you can say no. And he can say "well, if we had a law that required you to provide an ID when asked by police, that would be constitutional." And you would both be correct.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:54 PM on July 20, 2009


It appears that MA does not have a stop and identify law. The state where I live does.

But not identifying yourself when apparently trying to break into a home could add to the reasonable suspicion in a case like this.
posted by borges at 6:57 PM on July 20, 2009


"...accuse you of being a criminal..."

Investigation does not equal accusation.
posted by schoolgirl report at 6:59 PM on July 20, 2009


The prudent thing to do as people without any direct, firsthand knowledge of the event in question is to withhold judgment, especially given the inflammatory nature of this situation, the possibility of stereotyping by either party involved, and the wildly varying accounts of the situation.

I see that very few of you are prudes.
posted by taliaferro at 7:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


"If you don't want people to email you, don't go around arresting famous academics in their own homes for no cause other than they hurt your feelings."

Right, my goodness, we can't have famous academics being arrested! That just won't do. I plan to send a very strongly worded email to the arresting officer, in which I will argue convincingly regarding this matter, the facts of which I know intimately. Surely this will make a difference.

Barf.
posted by schoolgirl report at 7:10 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Harvard Magazine relishes in sending out "breaking news" alerts and has a friendly competition with The Crimson (the student newspaper) about scooping each other. Oddly silent now, though...
posted by AwkwardPause at 7:10 PM on July 20, 2009


"meanwhile, outside he had called BACK UP! after already realizing this was his home! "

The cop reports he called for back up before establishing identity and when there was still the possibility of having to deal with two people. The dispatch logs will be able to verify this.

"Also, 7 Ware Street is a Harvard-owned building."

Another good reason to call the Harvard Police.

"But if that's just an excuse, what's the real reason?"

From what I've seen in this thread (and boy howdy it's been enlightening) he being a white cop interacting with a black citizen he probably wanted to be outside with lots of witnesses in the unlikely event Mr. Gates went from belligerent to violent.

delmoi writes "What? Not answering police questions is now interfering with an investigation. I guess the whole 'right to remain silent' only applies if you've been arrested, otherwise you must answer all questions a police poses.

What exactly do you think the cops are supposed to do here delmoi? Take the guy who is standing next to the forced front door of a house at his word that he lives there? Then just go on their merry way? You don't have to tell the cops shit but they also have the right to detain your ass until they determine to their satisfaction that no crime has been committed. And if you resist detention they can charge you with something (varies from place to place) even if you have no other involvement with or are the victim of the crime.

ferdydurke writes "Prof Gates, through his lawyer Charles Ogletree, has issued a statement. You can find it as an update to the Gawker post here. "Just my opinion, but it strikes me as light-years more believable than the police report"
Is gawker always like this?:
That's racist. So is the lady who called them, who also works for Harvard.
Anyone else get the feeling if the woman had been black they'd have been calling her an uncle tom? She phoned police when she saw two people forcing the door of a residence. Even Gates statement collaborates this sequence of events. How does she win here? If it had been criminals breaking into the house there would have been much teeth gnashing about how no one called the cops because the woman was racist and it was a black man's house being burglarized.
Gates didn't like the fact that the cops showed up to hassle him about having to break into his own house, which almost certainly would not have happened had he been white.
Ya. Because when a white woman phones the cops because she sees two white guys breaking into a white home white cops don't even bother responding. *eyeroll* Can these people not hear themselves over the distrust?
No, not even the director of the W. E. B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research at Harvard University, in the sanctuary of his own home, which is itself practically in the middle of the most prestigious university in the world, which is Gates' employer and playground, is immune from getting hassled because he is black.not a cop. FTFT.
Christ sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. These people live in a very disturbing world.

VikingSword writes "are certainly under no obligation to provide any kind of paper ID (unless there are special circumstances,"

Maybe standing in a potentially active crime scene which the cops were directed to by a 911 call isn't necessarily one of those special circumstances but it would be the sane thing for anyone who doesn't want to be detain until the cops can get positive proof identity another way to just hand over their ID. I'm kind of curious how the cops would do this actually. Leaving aside the cops report that Mr. Gates believes he is so famous everyone should recognize him on sight; if the cops catch someone who refuses to provide proof of identity at a potential crime scene how do they ascertain the suspect is telling the truth? It seems so bizarre that one wouldn't just hand over ID (which of course Mr Gates did supply) I never thought of it before.
posted by Mitheral at 7:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I wish I had the time to go through and hug every person who is doubtful as to whether this case has anything to do the race and economic class of Professor Gates. Y'all are like little fledgling birds who haven't yet gathered the courage to jump out of the Nest. Fly free, little ones. Some may crack their heads, but rest assured that us Whiteys will be mostly safe.
posted by muddgirl at 7:16 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Listen, I don't know about you folks, but if I get ID'ed and treated as a criminal suspect in my own house, I would _expect_ to be pissed off and not be polite and all that to just about anyone. I'm sorry, but as far as I'm concerned, that is the very definition of freedom.

The police may have been doing their jobs, or they might have been dicks, I don't care: when I get home, I have the option of being a dick, even to uniformed officers. (I shouldn't in general, but I should be able to) The conduct here may or may not be racist; I think it is, but it's a moot point. Being forced to be respectful to the police is exactly what authoritarianism is all about.
posted by the cydonian at 7:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


And he can say "well, if we had a law that required you to provide an ID when asked by police, that would be constitutional."

That law would require you merely to state your name. U.S. citizens in the U.S. are not required to carry photo ID.
posted by oaf at 7:18 PM on July 20, 2009


That law would require you merely to state your name. U.S. citizens in the U.S. are not required to carry photo ID.

Hiibel upheld stop-and-identify laws. I didn't say provide photo ID. You would have to identify yourself.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:21 PM on July 20, 2009


Sorry, you said "an ID." I couldn't tell if you meant a physical object.
posted by oaf at 7:24 PM on July 20, 2009


Yeah, I left it vague b/c we're talking at some weird level of generality where it's hard to use technically specific legal terms. Hiibel is a weird ruling in-and-of itself, so it's not entirely clear exactly what would constitute valid identification, anyway. And I'm not a criminal attorney, but the case was fairly recent when I was in law school so I remember it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:27 PM on July 20, 2009


Aside from the police report, is there any proof that Gates actually said ["Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside"]?

c) Gates is a seriously brilliant, eloquent person, but he's not some stick-up-the-ass hoity-toity stuffed shirt caricature who's unfamiliar with the vernacular. I can easily picture him deploying that phrase just to get the cop's goat.


Not only this, but the guy wrote the definitive academic works on these sorts of insults (such as 'your mama...') as performance ('playing the dozens,' 'signifying')!
posted by umbú at 7:39 PM on July 20, 2009


I wish I had the time to go through and hug every person who is doubtful as to whether this case has anything to do the race and economic class of Professor Gates. Y'all are like little fledgling birds who haven't yet gathered the courage to jump out of the Nest. Fly free, little ones.

I know. People who disagree with me are retarded too! Sounds like we have a lot in common. We should hang out sometime.
posted by blenderfish at 7:43 PM on July 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


To the people defending the cop: do you acknowledge that police have been known to abuse their authority in racist ways and exaggerate or falsify their reports? Yes? Cool.

To the people defending Gates: do you acknowledge that even brilliant, prestigious people can say and do very stupid things sometimes, especially in already-tense situations? Yes? Great.

To both groups: do you acknowledge that we have essentially no information about this incident that could be considered objective? Yes? Excellent.

Everyone needs a shirt.
posted by Riki tiki at 7:45 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's no proof that Gates said any of the things that the police report states he said, but don't let that stop you! Even if it means trying to drag his academic writing into the conversation to "prove" he said it!
posted by blucevalo at 7:45 PM on July 20, 2009


The kind of cop I want is exactly the type who can walk away while being insulted without taking it personally or charging someone for an entirely victimless (aside from cop feelings) crime.

I don't think anyone with the necessary power trip personality required to be a cop can actually do that.

I mean, we expect our retail clerks not to freak out on mean customers (the customer is always right!) so why is it such an impossible task for our HERO SUPERMEN THIN BLUE LINE OMG cops to just walk away when someone is being mean to them?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 7:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


These days, dare to insult a cop to his face—even worse in public—and it won't matter what your skin color is.

Over the years, my ability to swear in seven languages has come to my rescue, in more situations than I would admit to.

Mauritian creole is the most comforting; mouthy, full of syllables and precise in details, if you speak the patois.
posted by the cydonian at 7:50 PM on July 20, 2009


You see, there's all this talk about whether it was reasonable to ask for Gates's ID, or whether it was reasonable to be suspicious that he was the one that broke into the house. The problem is, it was established prior to his arrest that he was, in fact, the lawful resident of the premises.

The real issue here is whether he was properly arrested for being "tumultuous." Assuming he did get verbally upset and pulled the race card, is that reason enough to arrest him?

Some people seem to believe that it may have been justified to arrest Gates. In order to believe so, you have to believe that a man can't yell at the police when the police are at your house, and they have fucked up. Here's how it went down: they practically accused one of the most highly educated and respected academicians in the nation of breaking and entering into his own home, at his own home, and didn't even offer an apology. By definition, they fucked up. And you know what? They deserve to be told that they fucked up, in no uncertain terms, with whatever words will get that across.

Dr. Gates did not assault them. He did not threaten them. I take that back - he threatened their poor wittle egos.

I value and appreciate what police officers do; but there are undoubtedly some of the most thin-skinned people on the planet. Some need to learn to admit when they made a mistake, just like the rest of us, instead of fabricating crimes to cover them up.

A charge of being disruptive in public is such a bullshit offense.
posted by jabberjaw at 7:52 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


Whoa. I wasn't trying to prove anything. It struck me as funny, honestly. I just think that it's difficult to contend that someone wouldn't use a certain kind of language, when they've written world famous books on the cultural meaning of precisely that mode of speaking.
posted by umbú at 7:57 PM on July 20, 2009


And you just proved my point that people will defend any act of police overreach on the grounds of oh-so-hipster contrarianism.

Nonsense. I can easily imagine a racist cop decided to show an uppity nigger who's boss. I can also easily imagine a Harvard professor with a big ego pulling a "do you know who I AM?!" tirade, and a cop deciding not to tolerate some rich PhD's tantrum. I can also easily imagine a tired cop and a tired professor both being easily and justifiably irritated with each other and one's legal power over another being exercised to no one's benefit.

What I can't easily imagine is choosing between those scenarios based on what little we know now. Yes, police reports can and have been slanted and falsified--just like news stories can and have been.

But hey, don't let a bit of reflection on the limits of our knowledge stop your righteous dudgeon, jonp72. I mean, if you're that certain what happened, why let inconvenient epistemological issues get in the way?
posted by fatbird at 7:59 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


do any of you actually believe that police reports are factual and in no way skewed to favor the arresting officer

christ guys we've been over this
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:04 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Imagine the discussion at gradstudentfilter!
posted by showmethecalvino at 8:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


People who disagree with me are retarded too! Sounds like we have a lot in common.

Well, I try to avoid language like "retarded". Of course people who disagree with me aren't stupid - in this case, I implied that they're sheltered.

Of course, we've reached the point in the thread where hyperbole is the last honest rhetorical trick.
posted by muddgirl at 8:07 PM on July 20, 2009


If this went down as Gates' says it did in the statement, I don't see why he would have been arrested.

Because this is what happens to black men in America.
posted by minkll at 8:10 PM on July 20, 2009


What I can't easily imagine is choosing between those scenarios based on what little we know now.

This I don't get. I mean, I can imagine a scenario where Stephen Hawking poses an immediate threat and needed to be subdued by 17 members of a SWAT team, but just because I can conceive of it does not make it equally likely as the much more obvious conclusion. Sometimes a situation speaks for itself.

When I first heard about this arrest, it made me think about this raid last year, where a SWAT team killed two dogs and interrogated Berwyn Heights Mayor Cheye Calvo, all based off of incorrect information. Now it's conceivable that the SWAT team was justified, but to insist that people wait-and-see would have been pretty odd there too. And the victim there was white, which does not mean that there is not a racial component here, but it shows that context matters. Given the context in today's arrest and the subsequent information, I don't see how it's hard to choose.

Yes, it may be the case that Gates deserved to be arrested and that the police did nothing wrong. I just don't see how one could think that's a likely possibility.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:12 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


a bit of reflection on the limits of our knowledge

And no discussion of the limits of knowledge would be complete without some Rashomon and borges.
posted by FelliniBlank at 8:15 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Good to see the civil obedience crowd are out in force.

Well, not 'force' so much. Anyway, well done as always.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:16 PM on July 20, 2009


I want you guys to imagine that you are at your job and a customer says something mean to you. How mean would this have to be before you determined having the person arrested was the proper recourse?
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Christ sometimes a cigar is just a cigar. These people live in a very disturbing world.

The only times in my life that I have been harassed by police have been in the company of (my post graduate educated lawyer and doctor) black friends. Minding our business. Doing nothing. Sometimes it really is a disturbing world.

Yes, police harass everyone, but if you doubt for a second that very often, police harass and demean black men in this country for no good reason, you are wrong.
posted by kosem at 8:18 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


So let's get this straight: a black man enters my house and I can shoot him, but I enter a black man's house and it's illegal for him to raise his voice? Wow, that's so cool.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also, how do you not know that you live next door to Henry Louis Gates, Jr.?
posted by kosem at 8:19 PM on July 20, 2009


Yes, it may be the case that Gates deserved to be arrested and that the police did nothing wrong. I just don't see how one could think that's a likely possibility.

What does 'likely' have to do with it? Are we indicting people as racist based on the odds of it being true now? The officer's email address was posted upthread. Have you sent an email because he's probably a racist pig?

Nothing I suggested was implausible, and the people here who are justifiably cynical about the veracity of police reports are being surprisingly credulous about the accuracy of AP story.
posted by fatbird at 8:21 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also, I'm not trying to imply that the cop was intentionally trying to "hold down an uppity negro", or whatever's been implied upthread. I'm making the quite reasonable suggestion that we can't escape the history of race relations in America. However Professor Gates acted, it was not only in response to the situation but to the context of a white officer asking for entrance into his home seemingly without provocation. However the officer acted, it was not only in response to the situation but to the context of an agitated (some might say Angry) Black Man. I haven't even started to point out the class iniquities yet.
posted by muddgirl at 8:21 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


What does 'likely' have to do with it? Are we indicting people as racist based on the odds of it being true now? The officer's email address was posted upthread. Have you sent an email because he's probably a racist pig?

Nothing I suggested was implausible, and the people here who are justifiably cynical about the veracity of police reports are being surprisingly credulous about the accuracy of AP story.


I posted the email and I stand by it. The man is a public servant. The city provides an opportunity to contact our police officers to let them know what we think. I just don't get what burden of proof you want here. Something very very wrong must have happened here, your ability to make vague generalizations about people's motives ignores the facts of this case. It speaks for itself.

The outcome, an arrest for disorderly conduct in his own home, means that the police must have committed some mistake. Just like the mayor who was handcuffed for two hours in his own home after the cops shot his dogs based on a faulty raid. No matter what, a major mistake was made. Just as if Stephen Hawking had been assaulted. There is no plausible scenario in which the cops did not err. You can concoct whatever scenario you want which spreads some of the blame to Gates, calling him tired, or whatnot. But this should never have happened and there is no plausible scenario that excuses the police's actions.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Interesting that this happened last Thursday, and wasn't reported until today.
posted by smackfu at 8:33 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Some people in this thread seem to think that if the police investigate a possible crime and there isn't a crime, that the police have made a mistake. This isn't true.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:37 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


And I want to know the cop's name. Like now. And throw in his home phone number, I've got a few opinions to share with him and his family.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:37 PM on July 20 [2 favorites +] [!]

You can send officer Figueroa an email here and let him know what you think.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:39 PM on July 20 [+] [!]

Looking at the report, I think Wilson was just the commanding officer and that Crowley and Figueroa performed the arrest. I linked to an email form above for Figueroa, but he was second on the scene and it seems Crowley was the real instigator here.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:43 PM on July 20 [+] [!]


2) Fuck you. I live in Cambridge, and my tax dollars pay not only for these officer's salaries, but the goddamn mail server. They're public servants and this is a matter of national concern. If you don't want people to email you, don't go around arresting famous academics in their own homes for no cause other than they hurt your feelings....
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:02 PM on July 20 [+] [!]



proj:""What I actually propose is letting investigations take their course before proclaiming guilt or letting our individual political points of view predetermine our view of these events.""

Can I talk about Emmett Till yet, or is it too soon? That one still hasn't quite sorted itself out.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:10 PM on July 20 [+] [!]


You couldn't even let things sort them selves out enough to figure out which was the correct officer to aim your email harrassment at. So glad that after you posted Figueroa's email to the web to encite people to harrass him you did realize you might have the wrong guy.
posted by silkygreenbelly at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [8 favorites]


> Yes, police harass everyone, but if you doubt for a second that very often, police harass and demean black men in this country for no good reason, you are wrong.

A friend of mine used to be a defense lawyer, and many of the defendants he represented were black guys who were pulled over by the cops on (usually) flimsy pretexts, searched and discovered to be in possession of small amounts of weed, and hauled into the station. Now, true, possession of marijuana is still illegal up here in Canada, and some of his clients were definitely not on the side of the angels, but you're dreaming if you think whites have to put up with that sort of thing as often as blacks do.

Hell, I got a taste of the ol' white privilege a few years ago at a different friend's bachelor party, which was being held in a townhouse in a fairly nice area of town. The party was in full swing when a couple of cops (one white, one Asian, I think) walked in the front door in response to a neighbour's noise complaint. The white guy poked his head into the living room, shouted "OKAY, EVERYONE PUT AWAY YOUR DRUGS!", politely asked us to keep the noise down and then cracked a joke before he left about coming back to join us after his shift ended. I have a hard time believing many people in, say, the Jane-Finch area have similar anecdotes.
posted by The Card Cheat at 8:40 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Can I talk about Emmett Till yet, or is it too soon? That one still hasn't quite sorted itself out.

Ah yes, Emmett Till. The Hitler of the race debate. Take that, Godwin!

This issue has nothing to do with race. This has everything to do with cops being dicks. I have been harassed and threatened by plenty of cops, and I am whiter than a snowstorm. Do you know why I have only been harassed and threatened, as opposed to being arrested? Because I don't shoot my mouth off like a buffoon.

That's right, I said it. Henry Louis Gates Jr., recipient of the genius grant, Harvard Professor, et. al. was acting like a buffoon. He got what any sane person would expect when you follow a cop around threatening them.
posted by orville sash at 8:42 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


What did he threaten to do to them?

I did not realize it was such a dangerous situation, I guess I'm just glad they didn't tase him or shoot him. WHAT RESTRAINT!
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:46 PM on July 20, 2009


So have you sent an email yet?

It speaks for itself.

It most certainly does not, and this thread is proof of that. We can't even agree on the act, let alone what it's saying. "It speaks for itself" is another way of saying "it's obvious", when it patently isn't.

The outcome, an arrest for disorderly conduct in his own home, means that the police must have committed some mistake.

No, it doesn't. Gates was being disorderly, and the cop was within his rights to arrest him for it. It would certainly have been better policing to drive away, and it's easy for us to see how race and policing intersect in an unfortunate set of circumstances to create a situation like this. But unless you think that every disorderly conduct arrest is bogus, you're making little more than a statistical argument: some such arrests are bogus, some cops are racist, therefore this arrest by this cop is bogus and racist. And you're urging people to email the cop and tell him so--to what end, I have no idea. You're looking for a virtual lynching based on the odds of it being a justifiable lynching.

I posted the email and I stand by it.

Really? Because, as subsequent reporting has shown (and, to be fair, you acknowledged), you posted the wrong guy's email address. Are we still go for lynching?
posted by fatbird at 8:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


You couldn't even let things sort them selves out enough to figure out which was the correct officer to aim your email harrassment at. So glad that after you posted Figueroa's email to the web to encite people to harrass him you did realize you might have the wrong guy.

Actually, I got it right. I corrected someone else and both the people I listed were officers at the scene who participated in the arrest and who filed reports. Furthermore, it's not harassment. These emails are created in order to let members of the community communicate and express their opinions to the police. Again, my tax dollars pay not just for their salaries but for their mail server. You better believe I'm going to email them.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:48 PM on July 20, 2009


But it seems to me at that point he would be yelling even more. So it makes me question the report a bit.
...
It begs the question, if a white man was breaking into his own house would there have been a call?

posted by Rashomon at 9:15 PM on July 20 [+] [!]


So you're saying the truth is hard to ascertain from all these conflicting narratives, which may have issued from biased or ignorant narrators?
posted by rkent at 8:52 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


I hope your sanctimony keeps you warm at night.
posted by borges at 8:52 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


But unless you think that every disorderly conduct arrest is bogus, you're making little more than a statistical argument:

No. You keep messingwith the level of generality. The police were called on a faulty report. No crime had been committed before the police had arrived. The only charge made was disorderly conduct, based on the interactions between the police and Gates. This means the police did something wrong. There is no 3rd party here. The police showed up, realized there was no crime and no matter what you think happens next, you cannot justify an outcome that results in an arrest for disorderly conduct.

So there's your principle. If the police show up based on a bad tip and no crime is being committed, nor is there any evidence of any other crime being committed, if the outcome is that the police arrest the suspect anyway because they think he's being difficult, the police made a mistake.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:53 PM on July 20, 2009


These emails are created in order to let members of the community communicate and express their opinions to the police. Again, my tax dollars pay not just for their salaries but for their mail server. You better believe I'm going to email them.

Better be careful what you say though, would not want to see you be "disorderly."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 8:53 PM on July 20, 2009


People, this is a 58-year old man in his own home. The police came, he identified himself and they arrested him for not doing what they wanted. I just don't see why there's any need to imagine a fantasy world where the cops are justified in arresting him, handcuffing him, taking from his home, and bringing him to the station to press charges. What does this gain? What message could this ever send? I just cannot imagine plausible scenarios where this is ever the right thing to do, let alone not the result of a fairly serious mistake.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The police showed up, realized there was no crime and no matter what you think happens next, you cannot justify an outcome that results in an arrest for disorderly conduct.

Sure I can: If the person is being disorderly. Whether or not the original call about someone breaking in was correct or not is immaterial. Disorderly conduct is disorderly conduct, and the fact that there was no prior crime simply isn't relevant.
posted by fatbird at 8:59 PM on July 20, 2009


Whether or not the original call about someone breaking in was correct or not is immaterial. Disorderly conduct is disorderly conduct, and the fact that there was no prior crime simply isn't relevant.

So I can't be disorderly in my own damn home? So if the cops stop by based on a wrong tip, they can arrest me because they don't think I'm orderly enough? I hope your understanding of what's orderly is the same as any officers in your town.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:04 PM on July 20, 2009


The police came, he identified himself and they arrested him for not doing what they wanted.

They arrested him because he followed them outside, yelling at them. They were leaving, without Gates in cuffs. If Gates had just shut up at that point, he wouldn't have been arrested. "What they wanted" had nothing to do with it.
posted by fatbird at 9:04 PM on July 20, 2009


IndigoJones: "Who are the other four?"

Barack Obama, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates.

and Matt Howie.
posted by mwhybark at 9:05 PM on July 20, 2009


You might enjoy, as I did, the language of the statute that Prof. Gates is accused of violating:

Section 53. Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, common railers and brawlers, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, idle and disorderly persons, disturbers of the peace, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure may be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars, or by both such fine and imprisonment.

posted by ferdydurke at 9:12 PM on July 20, 2009


He was his own property, fatbird, and yelling doesn't hurt anyone. Even if he was being a grade-A dick, and I think it's entirely likely that he was, that should not be an arrestable offense.
posted by Malor at 9:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


So I can't be disorderly in my own damn home?

"Chapter 272: Section 53. Penalty for certain offenses

Section 53. Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, common railers and brawlers, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, idle and disorderly persons, disturbers of the peace, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure may be punished by imprisonment in a jail or house of correction for not more than six months, or by a fine of not more than two hundred dollars, or by both such fine and imprisonment. "

Chapter 272 of the General Laws of MA is quite a read. They can charge you with disorderly conduct for just about anything.
posted by borges at 9:15 PM on July 20, 2009


They arrested him because he followed them outside, yelling at them. They were leaving, without Gates in cuffs. If Gates had just shut up at that point, he wouldn't have been arrested. "What they wanted" had nothing to do with it.

This is misleading. Even under the police's own account, Gates never left his porch. Furthermore, there was never any indication in the police's own account that they left. Indeed, they say they were still on the porch. To say they were leaving, well, makes one wonder why they never did.

I just cannot imagine a principle whereby this makes any sense without significant police misconduct. Even under their own story, there was no need to arrest him. There was no threat to the public except for the fact that they had wrongfully investigated him for breaking into his own home and then called for backup instead of withdrawing. He posed no threat to anyone and this does not look like a violation of c 272 s53 to me.

The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts has declared that disorderly conduct as "[causing] public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof . . . : (a) engage[] in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or . . . (c) create[] a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor."

I don't see how we get there, even from the cops' own statements.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:15 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ah, the police apologists are out in full force tonight.
posted by sonic meat machine at 9:16 PM on July 20, 2009


Are we still go for lynching?

Did you really think it was appropriate to use that word in this discussion? Really?
posted by blucevalo at 9:17 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sorry, to make that more clear, that's the definition of the word "disorderly"
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:17 PM on July 20, 2009


Ack, my cutting and pasting deleted a clause.

Here's the Commonwealth's definition, adopted from the MPC since 1967.

"A person is guilty of disorderly conduct if, with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof, he: (a) engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or (b) makes unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display, or addresses abusive language to any person present; or (c) creates a hazardous or physically offensive condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor."
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


He was his own property, fatbird, and yelling doesn't hurt anyone. Even if he was being a grade-A dick, and I think it's entirely likely that he was, that should not be an arrestable offense.

For the most part I agree, including whether or not it should be an arrestable offense. The fact remains that it is an arrestable offense, and there's a lot of reasons (good, bad or otherwise) besides racism for a cop to decide to arrest someone based on it.

I'd love it if every police officer understood how the context of policing communities who've suffered from racism means that some things should be handled differently than in other circumstances. But at the end of the day, there's the law and the officer's discretion, and it's not obvious that a course of action that is not the most racially sensitive action is necessarily wrong.
posted by fatbird at 9:19 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Never let the police goad you into a confrontation on public property. Stay in your house and ask them to leave. Or call them racist fuckwits. But do it with both feet on your own property.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 9:21 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


Matt Howie

Who's he?
posted by Nice Guy Mike at 9:22 PM on July 20, 2009


Never let the police goad you into a confrontation on public property. Stay in your house and ask them to leave. Or call them racist fuckwits. But do it with both feet on your own property.

And never feel safe on your own porch, as was the case here.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:22 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Are we still go for lynching?
Did you really think it was appropriate to use that word in this discussion? Really?


I didn't think of it, and in hindsight it was gross. I apologize for its use.

they had wrongfully investigated him

They did not wrongfully investigate. They received a call, and they investigated it. They established that he owned the house, determined no crime was committed, and didn't arrest Gates for breaking and entering. Up to that point, what have the police done wrong?

I just cannot imagine a principle whereby this makes any sense without significant police misconduct.

Because you're determined to see the bad outcome here as a product of malicious acts by the police.
posted by fatbird at 9:25 PM on July 20, 2009


Well, "tumultuous" being the operative word, here. It's the word used in the legal definition of disorderly conduct and it's the word explicitly used by the officer in his report. That's not a coincidence.

Gates' front porch is, sadly, not IN his home. Front porches are usually considered "public' places. Yelling is one way to create what might be described a "tumult".

In conclusion: if you're a cop and some guy is yelling at you in his home, if you can entice/invite him to come outside onto his front porch and yell at you there, then he can be arrested for "tumultuous" behavior in a public place, i.e., disorderly conduct. For extra points, explicitly use the word "tumultuous" in your report, which makes it a slam-dunk.

Sorry, Professor Gates. It's a crappy scenario, but you fell into the trap.
posted by darkstar at 9:25 PM on July 20, 2009 [3 favorites]


Again, it's not just that the cops have the right to arrest you for anything that bothers me. It's the idea that they can come to your house and arrest you for disorderly conduct based solely on your interactions with them. How does this possibly make sense? How can this not be a de facto example of police misconduct? If there was an underlying violation, or a concern for the rights of a third-party, that'd be one thing. But he was home alone. Not in violation of the law. The police come and they leave with him in handcuffs because of their interactions (which did not involve any physical contact or immediate threats of violence).
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:27 PM on July 20, 2009 [5 favorites]


I didn't think of it, and in hindsight it was gross. I apologize for its use.

I also regret going to Emmet Till. I meant to think of a long-settled crime. Should have gone with Lindbergh baby. I apologize too, it added a little too much anger into this.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:28 PM on July 20, 2009


Because it verges on a a form of entrapment - I get your drift. It's like a license to cause a situation. On the other hand, how can they somehow be prohibited from charging you on an unrelated crime (even if it is somehow instigated by the interaction itself?)
posted by borges at 9:32 PM on July 20, 2009


The police come and they leave with him in handcuffs because of their interactions

That's exactly what it comes down to, and the fact that it's white cops arresting the pre-eminent black scholar in the country makes it complicated and racially charged, moreso because within the letter of the law it was probably a safe arrest to make, even as it was socially disastrous.

The problem you seem to be having, allen, is insisting that it make some kind of sense. Bad judgment isn't in itself racist.
posted by fatbird at 9:33 PM on July 20, 2009




Again, it's not just that the cops have the right to arrest you for anything that bothers me. It's the idea that they can come to your house and arrest you for disorderly conduct based solely on your interactions with them.


Pretty much this, there is an element of provocation to even innocently entering another person's house and calling them a criminal.


Say it wasn't breaking and entering, say it was child rape.

Out of the blue, a cop comes to your door and calls you a child rapist based on a call from some random neighbor.

Do you:

A. Have a hearty laugh and explain that you do not engage in forced intercourse with children.

B. Become disorderly.
posted by furiousxgeorge at 9:35 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


The problem you seem to be having, allen, is insisting that it make some kind of sense. Bad judgment isn't in itself racist.

I've been arguing there is misconduct, not racism. No matter how you cut it, this was a demonstration of incredibly poor judgment. Bad enough for it to be a fireable offense, at the very least.

And when you start to unpack that judgment, of course there's a racial component. But I don't need to go there. Even under the most permissive and generous interpretation of the facts, this is misconduct. This was a 58 year-old who has already identified himself as a Harvard Professor in his own home. By stretching the law (and perhaps lying about the underlying facts) they may have something that qualifies as a legitimate arrest. Yet there is no set of facts that makes this a reasonable thing to do. Once they saw that he owned the place they should have left. Even with him shouting on the porch. Throw in everything else and I'm not sure what the right remedy ought to be.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:41 PM on July 20, 2009


I know I'm super late to this thread but to be honest, this is one of those threads which make me think that somehow, over the past eight years or so, I've become totally and completely alienated from my fellow Americans and their attitudes towards law enforcement.

We're going to arrest people for saying not nice things to police? We can expect to be arrested if we're angry at the police? The police may arrest us for showing an insufficient amount of respect and/or genuflection for their office?

It's almost as if we fought a war against some looming fascist power, lost the war, and are now occupied by not only the security services but the loyal followers of said power. It's as if the United States has been colonized (yet again) by those who worship Power, Authority and Public Order over and against the wishes of the original inhabitants.

Of course, that never happened. There has always been a fascist streak in American life. I'm just trying to figure out when it became mainstreamed.
posted by Avenger at 9:47 PM on July 20, 2009 [17 favorites]


On the other hand, how can they somehow be prohibited from charging you on an unrelated crime (even if it is somehow instigated by the interaction itself?)

I don't think we need a hard-and-fast rule here. Under these circumstances, disorderly conduct makes no sense. There may be instances where it's the right thing to do. But it's a bs claim here. It's just too blatantly obvious that they are using it as pretense. And there are plenty of instances where the police can show up to investigate one crime and end up focusing on another. If Gates had pulled a gun on them, sure. But a claim that is purely subjective such as disorderly conduct, well, it's probably a bad idea. If the police can't get someone on a more substantive in these circumstances - and the person is still in their own home- they should just leave.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


The ridiculous thing is the idea that the police should have a "right" to arrest you if they feel like it and can think up some excuse, similar to a normal persons' right to free speech. That's just fucked up. "The officer was within his rights to arrest him." That's seriously warped thinking.

Obviously, if people are breaking the law in such a way that an arrest is warranted, (or if there is a warrant for their arrest or whatever) they should be arrested. It shouldn't be about the cop and what he feels like.

Also the idea that it's actually illegal to yell at people in your own home (or on your porch) is absurd. Generally laws like "disorderly conduct" or "public intoxication" are not interpreted by the insanely broad way they are written (which would basically allow the police to arrest anyone)
posted by delmoi at 9:55 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Avenger, I'll bet that no small part of it has to do with the COPS show. If there was ever a prize for modern American propaganda for internal state security, that show would have to be on the short list.
posted by darkstar at 9:56 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


"But I live in Cambridge. The police do not ordinarily arrest people who shout at them here. I see drunken youths shouting at police in Harvard Square every weekend night, and nobody gets arrested."

Agreed. I'm a white female who lived in Somerville in the early 1990s and also have seen some instances of Cambridge police being rude as well as ignoring loud drunken white folk in the streets. I'm sure they have a tedious job dealing with all the bars and partying types, but I can think of a few cases where they weren't helpful even when asked questions respectfully and politely. I have the feeling that the cops weren't particularly polite when they asked the prof if he was the homeowner - but I also bet it will come down to tone of voice, something that can't be proved one way or another - it's probably going to be a subjective perception. I also have the feeling that if the officer was more adept in conciliatory speech he could have talked the situation into a much better ending.

That said I'd also agree that the prof was in the wrong to go outside and yell at them. He should have stayed in his house and made his phone calls there. And called the press from there as well. But then even as a white person my parents taught me to always say sir to the police and never ever backtalk, because that wasn't ever the safe/smart thing to do.
posted by batgrlHG at 10:03 PM on July 20, 2009


allen.spaulding: It's the idea that they can come to your house and arrest you for disorderly conduct based solely on your interactions with them. How does this possibly make sense?

It makes sense if Gates interactions with the officers did, in fact, constitute disorderly conduct.

But he was home alone. Not in violation of the law.

You seem to be missing a key point here. He wasn't arrested for disorderly conduct inside his own home. The police reportedly left the house having made no arrest and Gates followed them outside. His behaviour at that point may well have been tumultuous; mine certainly would have been.

Police may use a disorderly conduct charge to keep the peace when people are behaving in a disruptive manner to themselves or others, but present no serious public danger. [wikipedia]

So if he's out on the lawn and he's yelling at the cops, then he may well have been in violation of the law even though there was no threat of violence.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:11 PM on July 20, 2009


That said I'd also agree that the prof was in the wrong to go outside and yell at them.

1) The cop asked him to come out of the house with him, that much is even in the police report

2) No one has even said ever he left his porch.
posted by delmoi at 10:13 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


You seem to be missing a key point here. He wasn't arrested for disorderly conduct inside his own home. The police reportedly left the house having made no arrest and Gates followed them outside.

Again, here is what the police report actually says:
I again told Gates I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units.
posted by delmoi at 10:14 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


This sounds like a good old All-American clusterfuck.

The officer should have been more able to keep his cool--sometimes being a cop means you get yelled at, and people accuse you of being a dirtbag racist asshole. That's life. If you can't handle that, you're in the wrong job, because sooner or later you're going to beat the crap out of someone or arrest someone you shouldn't, or you'll just gradually become an alcoholic police desk monkey.

Gates should have recognized that the guy was doing his job, they have to respond when a report is made, and that as he mentions later--the house had actually been broken into before, so it's not a ridiculous thing for someone to think that a guy who appeared to be trying to break into a house might actually be a guy trying to break into a house.

I think they each had a pair of really unfortunate simultaneous meltdowns and it's too bad that between the two of them, neither one of them decided that maybe they wouldn't go any further with this particular social opera.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:14 PM on July 20, 2009 [7 favorites]


Lots of details just do not add up on either side. Now parts of Cambridge a very isolated and like a 'nice' small town, this street is between Mass ave and Broadway, very urban, very busy. I don't live in Cambridge but I've used it as a 'cut thru'. It's pretty urban. Does not surprise that a neighbor did not recognize someone, she'd maybe never seen him. The cops phrasing sounds very careful, there must be more. It does sound like there was an audience, so the cop was both pressured and safe, witnesses that only saw the worst of Gates. I would expect it to just be dropped, quietly at some point.
posted by sammyo at 10:15 PM on July 20, 2009


Streets in cities tend to be fairly "urban."
posted by furiousxgeorge at 10:18 PM on July 20, 2009


When I lived with a host family in Japan for a while, I went with my host brother to Okinawa by plane. At the airport, he gave a largish hunting knife to the security people at the checkpoint (he wanted to take it in case we went fishing so he could gut and clean the fish, he said). Though this was perfectly legal, for some reason he was herded into a little room nearby by a bunch of airport cops. I was standing there, and the door was open, so I could hear him going to town on these officers, until they backed down and let him out.

I was shocked -- the police backed down, and actually apologized for bothering him. Later, talking to my host brother about it, he said that in Japan, people routinely get into verbal altercations with cops, and they hardly ever result in arrest for "disorderly conduct" type bullshit. I saw proof of this another time in a large park. There was a group of very grungy homeless guys lying on a tarp, sleeping and surrounded by empty beer cans, etc. The cop stood there and yelled at the guys, stuff like "aren't you ashamed of yourselves," and "get up and get out of here, bums," etc. The guys just told him to stuff it and ignored him. Eventually the cop just walked away, grumbling.

I remember feeling distinctly envious.
posted by diocletian at 10:32 PM on July 20, 2009 [1 favorite]


I just read the police report and...wow, just wow. There are so many things about the wording and structure of the Officer's narrative that is completely disturbing. For those who said above that they thought its funny to try to reconstruct what happened from a police report, let me just say this...there is a lot to be learned from any person's retelling of a personal narrative, regardless of the factuality of the events stated in it. It is impossible to be completely unbiased when telling a story, especially an emotionally charged story that you recently experienced. The best we can do is convey to our audience that we are aware of this and use the socially accepted strategies appropriate for the speech genre, to minimize the bias. I don't really see much of that happening here. The narrative is non-neutral to the point of entitlement and abuse of authority (IMHO).

I wrote out many parts of the police report that struck me as particularly revealing, but don't have time to go through all the bits. I think it might be an interesting analysis for another time. Here's one example that seemed especially problematic:

"Gates then turned to me and told me that I had no idea who I was "messing" with and that I had not heard the last of it. While I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence, I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me."

I am not familiar with police report narratives, so there are definitely styles and conventions that I am unaware of. Also, everything I'm about to say is pure subjective interpretation, based on hardly any knowledge of the case, police culture and other important things to consider. Take with salt grain. However, the above passage leads me to several questions. First, why the scare quotes on "messing"? Was this the only part of the entire sentence that was actually quotable? Or is "messing" supposed to highlight a marker of colloquial speech not generally associated with Harvard professors, but rather black thugs? If "I had not heard the last of it" was not quotable then why phrase it as such? The choice by the officer to paraphrase the experience is this manner reveals (IMHO) a very biased speaker attitude. We would expect the officer to have some natural bias, which is also why we would expect some sort of awareness of the inherent paradox, and subsequently an attempt to compensate; ex. "Gates then turned to me and delivered a veiled threat; something to the effect of 'I had no idea who I was messing with and that I had not heard the last of it.'" See, this rephrasing defines the scope and separates the reporting of the event by the officer (neutral) from the pragmatic quality of the exchange (attitudes conveyed are confined to the speaker of the threat). That this wasn't done in any form shows (to me) the charged state of the speaker and his gross lack of neutrality and lack of awareness of this in reporting the events.

Also, the construction "While I was led to believe that..." presupposes the notion of active deception (presumably by Gates). It demonstrates that the speaker of this narrative believed or wants us to believe that at that point in the timeline of events, he still had doubts of the legitimacy of the person he was speaking to. In other words, we are to understand that he wasn't convinced, at that point in time, that Gates was not a criminal. It could very well be true that the officer wasn't convinced at that time, but could also become problematic for him in this case if it turns out that there were several 'clues' (and there likely would be, given that Gates was in his own home and people tend to act natural in their own home and have a house full of things that are coherent with their identity) that would suggest that this man is the inhabitant of the house and/or who he says he is. Given all that, 'being led to believe' with its undercurrents of deception, could be construed as willfully ignorant of the blatant reality that might actually be better phrased as something like "Having no reason not to believe..."

In that clause (and also in many others), there is an obfuscation of agency. 'While I was led to believe...' is a step or two removed from 'I believed' which is also a step or two removed from 'I know that...' or 'Gates was lawfully in the residence'. This reads to me as an attempt to sound neutral, but actually avoids responsibility and lessons agency. Each instance I found of this type of construction served to paint a picture of doubt around Gates' legitimacy.

I'm not going to even bother addressing the victimy bullshit rhetoric of "I was quite surprised and confused with the behavior he exhibited toward me" or the repeated uses of 'tumultuous', 'alarmed', and 'told me I was racist'. Their sheer frequency says enough.
posted by iamkimiam at 11:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


What I don't understand, and this has been said before upthread, but I STILL don't understand is how anyone can think that, given the circumstances, this cop had ANY right to ANYTHING regarding this person.

Imagined narrative of scene:

I can't get my front door open. Dammit. I, with my KEY, open my back door, and proceed to ask the help of my driver to open my annoyingly busted front door. We win! Yay! Now I call the powers that take care of my property to fix front door. Cop is on my porch. COP IS IN MY HOUSE! wtf? Dude, what do you want? Oh okay , here is my ID, I LIVE HERE.

HOW ARE YOU IN MY HOUSE RIGHT NOW I HAVE BEEN IN CHINA! IT"S THREE A.M. IN THE MORNING! ( or whatever frikkin' time it is in my enraged body/head/ giant brain) I AM SCREAMING! PLEASE PLEASE DON"T BE THAT GUY WHO IS A COP THAT IS GOING TO NOT LET ME SLEEP RIGHT NOW! FUCK! YOU ARE THAT GUY! GRRRR I THINK I HATE YOU! SO SLEEPY AND ENRAGED!

AND I AM SO SLEEPY THAT I WILL USE THE FACT THAT I HAVE MORE DEGREES THAN YOUR ENTIRE FAMILY WILL EVER HAVE AND MY BRAIN IS HUGE AND I'M BLACK (oh, crap...this ...well) TO MAKE YOU GO AWAY.

Oh, God. Being black sucks SO bad sometimes. SOMETIMES, I said! LIKE RIGHT NOW!

YES I AM YELLING!

Which I will summarize by saying, the good man spoke a bit too loudly, and was arrested for saying

GET OF MY LAWN!

and, as a person who has been jet-lagged, i gotta have this dudes back.
posted by metasav at 11:07 PM on July 20, 2009 [4 favorites]


Gates initially refused to identify himself ...
Of course it probably depends on the cops' attitudes when they asked


I totally agree. I think anyone, black or white, if confronted in their home with an angry cop yelling "identify yourself" would probably have the first thought: fuck you.

And you know, black or white (but especially black, I'm sure) the cops will have your ass if you don't bow down before their command and control hard-on.
posted by scarabic at 11:13 PM on July 20, 2009


i think we've found a new variety of swine flu in cambridge that causes instant idiocy and is transmitted by language - without a doubt mr gates and the officers were first to contract it and the rest of you soon followed

if local experience of similar things is any guide, there are one of two outcomes - a) the charges will be dropped and perhaps an undisclosed sum of money will be paid to mr gates to shut him up - b) he will cop a plea for community service and the record of the conviction will later be cleared, while, of course, he or his lawyer continue to make statements claiming he wasn't really guilty

in either event, people will continue to believe what they already believe, all those accused of racism will continue to be guilty until proved innocent, all those who failed to respect authoritah will be castigated as potential criminals and people with internet access will continue to know everything

if this is the best of the web or our society we are in some serious deep shit
posted by pyramid termite at 11:23 PM on July 20, 2009 [2 favorites]


Gates wasn't arrested for not being polite in his own house - the cop left and Gates followed him outside and continued yelling at him in front of a gathering crowd.

It was a set up. Gates could yell at the cop all day inside his house and there was nothing the cop could do about it. So he tells Gates to follow him outside because he couldn't hear his radio due to the bad "acoustics." Yeah, right. Gates steps onto the public porch, still yelling and is immediately arrested for public disorderly conduct. Cop writes up the report with the key words "in view of the public," citizens "alarmed," and "tumultuous" behavior right out of the Massachusetts code. Gates fell right into the trap. The cop is lying about his pretense for moving the discussion outside. Cops know this stuff because they do it every day of the week.
posted by JackFlash at 11:28 PM on July 20, 2009 [25 favorites]


what can i say that hasn't been said?

Oh yeah...the fact that this distinguished faculty member of haaavaaad university said "

"yaaa...I'll talk to YOUR MAMA outside".

freaking bad ass. and just in case that officer made that shit up...oh man will he have hell rain down on him.
posted by hal_c_on at 11:52 PM on July 20, 2009


GETTING MY RANT ON/

as a black latina woman --a black Puerto Rican woman; a black Puerto Rican woman who considers herself quite the WISE LATINA; what really pisses me off about these cases is the fact that white people cannot still deal with an uppity black man or woman. as if we blacks/latinos/blatinos were not allowed the same kind of ego foibles as white people because ... you know ... we have to live in deference of white people all the time, thankful that they choose to not gang up on us and lynch us.

am not making excuses for Henry. i've met him and he is as charming as he is pig-headed. still, HE HAS A RIGHT TO BE A PRICK IN HIS OWN HOUSE AND NOT GET ARRESTED FOR IT. that's the point that a lot of people upthread have been trying to make. who cares how much of a dick he was? IT WAS HIS GODDAMN HOUSE. HLG had all the right to look at the cop at scream at him GET OFF MY LAWN.

/RANT OFF

to the naysayers, serioulsy people. wtf.
posted by liza at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2009 [12 favorites]


Ta-Nehisi Coates highlights a boston.com quote from another distinguished African-American Harvard prof, S. Allen Counter:
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.
(Armchair polar explorers might be interested in Counter's book North Pole Legacy, about his meetings with descendants of Matthew Henson and Robert Peary in Greenland and his attempts to get Henson's remains transferred to Arlington National Cemetery.)
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:55 PM on July 20, 2009


There's not enough information either way to say what happened here, but if I had to pull an opinion out of my ass, then I'd say we had a policeman being an ass, and a professor who spends his days thinking about racism thinking this was racism.

Personally, I'd like to hear Gate's version of events before making a call about who's lying.
posted by seanyboy at 12:12 AM on July 21, 2009


The neighbor who called the police, Lucia Whalen, works for Harvard, too. You'd think she'd either recognize Skip Gates as a neighbor or colleague or prominent man on campus. On the other hand, if someone saw a person, no matter what race, trying to force their way into my home, I'd prefer that they alert the cops. If it turned out to be me and I'd lost my key, well, I'd still rather be safe than sorry and hopefully would not come unglued when asked for my ID. (I'd had a previous home broken into at 11:30AM - I know the time because they were still inside when I returned home.) I saw an episode of COPS once where there was a report of a prowler, the police arrived and found a man inside the house and he insisted it was his house, but he didn't have his ID on him at the time. As it turned out, when asked his name, it didn't match the name on the stack of mail sitting on a table in another room. He had broken into the house after all.

So I don't quite get all the outrage about "being asked to show ID in his own home!" - at first, the police officer didn't know it was Gates' home. And he refused to show ID when first asked, which also makes him look suspicious. I don't think he should've been arrested simply for mouthing off to the cop, but then again, I didn't think this 72-year-old woman should've been tasered by a constable (both white) for getting lippy, either. I don't think the Gates incident was necessarily based on race, it was a just another case of cop on a power trip: you will respect my authori-tah!
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:13 AM on July 21, 2009


Maybe we should read the police report instead of guessing at what happened.
Hmmm, maybe things are different in the US, but in the UK if you wanted the facts on something you wouldn't read a police report, you'd need to look up the camera phone video of the incident that was posted to You Tube.
posted by chill at 12:28 AM on July 21, 2009


liza: As a white British man, a white British man who considers himself a stupid Brit, I'm a little concerned that this event has so easily been classified as a white racist officer being unable to deal with an uppity black professor. I'm not saying that the arrest wasn't racially motivated - It could have been, but the policeman involved in this (the Hispanic sounding Officer Carlos Figueroa) should at least be treated as innocent until we have more information on this incident.
posted by seanyboy at 12:41 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I can't believe that no one else has responded to twoleftfeet's awsome link to Judge Cofield's drunken tirade.

washington: Are you injured ?

cofield: Yeah, I am. I’m humiliated by your fucking attitude.

It only gets better from there.
posted by ActingTheGoat at 1:37 AM on July 21, 2009


I was thinking about this. There are a lot of poor communication skills in that officer's accounting that look like skills someone might discuss in marriage therapy.

There's the Gates asking for the cop's name, which the cop tries to supply, but Gates yells over him when he tries to, meaning: I am not interested in anything you have to say. Which has an incredibly humiliating and frustrating effect, as someone who went through a bad marriage can attest.

And the very first thing Gates does is stonewall--refuses to talk to the cop.

It's a study in unsuccessful communication styles. And then the cop spazzes out and arrests him, because after all that getting yelled at he both wants to do something and figures he should. I wonder if he started regretting it on the way home.

What a bunch of button-pushing, going on there. I think it's more interesting from a human interaction standpoint than a racial standpoint.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:22 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This tradition of black vernacular in mind, I’m especially tickled at Gates’s strategic use of a "yo mama" joke to goad the officer into losing his cool and breaking out the cuffs; Gates’s taunting forced a move that will likely cost this officer his job.

I'm not necessarily "tickled" with your simultaneous reverence for this exalted scholar of African American studies and also his penchant for sophomoric and unnecessary goading of an officer into making a tough call by insulting his mother. While he may understand the potential consequences of his actions and words (certainly he does given his prestigious position) should he not hold himself to a standard above immature verbal abuse? Whether he was intentionally goading or is merely an entitled dick making a scene, there is certainly a more respectful way to go about things. After all...

According to CNN:

"He is considered one of the nation's pre-eminent scholars of African-American studies. In 1997, Time magazine placed him on its list of the 25 most influential Americans."


I totally agree. I think anyone, black or white, if confronted in their home with an angry cop yelling "identify yourself" would probably have the first thought: fuck you.

especially if one lives in Cambridge, and is confronted by the cop from behind a keyboard.

I hope your sanctimony keeps you warm at night.

A hundred times over.
posted by clearly at 3:48 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


FYI Charles Ogletree put out a statement by Gates. I take this with as much a grain of salt as the officer's report.

I'd love it if every police officer understood how the context of policing communities who've suffered from racism means that some things should be handled differently than in other circumstances. But at the end of the day, there's the law and the officer's discretion, and it's not obvious that a course of action that is not the most racially sensitive action is necessarily wrong.

While not disagreeing with the officer being a dick, I think from the officer's perspective as a few prescient Mefitovians have said, it is as much of a class thing as a race thing. In that it seems that Gates might have been the dick, pulling the "Do you know who I am?" card. I can understand how the cop might have got bent out of shape because of how Gates treated him, as well I am a Hahvad prof where you are, um, "a servant." And I don't mean *public servant* either. Again, as a cop, you must unfortunately bite your tongue against assholes who try to bait you. It is easy because you have to power to go apeshit and taze and arrest. Sometimes understandable, but you can't do that. So while the cop shouldn't be fired, and again, assuming that there is a middle ground of truth to both narratives, the cop should have some re-training.
posted by xetere at 4:27 AM on July 21, 2009


Very early in the police report the cop mentioned that he called the Harvard University police. There's a reason he put this in the report. It's because that is what he's supposed to do. Harvard University has a police force to prevent stuff like this happening. Obviously there are other reasons for the Harvard University police force to exist. The Cambridge police force knows this and while an individual officer may not like it much it's the way things are. Harvard and M.I.T. are big employers. Harvard has a huge amount of money and some amount of local clout. What is supposed to happen when Cambridge police Officer X stumbles across Harvard student Y stoned out his mind some Saturday night is he ignores it. If student Y pushes it a bit too far, Officer X is supposed to call the Harvard Police. If student Y is really pushing it or he pisses off Officer X, then maybe X does something without involving the Harvard University Police. That's for a student. I can't imagine that what Officer X's superiors want for him to do when he's getting into with a Harvard professor is for him to goad the Professor into yelling at him and then arrest him on a trumped up charge that going to disappear.

Disclaimer: It's been three decades since I lived in Boston, not Cambridge. I was never a Harvard student.
posted by rdr at 5:07 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


So... you're allowed to yell at cop in your own home.

But not on your own porch.

So Gates was lured outside so the cop could arrest him.

Driven by racism or not, that's certainly not how I expect the police force to act. (In an ideal world, obviously I am realistic).

To those who are saying that Gates was stupid for yelling at the cop. Of course, he was cranky, and tired, and pissed off, and did something dumb. That doesn't in any way eliminate the cop's responsibility to attempt to defuse to situation rather than escalate it.
posted by miss tea at 6:00 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think they each had a pair of really unfortunate simultaneous meltdowns and it's too bad that between the two of them, neither one of them decided that maybe they wouldn't go any further with this particular social opera.

Well, but the cop had a duty to not go any further. He was on the job. Gates did not. In fact he's an almost-60-year-old man, which pretty much places a duty on him to be cantankerous when some cop shows up at his door demanding ID.
posted by palliser at 6:17 AM on July 21, 2009


'Ogletree also disputed the claim that Gates, who was wearing slacks and a polo shirt and carrying a cane, was yelling at the officer.

"He has an infection that has impacted his breathing since he came back from China, so he's been in a very delicate physical state," Ogletree said.

Lawrence D. Bobo, the W.E.B Du Bois Professor of the Social Sciences at Harvard, said he met with Gates at the police station and described his colleague as feeling humiliated and "emotionally devastated."'

posted by catchingsignals at 6:26 AM on July 21, 2009


The discussion in this thread reminds me of debates between conservatives and liberals in American politics. Conservatives have succeeded in shifting the playing field for debate so far to the right that they are able to paint moderate positions that conform to the views of a majority of Americans as wildly liberal-a centrist deal-maker like President Obama is painted as some kind of lefty socialist, for example.

Here, those who are convinced that Gates is blameless and that the arrest was exclusively an act of racism and/or classism take on those who believe that we don't have enough information, or that both the officer and Gates most likely bear some responsibility for the situation; this latter group is painted as police apologists, or worse (I particularly enjoyed the metaphor about how those people are like baby birds who haven't yet left the nest). Meanwhile, the three or four actual police apologist comments barely register, out of three or four hundred comments now. These stand in for the negligible number of lefty socialists with an actual national voice in the American political scene.

Like Huronbob, I'll reserve judgment on this mess until an investigation is complete. No doubt someone will be along shortly to call me a police apologist.
posted by Kwine at 6:47 AM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


should he not hold himself to a standard above immature verbal abuse?
Gates devoted many pages and scholarly documentation about why signifying isn't just "immature verbal abuse." Then you and your ignorant mama come along to say you know better.
posted by mistersquid at 6:53 AM on July 21, 2009


It is strange to me how many sides of this debate are so quick to agree that there is NO racism involved.

I really, really, want to live in your world. I'm not saying that to be a smartass or call you ignorant. It must be a nicer, kinder place.

We don't need to blame the victim here. Maybe he didn't use the best judgment. So what? Can we not have, at least, some empathy for someone who had suffered a recent break-in, tired and ill, had to break into his own home, and was treated rudely by someone with the power to arrest him?

And if we "all know", or were taught by our parents, that one must be polite to the point of obsequiousness to the police lest one be abused by them, doesn't that say something about the likelihood that Gates was abused simply for being rude?

Instead of emailing the police, I will send a letter of support and condolence to the professor. What a horrible thing to experience, and how much more horrible still to hear that he deserves it for being upset--for being a human being with human emotions and weaknesses.
posted by kathrineg at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


I can't believe that no one else has responded to twoleftfeet's awsome link to Judge Cofield's drunken tirade.

Yeah, it suggests that even if we believe everything said in the police report, Gates was relatively mild compared to Cofield.
posted by jonp72 at 8:10 AM on July 21, 2009


I again told Gates I would speak with him outside. My reason for wanting to leave the residence was that Gates was yelling very loud and the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer were making it difficult for me to transmit pertinent information to ECC or other responding units.

And if you believe this, I've got the acoustics from a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you.
posted by jonp72 at 8:17 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lawyer's Statement on the Arrest of Henry Louis Gates Jr.

the cop enters WITHOUT PERMISSION into his goddamn house and refuses to show Gates his ID? ARE YOU FUCKING SERIOUS?
posted by liza at 8:22 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


It is strange to me how many sides of this debate are so quick to agree that there is NO racism involved.

Some of those sides are probably just saying that we can't tell if there was racism involved from the facts at hand.
posted by oaf at 8:24 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


MetaFilter: Common night walkers, common street walkers, both male and female, common railers and brawlers, persons who with offensive and disorderly acts or language accost or annoy persons of the opposite sex, lewd, wanton and lascivious persons in speech or behavior, idle and disorderly persons, disturbers of the peace, keepers of noisy and disorderly houses, and persons guilty of indecent exposure.
posted by kirkaracha at 8:25 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


the cop enters WITHOUT PERMISSION into his goddamn house

What gives you the idea that permission was necessary?
posted by oaf at 8:33 AM on July 21, 2009


What gives you the idea that permission was necessary?

United States Bill of Rights
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:35 AM on July 21, 2009 [17 favorites]


But hey, don't let a bit of reflection on the limits of our knowledge stop your righteous dudgeon, jonp72.

Righteous dudgeon? You're the one dropping the N-bomb and going on about jackbooted fascism.
posted by jonp72 at 8:40 AM on July 21, 2009


The Middlesex DA (who wants to be attorney general once Coakley runs for the Senate) has dropped charges upon recommendation from police.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:41 AM on July 21, 2009


Charges dropped.
posted by lunit at 8:42 AM on July 21, 2009


Care to be more specific, Comrade_robot? I doubt the officers thought "hey, this would be a great place to quarter some soldiers, but only if we can get the guy who lives here to leave."
posted by oaf at 8:42 AM on July 21, 2009


Charges dropped.

That's good to see. Unless Gates sues, we probably won't get much more of an idea what happened. And maybe not even then.
posted by oaf at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It is strange to me how many sides of this debate are so quick to agree that there is NO racism involved.

This is one of the strange -- and sad -- ways in which Fark and Metafilter overlap. Immediately after incidents like this, a sizable number of posters on both sites assure everyone else that while we don't know all the facts of the incident, we can be pretty sure that it's unlikely race played a part in the matter.

It's also strange to me that a great many white males who frequently flash their feminist credentials are utterly unable to see parallels to gender-related issues in race issues. I've read a great deal on Metafilter and elsewhere about women pointing out how constantly being objectified and evaluated and portrayed in the media a certain way really grinds them down emotionally and mentally; sometimes, quite understandably, they can no longer play nice and keep it all in, and they express their anger. And when I've seen -- on Metafilter, Salon, etc -- males who claim to understand this reaction in women fail to acknowledge that something similar happens to black people, I can't help but wonder what's going on.

To those saying Prof Gates should have been more even-tempered, I bet he, like me and nearly all of my black friends and family, can tell you about literally hundreds of times where he bit his tongue, sighed and remained non-confrontational when a white authority figure or private citizen treated him in a different manner based solely on the color of his skin. I'm guessing that, confronted in his home, he finally said, "Damn, this is enough! E-nough!"

I know some people like to claim black people are too sensitive about these kinds of things -- the same way some males claim women are too sensitive about gender issues -- but, trust me, you have no idea how loathe most (but certainly not all) black people are to "play the race card". And we are this way for the same reasons so many of MeFi's awesome female members have spoken of a reluctance to bring up gender issues: the eye-rolling and teeth-sucking our raising the issue brings can be even more soul-crushing than the incidents that spark our outrage, and we don't want to be seen as disruptive or not willing to go along to get along.

I'm not saying the officer in this incident is a card-carrying member of the KKK. Nor am I saying Gates is wholly blameless. But you're going to have to work harder than many here and elsewhere have been working to convince me that race played absolutely no factor in the officer's decision to escalate the tension.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:44 AM on July 21, 2009 [27 favorites]


Care to be more specific, Comrade_robot? I doubt the officers thought "hey, this would be a great place to quarter some soldiers, but only if we can get the guy who lives here to leave."

Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:48 AM on July 21, 2009


I know it didn't help Gates's situation any, but "Yeah, I'll speak with your mama outside" is still totally cracking me up.

Why not own the t-shirt?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2009


Immediately after incidents like this, a sizable number of posters on both sites assure everyone else that while we don't know all the facts of the incident, we can be pretty sure that it's unlikely race played a part in the matter.

This is my reminder to add my two cents in, then. I'm sure I'm not the only one nodding along thinking yeah, it's blindingly obvious that of course race was a significant factor in this incident, at multiple junctures, some of it overt, some of it "just" institutionalized prejudice.

I know some people like to claim black people are too sensitive about these kinds of things -- the same way some males claim women are too sensitive about gender issues -- but, trust me, you have no idea how loathe most (but certainly not all) black people are to "play the race card". And we are this way for the same reasons so many of MeFi's awesome female members have spoken of a reluctance to bring up gender issues: the eye-rolling and teeth-sucking our raising the issue brings can be even more soul-crushing than the incidents that spark our outrage, and we don't want to be seen as disruptive or not willing to go along to get along

Very well said. It's exhausting to stand up, but ultimately more exhausting to let it slide. I don't know what people have to do to make others believe the thousand cuts are not imaginary or hysterical, though.

(And as a cute little white girl, I'm acutely aware that I could've broken into that house through the window and talked my way out of arrest. This makes this sort of incident even more infuriating and ridiculous to me.)
posted by desuetude at 8:59 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Police report link isn't working now.
posted by desuetude at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2009


Immediately after incidents like this, a sizable number of posters on both sites assure everyone else that while we don't know all the facts of the incident, we can be pretty sure that it's unlikely race played a part in the matter.

There's a difference between being unwilling to point the finger and accuse someone of racism, and being pretty sure that racism likely wasn't involved. Part of the problem is that there's a wide spectrum of racism that can be possible here, from the cops being KKK members on the weekend, to the institutional racism of police offers who use racial profiling explicitly, to those who do it without really thinking about it. In a perverse way, I think the increased sensitivity to, and awareness of, racism in America has made some people less likely to point the finger--they treat the charge as serious and real and meaningful, as actually signifying something wrong with the accused.

I doubt anyone here would be surprised if it was later revealed that the two officers had a history of complaints from the African American community, told racist jokes in their off hours, and were caught on tape dropping n-bombs and how they showed Gates who was boss.
posted by fatbird at 9:05 AM on July 21, 2009


Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution

Please point out the unreasonable search.
posted by oaf at 9:07 AM on July 21, 2009


Photo (taken by a neighbor) of a handcuffed Gates being led off of his front porch.
posted by ericb at 9:17 AM on July 21, 2009


the cop enters WITHOUT PERMISSION into his goddamn house

What gives you the idea that permission was necessary?
posted by oaf at 11:33 AM on July 21 [+] [!]


The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2009 [7 favorites]


Police report link isn't working now.

This link works.
posted by lunit at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2009


Immediately after incidents like this, a sizable number of posters on both sites assure everyone else that while we don't know all the facts of the incident, we can be pretty sure that it's unlikely race played a part in the matter.

Well "sizable number" is infinitely elastic, so that claim can't be proven wrong. I see only a very, very few people here saying with any confidence at all that it is "unlikely" that race played a part in the matter. I do see a "sizable number" saying that we don't know all the facts and that it is unfair to simply assume that the office involved is a racist bastard. I also see a sizable number of people who treat every statement of that kind as if it were a claim that the officer couldn't possibly be racist and that this must all be Gates's fault.
posted by yoink at 9:18 AM on July 21, 2009


Please point out the unreasonable search.

I'm not entirely sure about this, and the reports are confusing, but didn't one of the cops follow Gates into his house without permission?

I think that the police at least have to be given active permission by a tenant to enter a residence without a warrant. (IANAL, I could have this wrong.)
posted by hippybear at 9:19 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just read the Gawker article. Talk about trying to make an issue all about race! They literally take a roll call of who's black and who's white.

oaf: Do you really believe that cops can just walk into anybody's home at any time without permission? I ... I fear for America when people actually believe this. Try watching an episode of Law & Order.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:21 AM on July 21, 2009


Okay, here's how sacred the right to not enter our homes without a warrant is:

Justice Antonin Scalia, in Kyllo v. U.S., opined that cops can't even use an infrared scanner to look into a house. There is, in Scalia's words, a "firm but also bright line" preventing unwarranted police access through your front door. The 4th amendment prohibition from stepping foot into a house without permission is a given.
posted by jabberjaw at 9:28 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


lord_wolf,

fatbird makes a good point. I also think in many of the "debated" instances is the possibility that race was not a factor exists.

You said yourself that part of the factor of detecting the racism or sexism is the sheer frequency of these incidents. But that's also part of the problem when trying to convey the issue to someone white or male. Everyone has experienced people wronging them or discriminating against them at some point. Many white males have also experienced, say, a cop being a complete dick to them for no reason. I doubt any white male has the same number of these experiences as a young black man does. But to take any one instance and say "this is racism" would take a very blatant act that is rarely seen nowadays. Thus people are only left with a probability-like analysis of (could this be racism) vs (could this happen to anybody), and there's a non-trivial probability that it is not racism.

I think most Metafilter commenters here "get" that racism and sexism exists. They know that minorities and women feel the pressure of it pretty steadily. But taking any one incident and marking it "racist" or "not racist" is terribly difficult. Calling out any single incident as certainly racist, where non-racist motives are possible, is not terribly helpful to either convincing anyone it's an example of racism or even conveying the frustration of racism itself.
posted by FuManchu at 9:30 AM on July 21, 2009


Photo (taken by a neighbor) of a handcuffed Gates being led off of his front porch.
posted by ericb at 9:17 AM on July 21


That's all I needed to see. Bullshit arrest. How long does it take to figure out who lives there? How many cops does it take? Fuck that. I don't care if he was singing NWA's Fuck tha Police at that point. Get out of MY HOUSE!
posted by P.o.B. at 9:32 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not entirely sure about this, and the reports are confusing, but didn't one of the cops follow Gates into his house without permission?

Yes. That does not by itself make an unreasonable search.

Do you really believe that cops can just walk into anybody's home at any time without permission?

Do you really believe that cops require a warrant to enter anyone's home at any time?
posted by oaf at 9:33 AM on July 21, 2009


"Also, 7 Ware Street is a Harvard-owned building."

Another good reason to call the Harvard Police.


Why? That's not Gates's home address. That's the address of Harvard Magazine where an employee who works there called the Cambridge police in the first place.
posted by ericb at 9:36 AM on July 21, 2009


The 4th amendment prohibition from stepping foot into a house without permission is a given.

I'm no lawyer, but I've seen enough coverage of drug raids to know that that's wrong. Police can enter a house sans permission if they have probable cause (a tip from an informer, a scream from a house occupant etc.).
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on July 21, 2009


Fourth Amendment notwithstanding, courts have decided that police searches can occur without a warrant if (a) the occupant freely consents; or (b) if illegal items are in plain view; or (c) if the search is "incident to an arrest" (and that term is usually interpreted by courts very broadly); or (d) if the search is made under "exigent ciorcumstances" (defined by courts as "an emergency situation requiring swift action to prevent imminent danger to life or serious damage to property, or to forestall the imminent escape of a suspect or destruction of evidence").
posted by blucevalo at 9:44 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


The officer's justification for entry without permission would be that he believed a criminal (Gates) was in the home. It might hold up in court, especially these days, but it would definitely be a point to attack as a part of your defense.

Do you really believe that cops require a warrant to enter anyone's home at any time?

I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Yes, generally, police require a warrant to enter a home without permission. If they do enter improperly, they are undermining whatever case they are trying to build. Just like when you lie to a cop they tend to use that against you and whatever case you have in your defense, if a cop gathers evidence illegally, you can use that to undermine their case against you.

And this is the point of emphasis for me. Rather than taking the authoritarian apologist tact, I take the pragmatic one: the reason to remain respectful and cooperative in every reasonable and lawful request is to help your case if one arises.
posted by effwerd at 9:47 AM on July 21, 2009


Local TV news coverage: WBZ-TV || WCVB || WHDH-TV.
posted by ericb at 9:48 AM on July 21, 2009


CNN reports that charges have been dropped
posted by Lame_username at 9:50 AM on July 21, 2009


I'm not sure what you're getting at here. Yes, generally, police require a warrant to enter a home without permission. If they do enter improperly, they are undermining whatever case they are trying to build.

What I was getting at originally was this comment up here. I know that police require a warrant to enter a private home under normal circumstances. But when you have to break into your home, and someone next door notices you breaking into your home and calls the police because they don't realize you live there, and you haven't yet been identified as someone who is supposed to be there, then an officer walking through the front door isn't an unreasonable search.
posted by oaf at 9:56 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


But to take any one instance and say "this is racism" would take a very blatant act that is rarely seen nowadays. Thus people are only left with a probability-like analysis of (could this be racism) vs (could this happen to anybody), and there's a non-trivial probability that it is not racism.

FuManchu, I think that you mean well here, but I think that requiring some sort of empirical evidence that racial bias exists before we can "fairly" make that accusation is exactly how institutionalized racism flourishes. And given the profiling and racial epithets which are commonplace, I shudder to kind of blatant act is required to be considered "unquestionable." Seems to me there's a lot of blatant acts going on all over the place.
posted by desuetude at 9:57 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW -- regarding the discussion of being arrested on public vs. private property -- look at the neighbor's photo which shows him being led off of his porch. Watch any of the TV news videos (above) and you can see that he has a lawn a private walkway and a short hedge that delineates his property from the public sidewalk. He was clearly on his own property when arrested.
posted by ericb at 9:59 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


oaf - surely you must be joking? There has been no assertion that police can only enter your home with a warrant, but police cannot just enter your home willy-nilly. There are few defined exceptions as to when the police may enter: (1) a police warrant, (2) exigent circumstances, and (3) consent. Exigent circumstances means that the police need to enter the house in order to save a person's life - but it must be clear that the danger is imminent. Are you trolling?
posted by jabberjaw at 10:01 AM on July 21, 2009


What I was getting at originally was this comment up here.

Ah. Since it came after, Do you really believe that cops can just walk into anybody's home at any time without permission?, I thought you might be speaking more broadly than just this case.
posted by effwerd at 10:03 AM on July 21, 2009


Is it not possible that when one has a hammer (studies racism), everything can look like a nail?

You seem to be a nice guy with all the right intentions. I won't call you any names, but I want you to think about this for a moment.

You have someone here who studies a certain cultural phenomenon for a living. He not just studies it, but is also one of the leading experts in the said field, having shown an enormous trail of scholarship and pedagogy; not only is he a MacArthur fellow with 50 honorary degrees, he also sits on think-tanks and publications which have doubtless influenced discussions here on Metafilter and elsewhere. (mistersquid has already talked about signifying)

When such a person is saying something has happened to him, most of us listen; not just because he has a first-rate mind which deserves to be respected, but also because if you don't listen to articulate, rational people who spent lives thinking about these matters, you don't - can't - listen to anyone else.

You, however, choose to disregard his opinion here, and instead choose to trivialize not just him, but his entire field. Again, I'm not calling you any names, I'm just hoping you merely don't fully understand just what it is that he studies. Scholarship isn't trying to find nails to hit, it is understanding what happens when you hit the nail, or as is the case in Dr Gates' work, understanding why people try to find nails to hit.

Seriously. I don't mean to sound pompous or preachy, but all you folks who are saying a) there is not enough information to "judge" or b) are equating the Professor's statement with the policeman's, you just don't get it: you have no idea how ridiculously hollow you sound to a non-white person. If a person with Dr Gates' stature can't persuade you, just who will you believe? What will it take a non-white person to make you understand that the authorities have treated him for what he is, while completely ignoring who he is?
posted by the cydonian at 10:04 AM on July 21, 2009 [16 favorites]


he being a white cop interacting with a black citizen he probably wanted to be outside with lots of witnesses in the unlikely event Mr. Gates went from belligerent to violent.

From the neighbor's photo it's obvious that there were many officers already on the porch. Does a 59-year old man who suffers from a respitory illness and requires a cane to walk really that threatening?

What exactly do you think the cops are supposed to do here delmoi? Take the guy who is standing next to the forced front door of a house at his word that he lives there?

Um...he was already inside the house with the door closed when the officer approached.
posted by ericb at 10:07 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Immediately after incidents like this, a sizable number of posters on both sites assure everyone else that while we don't know all the facts of the incident, we can be pretty sure that it's unlikely race played a part in the matter."

I objected to the immediate calls that the neighbour who phoned the police must be a racist. It's crazy talk plain and simple to state that given the information available (IE: the woman is white, called the police and didn't recognize Gates and the other man from across the street). Craaazyy! Stating she is weakens subsequent calls of racism.

"I think that the police at least have to be given active permission by a tenant to enter a residence without a warrant. (IANAL, I could have this wrong.)"

Not if they are investigating a reported crime in progress. Which the officer was.

"Do you really believe that cops can just walk into anybody's home at any time without permission?"

It's pretty well established they can do this if they suspect the home of being an active crime scene. Just imagine the flip side: Cops get called to a home where people are screaming in pain and there is active gun fire. But oops, can't go in without the owners permission.
posted by Mitheral at 10:12 AM on July 21, 2009


ericb "Why? That's not Gates's home address. That's the address of Harvard Magazine where an employee who works there called the Cambridge police in the first place."

Sorry, I thought they were referring to Gates address. Someone up thread mention that Harvard owns Gates house. Is this true or does someone besides Harvard own Gates residence?

ericb "From the neighbor's photo it's obvious that there were many officers already on the porch. Does a 59-year old man who suffers from a respitory illness and requires a cane to walk really that threatening?"

It's not that he's threatening (and believe me elderly people with disabilities can be dangerous. I've seen an 90+ year old 80 lb woman with Alzheimers knock out a 6' 200ish male EMT with one punch) it is that if there is an physical altercation it'll be a huge race issue. The cop just arrested the guy and people are calling him a racist power tripper and demanding his job. Imagine if physical force was involved. Better to have lots of people around to testify that the cop didn't start anything.

ericb "Um...he was already inside the house with the door closed when the officer approached."

He was still the only one around at a home that had been reported to be experiencing a break in and whose door showed signs of having been forced.
posted by Mitheral at 10:25 AM on July 21, 2009


If a person with Dr Gates' stature can't persuade you, just who will you believe? What will it take a non-white person to make you understand that the authorities have treated him for what he is, while completely ignoring who he is?

None so blind as those who will not see...
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:31 AM on July 21, 2009


In a perverse way, I think the increased sensitivity to, and awareness of, racism in America has made some people less likely to point the finger--they treat the charge as serious and real and meaningful, as actually signifying something wrong with the accused.

As long as we're talking about language--and I'm not meaning to pick on you here, fatbird, because I see this way of framing it a lot--I find it really interesting to talk about racism as something that one is "charged with," as if we're in court. In fact, a lot of the language that gets used around here when people talk about racism sounds like we're in a bad episode of Law & Order: reserving judgment until the facts are in, the need to avoid rushing to conclusions about the accused, being accused or being guilty of being a racist.

There is of course another way to think about and speak about race and racism, and that's a social phenomenon that has had a great influence historically, and continues to be a force in contemporary American life. One can certainly disagree about how that plays out in certain instances--about whether racism as a social force is less relevant than other factors at play--but it's never something that just doesn't exist or is totally irrelevant, because (for better or worse) we all still live in a society where race exists, where it's a thing that can't just be willed away. If you shift the frame a bit like that, it becomes a bit absurd to insist we can't talk about it until after all the facts are in, after the trial has happened and guilt has been determined, until we're absolutely sure beyond a reasonable doubt of the facts of the matter.

Part of the reason that I like to come to metafilter and read threads about current events is exactly because there are often very smart people with unique perspectives who go off on tangents to shed interesting light on an otherwise straight news story. This comment by iamkimiam is a perfect example: delving into the language of police report and making me look at and consider the it in a way I probably never would have thought to do. You don't even have to agree with her analysis to find that an interesting and extremely valuable comment that you're not going to find elsewhere.

I understand that race is a touchy subject and suggestions that someone has acted in a racist way are even more so, but I don't understand the frequent contention on metafilter that we're not allowed to talk about race and racism (both individual and structural) and the role that it might have played in specific events until "all the facts are in"--especially since the players in this incident have about a 0.000001% likelihood of participating in this thread. I'm almost positive that our opinions about what is in the officers' heart of hearts doesn't really affect them; on the other hand, the repeated insistance that no one is allowed to broach the subject of racism or explore how it could have potentially affected this instance does have a really pernicious silencing effect on public discourse. I'd like to think that racism as a social phenomenon is important enough for us to talk about without getting offended or upset on behalf of people who aren't even participating in the conversation.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:38 AM on July 21, 2009 [5 favorites]


The cop just arrested the guy and people are calling him a racist power tripper and demanding his job. Imagine if physical force was involved. Better to have lots of people around to testify that the cop didn't start anything.

He "just" arrested the guy for raising his voice inside his own home under the statute authorizing arrests of prostitutes, bar brawlers, ranting harassers of varying motivations, flasher-pervs, and too-loud parties. No, all those officers of the law couldn't possibly be intimidation!

And cops are very impartial witnesses, too, right? Oh, maybe the mad amount of backup was just a ploy to get more neighbors to gather to wonder what the hell was going on, so that the neighbors could be the impartial witnesses?
posted by desuetude at 10:39 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, God. Being black sucks SO bad sometimes. SOMETIMES, I said! LIKE RIGHT NOW!
"Early in this century, Gates writes in [Colored People: A Memoir], black entertainer Bert Williams observed that 'it's no disgrace to be colored. But it is awfully inconvenient.'"*
posted by ericb at 10:40 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't mean to split hairs, but I think the argument that the arrest was likely fueled by racial profiling - as opposed to just flat-out-racism - has more traction. I think that there is a difference between the two.

I doubt that the officers involved are members of some Neo-Nazi Klan; and I'm sure they work and are friends with people of diverse racial profiles. But that does not preclude the fact that a police officer may have engaged in racial profiling in this instance.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:41 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


If a person with Dr Gates' stature can't persuade you, just who will you believe?

There are object lessons to be had from this fiasco but "trust men of stature" is not one of them.
posted by effwerd at 10:41 AM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


I doubt that the officers involved are members of some Neo-Nazi Klan;

Well then clearly race is not a factor here. Move along, people, there are no neo-nazi klansmen and therefore "flat-out" racism is not an issue.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:50 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Given that he probably already upset about having gotten locked out of his house and having to force his way back in,

Gates had just returned from a trip overseas, as well.

A little story. Ms Wimp and I were on a trip back from overseas and had to stop in Miami to change planes. There was some minor screw up with the tickets and the agent was not sufficiently groveling to my sleep-deprived addlement and I exploded, reaming her out in public like the total dick I can be. She firmly and professionally told me that there was no reason for me to behave like that and if I would hold on she would straighten it out. She could have made a bigger deal of it, made me suffer for my arrogance and given me us separate seats, Ms Wimp in 1st class, me in the last row, but she didn't. She even sat us together in an exit row. She showed more professionalism than this cop did.

Ergo, cop was a dick.
posted by Mental Wimp at 10:50 AM on July 21, 2009


Exigent circumstances means that the police need to enter the house in order to save a person's life - but it must be clear that the danger is imminent. Are you trolling?

Exigent circumstances are not restricted to needing to save a life, and disagreeing with you is not trolling.
posted by oaf at 10:51 AM on July 21, 2009


I bet he, like me and nearly all of my black friends and family, can tell you about literally hundreds of times where he bit his tongue, sighed and remained non-confrontational when a white authority figure or private citizen treated him in a different manner based solely on the color of his skin. I'm guessing that, confronted in his home, he finally said, "Damn, this is enough! E-nough!"

lord_wolf, this was powerful, and certainly led me to think and re-appraise. I don't know the cop. I don't *know* if it was racism. I don't know what Gates did when the cop asked for ID to check if this was indeed a break-in.

I am trying to do a thought experiment.

What if it was Steven Pinker over at MIT, how would things have gone down differently?

It is probable that the cop would have asked for ID to verify the truth of the "person of interest's" claim - after all he came in response to a call. Now I am guessing it was likely that a cop asking Pinker for ID would have likely been more polite, not necessarily deferential, but more polite. I don't *know* that. The cop could be an equal-opportunity asshole, or Gates could have had a huge chip on his shoulder which pushed the cops buttons. Or the cop could've been Bull Connor with a Boston accent.

So it is likely that a trigger, or perception of a trigger wouldn't be there. I do think however, that for whatever reason if Pinker ranted the way that the cop reported Gates ranted, Pinker then would've gotten similar treatment. I don't think it would have escalated to Pinker's ranting both because the cops might have been more polite and also because Pinker wouldn't automatically (with good historical reasons) been suspicious of the cops intentions. But if Pinker ranted then he'd be in cuffs.

Now the cop, well, the class issue is important. Many people have written in outrage how this could happen to a Harvard Professor and someone so eminent as he. One even sarcastically mentioned up thread about 10,000 posts ago how Gates has more brains and more degrees than the cops entire family. This is Volvo socialism at its worst.

Gates eminence is irrelevant to how he should have been treated by the cops but the cops degrees, or lack thereof, or his coming from Southie is irrelevant to how Gates or anyone else should treat him. The working class Joe (black or white) should be treated no worse that how Gates should've been treated.

That degree of elitist classism surprised me. And I can see, working in a quasi-academic setting but coming from an Archie Bunker section of Queens with the accent to prove it, how the cop might have some class anger. I am not making thi sup when I say that many people I meet in a professional setting have been shocked that I
1) read "hard" books, and
2) speak another language.
In meetings often my ideas aren't even acknowledged. The same idea from a colleague often is. Is this because I am working-class and have a Noo Yawk accent? Is this because I don't have a Masters or a Ph.D?

I am not a black man, but being of a working class "white trash" background, I can tell you that I can see getting my back up if an eminent academic starts with the "Do you know who I am?" intimidation tactic. I do think it is possible that because of Gates's eminence, he is used to "the staff" being obsequious. But I don't *know* that. I do know that the cop might have some "class anger" that parallels anger minorities feel.

Of course one of the tough parts of being a cop is that you have to pretty much take it if an asshole is being an asshole - so long as they are not being anything else. SO while not excusing the cop, and not knowing what happened, I think it is possible that each person's buttons were pushed both by the prejudice of class and color that he had BUT also by what he thought the other persons prejudices were. A vicious feedback loop.
posted by xetere at 10:57 AM on July 21, 2009 [14 favorites]


It seems like everyone complains about heated and angry "racist cop" threads like these and people think that they're bad for Metafilter. I want to say although lots of people got combative and sanctimonious and close to flaming out, I got a lot out of this thread, so thanks everyone. I started out thinking that there wasn't enough evidence to have an opinion one way or another, but I've been convinced that although we don't know all the particulars, there's enough evidence to conclude that something morally wrong went down.

There are at least five different debates being had in this thread. The first is over what physically transpired. The next three all have to do with whether the participants' actions obeyed various sorts of norms: whether Gates should have acted as he did given that he didn't want to be arrested and the outcome was probably foreseeable (pragmatic norms), over whether the law was broken by either Gates or the policeman (legal norms), and over whether the policeman's or Gates's actions were immoral/inappropriate and the laws should be changed (moral norms). The fifth debate is largely tacit, but I think it's the real source of everyone's ire: it's a Meta debate over what we're supposed to discuss when something like this happens. Which of those four previous debates is appropriate to have on Metafilter (and in society in general)? All these are kind of muddled together in this thread, and it's been an interesting exercise to try to sort them out.
posted by painquale at 10:59 AM on July 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


I doubt that the officers involved are members of some Neo-Nazi Klan;

Well then clearly race is not a factor here. Move along, people, there are no neo-nazi klansmen and therefore "flat-out" racism is not an issue.


Jesus Christ, allen.spaulding, the very quotation that you mock in that way continues like this:
I doubt that the officers involved are members of some Neo-Nazi Klan; and I'm sure they work and are friends with people of diverse racial profiles. But that does not preclude the fact that a police officer may have engaged in racial profiling in this instance.
So no, really, saying that the officer probably wasn't a member of a "Neo-Nazi Klan" is NOT actually the same thing as saying that "race played no part in this."
posted by yoink at 11:00 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


While it seems pretty likely that race was a factor, I don't think it's unreasonable for people to think that this cop may have been an equal opportunity asshole who just wouldn't brook any challenge to his authority. Some cops are just authoritarian assholes, period, no other motive needed. So while I suspect the cop was a racist, I don't know that; I do know that he was wrong. Once it was determined that it was the guy's own home and not a break-in, that should have ended things.

In the cop's report, when he said something about the people outside watching being surprised and alarmed, I thought ya, they were alarmed by you, bucko - it's disturbing to see "peace officers" morph into jackaboots in front of our eyes. Would that it were infrequent enough to elicit surprise, too.

That picture of Gates in cuffs just makes me so sad.
posted by madamjujujive at 11:05 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Someone up thread mention that Harvard owns Gates house. Is this true or does someone besides Harvard own Gates residence?

No. In our discussion regarding status of Harvard Magazine in as an independent entity, yet an affiliate of the University Sidehevil pointed out that 7 Ware (Harvard Magazine) is Harvard-owned.

Prof. Gates owns his home (Check out street view at Google maps -- as referenced above).
posted by ericb at 11:05 AM on July 21, 2009


I'm almost positive that our opinions about what is in the officers' heart of hearts doesn't really affect them;

Our opinions do affect them when someone posts the officer's email address and urges us to share our opinions directly with him and his department, up to and including urging his firing.

on the other hand, the repeated insistance that no one is allowed to broach the subject of racism or explore how it could have potentially affected this instance does have a really pernicious silencing effect on public discourse.

The overlap between a general and a specific discussion of racism does lead to exactly this sort of problem: Being a bit cautious about condemning the individual as racist is seen as denying racism itself; condemning racism in general is seen as setting up the individual for the guilty-of-racism verdict. This is why discussions about race and racism are just plain hard.

It's been in the back of my mind throughout this thread that one of the many pernicious effects of systemic racism is that, if Gates were white, it would be a very different discussion here. The simple fact that Gates is black, without changing any other detail, hugely complicates the discussion. In other words, even if you assume the best on everyone's part, race is still an unavoidable factor.
posted by fatbird at 11:09 AM on July 21, 2009 [6 favorites]


Articles and discussions at The Harvard Crimson -- 1, 2.
posted by ericb at 11:20 AM on July 21, 2009


yoink - the reason I picked on that comment ought to be pretty evident. It sets up an impossible standard in order to dismiss the idea that anything more serious than racial profiling might have occurred. The comment pretty clearly states that unless one is a card-carying neo nazi and klansman (of which there are quite few), then the worst one can be accused of is racial stereotyping. Not only is this a ridiculous dichotomy, it's also emblematic of what a lot of people have been talking about in this thread - a refusal to see racial injustice or a knee-jerk attempt to excuse racism in spite of all obvious evidence to the contrary.

If you think that all that happened here was racial profiling, then I'm speechless. Again, this incident speaks for itself - just as the Steven Hawking example I keep bringing up. There is no way this cannot have occurred without a serious amount of misconduct and of course it's racially motivated. I wish I could favorite the cydonian's comment a dozen times. If you cannot see this for what it is, even with the facts as they are now, I do not think it is possible to ever see institutional racism.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:22 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It sets up an impossible standard in order to dismiss the idea that anything more serious than racial profiling might have occurred.

If you genuinely believe that, then you have problems understanding relatively simple English sentences. If you don't genuinely believe that then you simply posturing in this thread because you want everyone to know that you have the "right" social attitudes.
posted by yoink at 11:26 AM on July 21, 2009


Gates eminence is irrelevant to how he should have been treated by the cops but the cops degrees, or lack thereof, or his coming from Southie is irrelevant to how Gates or anyone else should treat him. The working class Joe (black or white) should be treated no worse that how Gates should've been treated.

Absolutely. But the reason people are focusing so much on Gates' eminence and his credentials isn't because they think they merit better treatment. It's because Gates' cultural capital (pardon the Bourdieu reference) was, it seems, rendered moot because of his race. If you're black, it often seems that that you need to wear a three-piece herringbone suit, speak like a Roman orator, and wave your bronzed Yale degree in full public view to establish the credibility that often gets automatically conferred to those of us who are white.

And even then it's often not enough.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


up to and including urging his firing.

I don't know if anyone has actually talked about this, let alone what ought to happen to the officers. In my ideal world, they'd both resign and decline their pension, move away, and that would be that. I don't think that's going to happen. Instead, I'd like to see them fired for gross misconduct and be held liable in a civil suit for wrongful arrest. That's also unlikely to happen. It's a shame our attorney general is planning to run for the senate and Deval is worried about an election challenge from Charlie Baker, because I don't think they will step up.

Well, I take that back. It's a shame that they have to worry about backlash from white voters in the polls, who will see this through racially tinged lenses and be upset that anyone would ever blame a cop for arresting a black man.

So don't worry. Nothing will happen to these cops other than paid administrative leave. I'm sure that they'll appreciate your concern for their employment security while they're having a vacation paid for by my tax dollars.
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:27 AM on July 21, 2009


If you genuinely believe that, then you have problems understanding relatively simple English sentences.

Read it again. They don't belong to a neonazi klan group. They work with diverse people. Therefore it probably isn't flat-out racism but just profiling. That's the claim made. That's what I'm calling out.

And I don't see how the claim makes sense. Profiling is a practice of focusing attention on targeted racial groups due to a perceived propensity that they are more likely to be guilty than the baseline population. The accusations of profiling best belong to the reporting witness, who might have used racial stereotypes in determining whether or not to call the police. Once the officers came and saw that he was the lawful resident, how does profiling come into play?
posted by allen.spaulding at 11:32 AM on July 21, 2009


So if you're a cop and you show up at a house where a guy who won't identify himself appears to be breaking in, what do you do? Am I missing something here?

Maybe there's more to the story, but so far I just can't whip up any outrage.


Yeah, you're missing experience. It would be easier to whip up the if you got f*cked with
on a regular basis. Last time I checked, we have certain rights in this country, one of them being that agents of the state can't walk up to us and ID us for no reason. They have to have probable cause.

See, certain racial minorities get the cops called on them all the time by suspicious people of other races who are scared of them just because they are who they are, not because they are doing anything wrong. If you are black, and male, and the professor's age, chances are you have been enduring a lot of that kind of unnecessary police contact in your life, and its understandable that you might get a little bit pissed when it happens to you in your home.
posted by mano at 11:33 AM on July 21, 2009


No, Harvard owns Gates's house. They're listed as the owner at the assessor's office, and an earlier news article mentioned that he was on the phone with Harvard Real Estate to report the broken door when the cops first arrived.
posted by stopgap at 11:48 AM on July 21, 2009


What would Pinker be doing at MIT? He, too, is a Harvard professor.
posted by AwkwardPause at 11:50 AM on July 21, 2009


What would Pinker be doing at MIT?

Panty raid.
posted by FelliniBlank at 11:53 AM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


The comment pretty clearly states that unless one is a card-carying neo nazi and klansman (of which there are quite few), then the worst one can be accused of is racial stereotyping. Not only is this a ridiculous dichotomy, it's also emblematic of what a lot of people have been talking about in this thread - a refusal to see racial injustice or a knee-jerk attempt to excuse racism in spite of all obvious evidence to the contrary.

Respectfully disagree with my intent. Racial profiling is by definition institutionalized racism when performed by police. My intent was simply to distance any implication (not yours) that the officer had to be a card-carrying Klan member in order to have done something racist.

I don't see racial profiling as the toothless chihuahua following behind the behemoth of racial prejudice. Racial profiling is one of many razor-sharp blades in the medieval torture devise that is racism, and it most certainly is deadly, and it must be addressed, and not minimized or ignored.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:59 AM on July 21, 2009


"Prof. Gates owns his home"

Is it normal for Harvard maintenance personal to provide services on private properties?

allen.spaulding: "up to and including urging his firing.

I don't know if anyone has actually talked about this, let alone what ought to happen to the officers.

So don't worry. Nothing will happen to these cops other than paid administrative leave. I'm sure that they'll appreciate your concern for their employment security while they're having a vacation paid for by my tax dollars.
"

EG: VikingSword: "The cop should be fired. " I couldn't care less about the cops employment security but thanks for putting words in my mouth/fingers.
posted by Mitheral at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2009


Gates's comments about the incident are now in the Washington Post.
posted by blucevalo at 12:10 PM on July 21, 2009


1. If you live in Cambridge, you probably know what Cambridge police can be like.

2. If you live in Cambridge, you also probably know what Cantabridgians can be like: meddling neighbors is putting it mildly. Notice I did not say observant, thoughtful, or informed.

3. If you actually know who Henry Louis Gates, Jr., is, you should probably recognize that 99% of Americans *don't* know who he is. Not everyone is an NPR- and PBS-lovin' intellecutal elitist. The number of people who would recognize him on the street, even in Cambridge, is pretty damn small. Sad but true.

4. If you've actually had any experience with Harvard, you know how testy the relationship between Cambridge and Harvard--and Cambridge cops and members of the Harvard community--is.

5. If you have ever actually encountered Skip Gates, you know he can be... excitable. I'm NOT saying he doesn't have reasons, but this is a fact.

As someone who fits in all of the above categories, all I have to say is: there is PLENTY of blame to go around, on all sides. Not a well-handled situation by anyone.
posted by Ms. Informed at 12:11 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


"See, certain racial minorities get the cops called on them all the time by suspicious people of other races who are scared of them just because they are who they are, not because they are doing anything wrong."

Once again, Mr Gates broke into a house. His own statement confirms this. Now nothing illegal was happening but it is not in any way true or honest to imply or state the cop demanded his papers because of this race.

stopgap: "No, Harvard owns Gates's house. They're listed as the owner at the assessor's office, and an earlier news article mentioned that he was on the phone with Harvard Real Estate to report the broken door when the cops first arrived."

stopgap is this information available on the web? I'd really like to pin this down.
posted by Mitheral at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think people even know what the word "profiling" means. In this case, the woman called the cops on 100% of the people whom she saw forcing entry into her neighbor's house, police questioned 100% of the people who forced entry into that house and were inside when they arrived, and arrested 100% of the people who were yelling at them on the porch. Right or wrong, and even if race ultimately influenced the cops decision to make the disorderly conduct arrest (which would be wrong,) I don't understand how any of that is possibly 'profiling.'
posted by blenderfish at 12:15 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


It still boggles my mind that someone would force entry into a house, and then be indignant when the cops came to ask about it. I just can't conceive of that. Dude, you busted into a house.
posted by blenderfish at 12:17 PM on July 21, 2009


Cambridge Assessor's property info.

Owned by "PRESIDENT & FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE , C/O HARVARD REAL ESTATE INC." since at least 1981.
posted by stopgap at 12:20 PM on July 21, 2009


an earlier news article mentioned that he was on the phone with Harvard Real Estate...

You're right. That detail is in Ogletree's statement on behalf of Gates.
"Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch."
posted by ericb at 12:22 PM on July 21, 2009


Do you think that the officer was aware that it was a Harvard-owned property? Is that the reason he called HUPD? Or, was it because Gates was on the Harvard faculty? Does it even matter?
posted by ericb at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2009


Once again, Mr Gates broke into a house. His own statement confirms this. Now nothing illegal was happening but it is not in any way true or honest to imply or state the cop demanded his papers because of this race.

Um, don't you mean "his house"?
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:24 PM on July 21, 2009


Also, dude, I just realized this makes for an awesome burglary setup: Stake out a nice but not too-neighborly area, wear nice clothing, carry in several large initially empty suitcases, maybe have an accomplice dress up as a driver, break in as needed. If no cops show up, you're golden. If they do, you can try to be friendly to fend them off. And if they take your fake ID back to the car, run like hell.
posted by FuManchu at 12:26 PM on July 21, 2009


"This guy had this whole narrative in his head. Black guy breaking and entering."

I think this is at the crux of the incident - and want to note that they both had a narrative in their heads. Each was built on centuries' worth of experience saying to each person that the high probability was that the interaction was going to proceed in a certain way. And it did proceed in exactly the way the schema would have predicted.

After thinking it over, and allowing for the fact that Gates very well might have been extremely irritable and high-maintenance to deal with, I still think there is absolutely no reasonable justification for his arrest - no justification for the police not to have apologized, and left the scene, once he identified himself as the homeowner. Also, if it's true that the officer didn't identify himself, there's a problem there.

I don't understand how any of that is possibly 'profiling.'

'Profiling' means having a template in mind before knowing that a crime has been committed, and once suspecting that there has been a crime, proceeding as though the template is likely to be correct and the probability of guilt is high. In this case, the neighbor's profile of 'burglar' was 'black man pushing on a door,' and the police officer's was the same. The existence of this template,or profile, leads people to interpret events they witness differently than they might if the profile was not in place.

Again, if it were my 61-year-old white father leaning on the front door, the white neighbor would be a lot more likely to walk over and investigate - saying, perhaps from a safe distance, "Is something wrong? Do you need some help?" even if that's a transparent way to guage whether the person belongs there or not. In other words, my dad would not fit the profile of 'burglar;' too old, too white, too mundanely dressed. The person might still be suspicious, but because there would be enough data arguing that this didn't fit the profile, their subsequent actions would be different - and probably wouldn't have been to immediately assume a crime was taking place, and call the police.
posted by Miko at 12:28 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Gates's comments about the incident are now in the Washington Post.

Mentioned in that article:
"Gates is a founder of the The Root, a Web site owned by The Washington Post Co."
From The Root:
What Do You Call a Black Man with a Ph.D.?
posted by ericb at 12:39 PM on July 21, 2009


Some details from Gates's POV from The Washington Post article (to which blucevalo links):
"Gates described his driver, whose car service Gates uses regularly, as a large, Moroccan man. The driver brought Gates's three bags to the front door, but when the professor tried to turn the lock, it would not budge. After going around and unlocking the rear door, Gates returned to the front, which still would not open.

'I thought it had been latched from the inside by my secretary who comes to get the mail,' Gates said, 'but the lock had been tampered with. I said, "Let's just push it."'

He was wearing a blue blazer and leather shoes, he said. The driver, dressed in a black uniform, began to lean his shoulder into the door to try to force it open. They pushed for 15 minutes and got the door free. The driver then left. Gates said he would later find out that a neighbor called to report two black men wearing backpacks were breaking into his house.

Gates's home is owned by Harvard so he picked up the phone to call the university's real estate maintenance office. Before he could finish the conversation, a police officer was standing on his porch and asking him to come out of the house.

'Instinctively, I knew I was not to step outside,' Gates said, describing the officer's tone as threatening. Gates said the policeman, who was in his 30s and several inches taller than him, followed him into his kitchen where Gates retrieved his identification

'I was thinking, this is ridiculous, but I'm going to show him my ID, and this guy is going to get out of my house,' Gates said. 'This guy had this whole narrative in his head. Black guy breaking and entering.'

After handing the officer both his Harvard and Massachusetts state identification, which included his address, Gates said he began to ask the officer this question, repeatedly. 'I said "Who are you? I want your name and badge number." I got angry.'

....But Gates did keep asking for the officer's name and said he began to feel humiliated when his question was ignored. He then said: 'This is what happens to black men in America.'

The officer left and Gates followed him outside. There were about a half-dozen police officers standing in his front yard.

'I stepped out on the porch to ask them his name,' Gates said.

He was immediately arrested -- his arms pulled behind his back in handcuffs. Gates said he was in pain, explained he was disabled and needed a cane to walk. The cuffs were removed, Gates was given a cane and his hands were cuffed in front of his body."
posted by ericb at 12:47 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Miko it wasn't one guy, it was two by both Gates and the callee's account. I'm guessing the towncar driver isn't elderly. And being elderly isn't some kind of proof against wrong doing. You really expect a single female to engage with two people apparently breaking into a house? I'm a middle aged man and I wouldn't regardless of their race (and in my neighbourhood it's much more likely to be .

foxy_hedgehog: "Once again, Mr Gates broke into a house. His own statement confirms this. Now nothing illegal was happening but it is not in any way true or honest to imply or state the cop demanded his papers because of this race.

Um, don't you mean "his house"?
"

The cop doesn't know that unless he asks for ID.

ericb: "Do you think that the officer was aware that it was a Harvard-owned property? Is that the reason he called HUPD? Or, was it because Gates was on the Harvard faculty? Does it even matter?"

Gates told him something to that effect. He states that he called Harvard police when Gates identified himself as being associated with the University. This is probably not initiative on the cops part but rather SOP whenever anyone associated with Harvard is involved with the police. The fact that he was able to radio for the Harvard police lends credence to this not being unusual.
posted by Mitheral at 12:51 PM on July 21, 2009


"I'm a middle aged man and I wouldn't regardless of their race (and in my neighbourhood it's much more likely to be "

Sorry that's supposed to be: in my neighbourhood it's much more likely to be white guys.
posted by Mitheral at 12:54 PM on July 21, 2009


Gates talks about his arrest (audio - 01:25) -- scroll down to left-hand box for embedded link. Worth a listen!
posted by ericb at 12:54 PM on July 21, 2009


People ought to listen to the Howie Carr show about this. It's on now and, well, makes me depressed in all sorts of ways. The first caller insisted that there couldn't be racism because Obama was president. Another made an aggressive threat against black cops as revenge. A third insisted that b/c Gates had Irish ancestry (she saw it on PBS) it couldn't be racism as he's trying to have it both ways. It's been a hoot.
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:56 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


yes, knee jerk reactions are funny
posted by found missing at 12:59 PM on July 21, 2009


You really expect a single female to engage with two people apparently breaking into a house?

It's not exactly what I'm expecting, but it's one of the many ways things might have happened differently, and it's really not all that far-fetched. In my neighborhood today, it's more likely that someone would say something first than that they'd just pick up the phone and call the cops - especially since it was daytime. It's also more likely in many neighborhoods that the neighbors would recognize each other enough to know that someone of that description lived there.

The assumptions that there were no other likely interpretations of this situation, and that there were no other ways to manage the situation based on that interpretation, are the very ones that result in this sort of scenario playing out over, in ways that are prejudicial.
posted by Miko at 1:01 PM on July 21, 2009


Mitheral: ... and whose door showed signs of having been forced.

Umm, you just made that up didn't you?

Mitheral: Once again, Mr Gates broke into a house.

Wrong again. The lock on the front door was sticky. So Gates went around to the back door, used his key to enter the house through the back and unlock the front door. The door was still stuck so he and the driver pushed on it until it became unstuck. Nobody broke into the house.

By the time the cop arrived, the two men were already in the house. He could not have observed a forced entry and in fact the report says that he observed Gates inside the house through the glass in the closed door.

Now the officer knew that this wasn't a burglary within the first minute. The man in the house told him that he lived there, he was a 58 year old man with a cane, his companion was a driver in a blue blazer. The officer walked into the house, through the foyer and into the kitchen without his gun drawn and without any backup. A cop just doesn't walk into a house with two unknown men who he suspects are burglars without backup and without drawing his weapon unless, to the contrary, he is quite sure they really aren't criminals. He would either wait for his backup or order the men to come outside. Based on his actions, there was never any doubt in his mind that these were not burglars.
posted by JackFlash at 1:03 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Gates talks about his arrest (audio - 01:25)
“The police report is full of this man’s broad imagination ... I said, ‘Are you not giving me your name and badge number because I’m a black man in America?’... He treated my request with scorn ... I was suffering from a bronchial infection. I couldn’t have yelled ... I don’t walk around calling white people racist. Hell, first of all I'm half white myself ... my wife of 25 years is white and my children are half-white.”
posted by ericb at 1:04 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


By the way, Ware St. is, of course, available for study on Google Street View. Gates's house is set back quite a way from the street, with quite a lot of foliage between it and the street. The person who called this in to the cops would have had little chance of recognizing one of the two people shouldering the door open unless they were willing to come pretty close to what they took to be a possible crime-in-progress.

Oh, and there are precious few single-family-homes on Ware St--to go back to an earlier argument for a moment.
posted by yoink at 1:05 PM on July 21, 2009


The person who called this in to the cops would have had little chance of recognizing one of the two people shouldering the door open unless they were willing to come pretty close to what they took to be a possible crime-in-progress.

Sounds kind of funny. They couldn't see well enough at all to recognize their neighbors, but they could see well enough to think there was a burglary going on? Isn't that quite a leap if you can't see well?
posted by Miko at 1:07 PM on July 21, 2009


By the way, Ware St. is, of course, available for study on Google Street View.

See above -- 1, 2 -- for hyperlinks to the street views.
posted by ericb at 1:10 PM on July 21, 2009


Fuck you. I live in Cambridge

I just came in here to say that that reminded me of this.

I have no further comment on the subject of this thread.
posted by desjardins at 1:13 PM on July 21, 2009


This is not a debate that's going to change anyone's mind. This is not a debate that will have any meaningful or productive outcome. That is because there are really two arguments happening here, and many of you don't seem to realize it.

Debate 1 is between people who think the cop was wrong, and people who think the cop was right.

Debate 2 is between people who believe we don't really know what happened, and people who are absolutely certain it was one thing or another.
           ___________
    ^     |     |     |
    |     |  A  |  B  |
Certainty |-----|-----|
          |  C  |  D  |
          |_____|_____|
 Belief that the cop was wrong -->
A and B would rightly be at each others' throats because it's a pretty fundamental break in worldview between the two. The As think the Bs are race-baiting bleeding hearts, and the Bs think the As are a bunch of racists and fascists.

C and D can get along pretty well with each other, switching back and forth as new accounts of the story are revealed. They can also get along with the As and Bs since they can see both as a possibility.

Reading this thread, there seem to be a lot of people in quadrant B. There are also a respectable number of people in quadrants C or D. But there's almost no one in quadrant A. And yet, the overwhelming tone of debate from the Bs has been about how naive it is to trust the police, how there's no way someone of Gates' education and stature would have behaved in a way that was "disorderly", how disorderly conduct charges are inherently worthless and how that's somehow evidence against the cop who applies them instead of being a sign of a crappy legislature that put a catch-all law on the books in the first place.

As I said before, we have almost no objective information here. I believe that both police reports and press releases can be shamelessly biased. I'm basically on the south pole of that map above, which makes me look at the Bs in this thread and agree with fatbird that this story "is more of a Rorschach blot for Mefites than anything informative or useful".

iminurmefi: I find it really interesting to talk about racism as something that one is "charged with," as if we're in court...

There is of course another way to think about and speak about race and racism, and that's a social phenomenon that has had a great influence historically, and continues to be a force in contemporary American life... If you shift the frame a bit like that, it becomes a bit absurd to insist we can't talk about it until after all the facts are in...


A fair point, iminurmefi, and well stated. I hope you'll agree, though, that race accusations are so emotionally charged (rightfully so, to be clear) that the accused ends up on trial in the court of public opinion. Having an academic discussion of the historical influence of racism inevitably becomes "evidence" in that trial, as shown by the number of people who have speculated about how this incident would have played out if it had been a white professor instead.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:14 PM on July 21, 2009 [10 favorites]


Sounds kind of funny. They couldn't see well enough at all to recognize their neighbors...

To be fair, the woman who called the police works in the Harvard Magazine offices at 7 Ware. She is likely not to be too aware of residents on the street. She probably comes-and-goes a few times a day in-and-out of her building and may have never seen anyone at the house before.

The thing I find curious: her alleged description of two-men with backpacks. There may have been one, but I suspect there was more luggage visible. If only she looked more closely, wouldn't she have seen the town car (likely in the short driveway on the left-hand side of the house -- evident in some published photos and the view on Google maps street view)?
posted by ericb at 1:17 PM on July 21, 2009


Sounds kind of funny. They couldn't see well enough at all to recognize their neighbors, but they could see well enough to think there was a burglary going on? Isn't that quite a leap if you can't see well?

In your whole life you've never been in a situation where you could see what people were doing but couldn't be sure who they were?

They're shouldering the door. They're standing under a little porch (placing them in shadow), down a little pathway, possibly (depending on the angle the witness was at) partially obscured by trees. How much detail do you need to see that two people are trying to shoulder a door open? How does that compare to how much detail you need to see in order to identify one of the two people?
posted by yoink at 1:20 PM on July 21, 2009


'I stepped out on the porch to ask them his name,' Gates said.

He was immediately arrested -- his arms pulled behind his back in handcuffs. Gates said he was in pain, explained he was disabled and needed a cane to walk. The cuffs were removed, Gates was given a cane and his hands were cuffed in front of his body."


I find this completely heartbreaking. The fact that this man was considered threatening and treated as such is a travesty.
posted by kathrineg at 1:23 PM on July 21, 2009


Yeah, I had wondered about the livery car and baggage too - seems like they'd have been visible, since presumably the driver was unloading or carrying them while Gates was trying to open the door from inside.

Riki tiki, good analysis - all I can add is that all the axes are continua. Personally, I think it's quite hard to know what happened "objectively" (although that is something we can't know anyway, as there'd be no way to view this event without personal interpretation playing a role), but it's impossible to ignore the weight of social history when engaging in the public discussion of incidents like this. The view that police officers are never to be trusted is a fairly reasonable and legitimate one for some people, even if it's not your own view or experience. I guess you're mainly pointing out that there's no means of resolving the viewpoints here into a uninversally accepted account of events, unless one or the other party in the dispute comes forward to publicly corroborate the other's account. And that's true, but that alone doesn't invalidate many of the views held by people at various positions across the grid. Those might still be generally accurate views even if their reading of this particular event, with its incomplete information, is off base.
posted by Miko at 1:24 PM on July 21, 2009


How much detail do you need to see that two people are trying to shoulder a door open? How does that compare to how much detail you need to see in order to identify one of the two people?

My questions exactly. What does 'shouldering' look like, from a distance, through leaves, on a shaded porch?
posted by Miko at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2009


There are also a respectable number of people in quadrants C or D. But there's almost no one in quadrant A.

I'd say I'm in Quadrant D but I'm willing to bet there are quite a few more people in Quadrant A than you're guessing.
posted by blucevalo at 1:25 PM on July 21, 2009


Wrong again. The lock on the front door was sticky. So Gates went around to the back door, used his key to enter the house through the back and unlock the front door. The door was still stuck so he and the driver pushed on it until it became unstuck.

I've had a similar experience. I wonder if the latch bolt was gummed up and/or not disengaging from the strike plate due to misalingment. It can take some doing to open such a jammed door.
posted by ericb at 1:29 PM on July 21, 2009


I've had to jimmy the living room window and climb through at my last two houses, due to dumbkopf maneouvres involving keys and grocery bags and temporarily shut doors. You think shouldering a door looks out of the ordinary? Try standing on lawn chairs second-storying your living room windows. No one ever called the cops on me, though.
posted by Miko at 1:32 PM on July 21, 2009


My questions exactly. What does 'shouldering' look like, from a distance, through leaves, on a shaded porch?

Is that a trick question? Have you never seen someone try to force a stuck door open with their shoulder? It looks like someone repeatedly ramming their shoulder against a door with force until it bursts open. If the witness actually was at 7 Ware then she could well have heard the body thumping against the door as well as seen that. It would look decidedly unlike someone effecting normal ingress into a house.
posted by yoink at 1:32 PM on July 21, 2009


I don't think anyone is concerned that the cops came to investigate the complaint. I think people are upset that once Gates presented ID (which the cops themselves acknowledge in their own report) they still arrested him on an unrelated charge that is purely subjective and based solely on the interactions between Gates and the police in his own home.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:34 PM on July 21, 2009


Have you never seen someone try to force a stuck door open with their shoulder?

Sure I have. It looks like someone trying to open a stuck door. But you aren't really able to tell how it actually looked and sounded any more than I am. And even if it looked and sounded like someone trying to open a stuck door, that's because it was someone trying to open a stuck door. Where does the rest of the interpretation come from?
posted by Miko at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2009


And Lucia Whalen is a 77-year old white woman, in case people wondered. Even if she shouldn't have made the report, the cops did the right thing by showing up. Everything that happened afterwards is the point of contention.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:35 PM on July 21, 2009


I'm willing to bet there are quite a few more people in Quadrant A than you're guessing.

I think there are many, many people in this thread who desperately need to believe that everyone who disagrees with them is in quadrant A because otherwise they don't get to feel that warm glow of righteous indignation. There may be some contributors in quadrant A but, if so, I've missed their posts. Has there been a single person here who has said that it is impossible that the cop was a racist asshole? Is there anyone who believes that?
posted by yoink at 1:36 PM on July 21, 2009


I agree with Allen Spaulding there - up until the police entered the house, everything was a misunderstanding. One that may reveal certain preconceived notions about how to read events, but still, a misunderstanding. It's what happened afterward that really indicates something having gone haywire.
posted by Miko at 1:37 PM on July 21, 2009


Sure I have. It looks like someone trying to open a stuck door. But you aren't really able to tell how it actually looked and sounded any more than I am. And even if it looked and sounded like someone trying to open a stuck door, that's because it was someone trying to open a stuck door. Where does the rest of the interpretation come from?

So...you're saying that there is some observable difference between people forcing open "stuck" doors and forcing open "locked" doors that she should have recognized?
posted by yoink at 1:41 PM on July 21, 2009


No, I'm saying that she saw and heard some activity and wasn't sure what it was.
posted by Miko at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2009


I hope you'll agree, though, that race accusations are so emotionally charged (rightfully so, to be clear) that the accused ends up on trial in the court of public opinion.

While I imagine it's pretty freakin' awful to end up in the national news as "the racist cop" who arrested the Harvard professor in his own home--and I'm not weighing in here about whether he deserves it or not--I guess I think there's some weighting of social ills that needs to happen here. On the one hand, maybe it would be better if no one ended up in the media glare like that until after the formal disciplinary process had happened and the facts determined, so that we don't mistakenly vilify someone who didn't do anything wrong. (Richard Jewell is probably Exhibit A for this argument.) But it isn't a costless thing, to tamp down outrage and anger at what appears to be injustice. I'd argue that some of the most important advances in civil rights have been spurred by outrage, even before all the facts are in (Exhibit B: Emmett Till, Rosa Parks). I'm sure that those in authority would loved to have shoved all information off the front page while investigations dragged on for months, waiting for tempers to cool before quietly disciplining those responsible. Public anger can be a destructive thing, sure, especially to those who end up on the wrong side of it; but it can also be an enormously effective engine for change.

The fact is, the criminal justice system in this country still disproportionately arrests and incarcerates black people. That's the context that this is happening in, and while I am sensitive to the dangers of jumping to conclusions and branding someone a racist before all the facts have been released, I have to come down on the side that says the continued problem of racism in the criminal justice system is more important.
posted by iminurmefi at 1:43 PM on July 21, 2009 [2 favorites]


Harvard Scholar Won’t Be Charged
posted by peacay at 1:45 PM on July 21, 2009


I think there are many, many people in this thread who desperately need to believe that everyone who disagrees with them is in quadrant A because otherwise they don't get to feel that warm glow of righteous indignation.

I think that we could all do a little better at assuming good faith from everyone involved in this discussion.
posted by kathrineg at 1:46 PM on July 21, 2009


JackFlash: "Mitheral: ... and whose door showed signs of having been forced.

Umm, you just made that up didn't you?
"

The police report says the door was damaged enough that it could not be secured due to a previous break in. Gates was requesting maintence from his landlord when the cop showed up. The cop did not remove Gates until after Harvard maintence was on the scene to fix the door. So no I didn't just make that up.

JackFlash: "Mitheral: Once again, Mr Gates broke into a house.

Wrong again.


Wasn't wrong the first time. And I'm not wrong this time. Breaking and entering does not require damage to the property. It just requires an element of force. Simply forcing a door is sufficient. The police have a call that someone one was observed breaking into the house.

The lock on the front door was sticky. So Gates went around to the back door, used his key to enter the house through the back and unlock the front door. The door was still stuck so he and the driver pushed on it until it became unstuck. Nobody broke into the house.

Again the cop doesn't know this until after he asks for ID.

By the time the cop arrived, the two men were already in the house. He could not have observed a forced entry and in fact the report says that he observed Gates inside the house through the glass in the closed door.

Now the officer knew that this wasn't a burglary within the first minute. The man in the house told him that he lived there, he was a 58 year old man with a cane, his companion was a driver in a blue blazer. The officer walked into the house, through the foyer and into the kitchen without his gun drawn and without any backup. A cop just doesn't walk into a house with two unknown men who he suspects are burglars without backup and without drawing his weapon unless, to the contrary, he is quite sure they really aren't criminals. He would either wait for his backup or order the men to come outside. Based on his actions, there was never any doubt in his mind that these were not burglars.
"

You appear to have a low opinion of cops and maybe the police in Canada are just friendly but I've never seen a cop pull out his gun and start waving it around unless he's at least been threatened with force. At least not outside of a movie.

kathrineg writes "I find this completely heartbreaking. The fact that this man was considered threatening and treated as such is a travesty."

This is pretty normal. As a cop anyone could stab you with a pen. It's practically cliche that serial killers are all quiet normal looking types. And I've seen a demented (in the medical sense) little old lady punch out strapping young ambulance attendant. Cops deal with dangerous people much more often than your average person. No one wants to be the guy who doesn't follow procedure and then gets beat on by an old guy.

allen.spaulding writes "I don't think anyone is concerned that the cops came to investigate the complaint. "

The gawker article starts off by saying the woman who called the cops was racist and later goes on to say that the only reason the cops came was because it was two black guys and the cops are racist. Gates, according to the cop anyways, seems concerned since he says the only reason cop is there is because the police are racists.
posted by Mitheral at 1:47 PM on July 21, 2009


No, I'm saying that she saw and heard some activity and wasn't sure what it was.

She saw two people trying to force the front door of a residential house. She was sure that what she was seeing was two people trying to force the front door of a residential house. You know why she was sure of that? Because two people were, in fact, trying to force the front door of a residential house. And she saw them.

Do you think she'd have called the cops if Gates's door hadn't been broken and he'd just walked up, put the key in the lock and opened the door?

Are you seriously suggesting that she called the cops for no other reason than that there were two black men on the street?
posted by yoink at 1:50 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Mitheral - you can't commit a B&E on your own property. It has to be unauthorized.
posted by allen.spaulding at 1:50 PM on July 21, 2009


The GAWKER article starts off by saying the woman who called the cops was racist and later goes on to say that the only reason the cops came was because it was two black guys and the cops are racist.

I just emphasized the most important word in that sentence.
posted by jabberjaw at 1:54 PM on July 21, 2009


Yes I know. But when the cop asked for ID he didn't know Gates was a resident. Someone was saying that the cop had no authority to enter the house or ask Gates for ID (something about some amendment) but when the cop did these things he was investigating a potential crime in progress and in that context is allowed to do these things. At least enter the home; I still don't know what happens if as a resident at a potential crime scene you refuse to provide proof of identification. Which doesn't apply here anyways because Gates did provide proof in the form of either State+Harvard IDs or just Harvard IDs.
posted by Mitheral at 1:56 PM on July 21, 2009


She was sure that what she was seeing was two people trying to force the front door of a residential house. You know why she was sure of that? Because two people were, in fact, trying to force the front door of a residential house. And she saw them.

You're right, they were pushing on the door, and she saw them. Here's the part where the interpretation comes in: She assumed that they might be forcing the door because they were breaking in unlawfully. That assumption is not an inevitability. She decided the possibility it was unlawful was strong enough to put law enforcement into action. But she [obviously] didn't have full information, nor did she give credence to any other possible explanations she might have entertained.

I can understand your argument that it wasn't unreasonable for her to make the call. But it wasn't inevitable. The call took place because she saw actions and interpreted them with faulty assumptions. Some of us might do the same. Others might approach the situation differently, and it wouldn't necessarily be crazy to do so. The situation might have been different had race, gender, and age relationships varied among the parties, as well. Assumptions all around gave rise to the incident.
posted by Miko at 1:57 PM on July 21, 2009


Mitherial,,
Um, don't you mean "his house"?"

The cop doesn't know that unless he asks for ID.


This is far up thread by this point, but you've missed my point. He wasn't "breaking into" his house. He was trying to get into his house. And by the way, the point of contention here is that Gate was arrested for disorderly conduct after he'd already shown that it was his house, not that the cp was asking for ID.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 1:58 PM on July 21, 2009


What would Pinker be doing at MIT? He, too, is a Harvard professor.

I think when I read one of his books, he was, or the blurb said he was at MIT. I didn't know he got traded to Harvard. Did MIT get a First Round draft pick?
posted by xetere at 1:59 PM on July 21, 2009


The Phoenix: Local Bigots Speak Out About Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.: Greatest Hits from the Boston Herald Comment Boards.
posted by ericb at 2:01 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Officer Carlos Figueroa's first day as a White person wasn't turning out as he'd hoped. But at least the golf clubs had arrived, all silver and surgical, and monogrammed to a Karl Fugue. Yes, he had become a spondee, a double-tap, a short burst. He thought about his lost slack syllables, and the buzz-cut of a golf green, and about games where the fewest strokes always won.

A Cambridge cop could get used to the miniature fascisms of golf, the little flags and par.
posted by kid ichorous at 2:02 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


jabberjaw: "The GAWKER article starts off by saying the woman who called the cops was racist and later goes on to say that the only reason the cops came was because it was two black guys and the cops are racist.

I just emphasized the most important word in that sentence.
"

It's not just Gawker; teleri025 has this to say:
"And of course, the white female neighbor who called the cops because she saw two black guys at her neighbor's house is completely blameless. She's not making judgements base on race at all. She's a fabulous neighbor who just can't tell what her neighbor looks like. Cause all those black guys with backpacks look alike."
posted by Mitheral at 2:06 PM on July 21, 2009


The thing I find curious: her alleged description of two-men with backpacks.

Maybe some of the luggage were carry on bags slung over the shoulder? Just guessing here.
posted by madamjujujive at 2:08 PM on July 21, 2009


I can understand your argument that it wasn't unreasonable for her to make the call. But it wasn't inevitable. The call took place because she saw actions and interpreted them with faulty assumptions.

Bollocks. You have no evidence that she "assumed" or "interpreted" anything at all. The only thing she decided was "the police should be the ones to figure out what's what." There's no evidence whatsoever that she "assumed" that a burglary was in progress. All we know is that she called the cops and told them what she did know: that two people were trying to force their way into a residential house.

Tell me, if someone sees a white person breaking into a house and calls the cops, does that prove that they "assume" all white people are criminals or that they have a differential "interpretation" of the actions of white people than they do of the actions of black people? Do you seriously believe that no white person has ever called the cops because they've seen another white person acting suspiciously? (Heck, I once saw a white guy walking down my back alley carrying a big bag and peering into each house and trying each door as he went. I called the cops--does that mean I'm racially prejudiced against white people?).

I have no idea what this woman's racial attitudes are. She might be as racist as they come or utterly race-blind. What offends me, deeply, is the casual way you (and many others like you in this thread) are happy to cast the vilest aspersions on her character without any supporting evidence whatsoever. The only evidence that would support the conclusion you want to arrive at would be if we knew for a fact that in some previous, similar incident involving a white professor and a big, burly white driver she chose not to call the cops and instead to go over to them and say "hey, what's going on here"? Absent such evidence all we know is that this person saw a residence being broken into and called the police. To try to make more of it than that is grossly unfair.
posted by yoink at 2:12 PM on July 21, 2009 [9 favorites]


yoink, this is the same talking across each other I was trying to describe earlier -- Those "casting aspersions" don't see her actions by themselves, but in the context of all the other times that black people get the cops called on them. You are trying to determine, from this one instance, whether that action merits sanction by itself. They don't like your method because it ignores institutionalized racism. You don't like theirs because they are attributing a "probability of racism" where it cannot be proved.
posted by FuManchu at 2:21 PM on July 21, 2009


For what it's worth, Lucia was present during the arrest, according to the police reports. She stood outside the entire time watching. I would be interested in hearing her perspective on what happened on the porch. It might clear up a lot of things, including the discrepancies between Gates' claims and the police reports, as well as any beliefs about her own role.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:26 PM on July 21, 2009


They don't like your method because it ignores institutionalized racism.

I'm struggling to see how this woman's actions would relate to "institutionalized" racism. But I take your general point. I think that wrt to the cop the issue is "institutionalized racism"--with regard to the woman it is "racism in general."

But to say "we simply do not have enough information to know" is not to say, at all, that "racism doesn't exist." Of course it exists (and is, indeed, widespread). Of course it is possible that racist preconceptions influenced this woman's actions. But to say "we do not have sufficient evidence to say that this particular woman's actions were motivated by racism" is no more to deny the existence or the prevalence of racist attitudes than to say "we don't have sufficient evidence to know if what you are suffering from is the swine flu" would be to deny the existence of swine flu.
posted by yoink at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2009


Also, a few google searches have turned up all sorts of knuckleheads who were arrested breaking into their own homes across the country. People breaking in to steal from tenants, stealing from family, breaking in and just ignoring the police. There are legit reasons for the cops to stop some of these folk, and they all could have been telling the cops its their property. That doesn't mean the cop will necessarily be done and skeedaddle at that point.

Seriously, this is some pretty lame outragefilter outside of the race issue. For some true cop-outrage, just read Radley Balko's blog every morning.
posted by FuManchu at 2:29 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I would be interested in hearing her perspective on what happened on the porch.

I would be fascinated to hear this, too. On the other hand if I were her lawyer or her friend I would tell her "whatever you do, keep your mouth shut." All she can hope is that this blows over as quickly as possible.
posted by yoink at 2:32 PM on July 21, 2009


There is one account that is in dispute between the 2 parties involved here that could potentially be verified. The police report indicates that Gates was yelling in the house and yelling at the officer in question as he left the house. Gates states that he was not yelling at the officer and only asking him for his name and badge number. (In fact, he states he is unable to yell due to his infection.)

Presumably, the conversation the officer had with the dispatcher was recorded. Assuming Gates was yelling such that the officer was having a hard time communicating with the dispatcher, the yelling should easily be heard on the recordings. If not, the officer is at the very least guilt of falsifying a police report (and probably much more).

If the recording is not available, according to the picture linked above, there are at least 5 people who were at the residence when this took place (4 of them being police officers unfortunately). I'm guessing that by this point there were even more gawkers there. Did they hear/see Gates yelling?
posted by batou_ at 2:34 PM on July 21, 2009


"Mitheral: ... and whose door showed signs of having been forced.

Umm, you just made that up didn't you?"

The police report says the door was damaged enough that it could not be secured due to a previous break in. Gates was requesting maintence from his landlord when the cop showed up. The cop did not remove Gates until after Harvard maintence was on the scene to fix the door. So no I didn't just make that up.


All the police report says is that his door could not be secure dued to a previous break in. It says nothing about "signs of forced entry." Apparently there was a problem with a sticky lock. There couldn't have been "signs of forced entry" because whatever problem there was with the door had not happened that day. If there were "signs of forced entry" it would have been noted by the officer in his report describing his arrival on the scene. He simply states that he saw Gates through the glass in the closed door. There is nothing in the report about "signs of forced entry."

You just made up the stuff about signs of forced entry.

Seriously, you really believe a cop is going to go into a house with two unknown men without backup and without drawing his weapon if he thinks a burglary is taking place. Apparently I have a much higher opinion of the intelligence of cops than you do.

And I said nothing about "pulling out his gun and start waving it around." Is it a habit of yours to just make stuff up?
posted by JackFlash at 2:34 PM on July 21, 2009


Tell me, if someone sees a white person breaking into a house and calls the cops, does that prove that they "assume" all white people are criminals or that they have a differential "interpretation" of the actions of white people than they do of the actions of black people?

I might have told this story before, but about 30 years ago in a former neighborhood, a middle-class single-family dwelling type of 'hood, I was home in the afternoon on a weekday and was looking out my window, when I saw a guy (caucasian) standing in front of a neighbor's house on the other side of the street about 3 houses down. I knew the neighbors and had even eaten dinner with them at their house and he wasn't one of them. There had been a rash of mid-afternoon break-ins in the area, so I was a little suspicious and watched carefully. He was casually and normally dressed for a kid in his mid twenties and he looked to me like he was a little nervous, glancing side to side up and down the street and pacing, then, suddenly, darting (or so it seemed to me) down the driveway to the back of the house. I panicked and called the cops. Within about 1.5 minutes, the house was crawling with St. Paul police cars, with dogs, shotguns, what have you. The poor guy was being confronted with all this and I could tell by his demeanor and the cops' behavior that he wasn't a bad guy, so I went out to 'fess up. It turns out he was the son of the owners and I apologized profusely to him, because it must have scared the crap out of him to see all that deadly force being brought to bear on his head. But he was extremely uncritical and kept saying he was glad I was watching and that his parents would thank me. The cops were not critical either, saying everyone has to look out for each other and they needed tips when things didn't look right. I still felt like an idiot, because I realized that I had interpreted everything he did under the assumption that he was up to no good. Had presumed he was just waiting for the owners of the house, I probably wouldn't have misinterpreted his behavior.

So, yeah, I assume all white people are criminals.
posted by Mental Wimp at 2:40 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


BTW -- publicly available details (and photograph) of Gates's House -- identified on this evening news as 17 Ware Street.
posted by ericb at 2:47 PM on July 21, 2009


a little nervous, glancing side to side up and down the street and pacing, then, suddenly, darting (or so it seemed to me) down the driveway to the back of the house.

Yeah, but that's clearly suspicious behavior. It wasn't like he was doing something innocent like forcing a door open with his shoulder.
posted by yoink at 2:49 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


JackFlash: "
Seriously, you really believe a cop is going to go into a house with two unknown men without backup and without drawing his weapon if he thinks a burglary is taking place. Apparently I have a much higher opinion of the intelligence of cops than you do.

And I said nothing about "pulling out his gun and start waving it around." Is it a habit of yours to just make stuff up?
"

I see, you're trolling. You said it twice, and I quoted you, that no cop responds to a suspected robbery without pulling his gun. Here it is again:
The officer walked into the house, through the foyer and into the kitchen without his gun drawn and without any backup. A cop just doesn't walk into a house with two unknown men who he suspects are burglars without backup and without drawing his weapon unless, to the contrary, he is quite sure they really aren't criminals.
Yet we have the cop's report that he did in fact enter Gates house with the suspicion, after interviewing a witness to the apparent break in, that someone had broke in. He did indeed call for back up but in his words "I asked that she [the witness] wait for the other responding officers while I investigated further." None of the reports linked here have anyone saying the cops pulled their guns so I think we can safely assume they didn't. So obviously the cop did actually engage the man without pulling his gun, even though he wasn't quite sure he wasn't a criminal. Now whether the officer _truly_ believed Gates was a criminal or not I guess only the officer knows but I don't think I'm giving the cop much of a benefit of the doubt in thinking he did. My experiences with cops lead me to believe they basically think everyone is a criminal. Especially if they are standing in what has been reported to the cop as the scene of a B&E.
posted by Mitheral at 3:00 PM on July 21, 2009


Wait, the town car was still there? Where was the driver while all this was going on? Couldn't he have corroborated the ID?
posted by kirkaracha at 3:07 PM on July 21, 2009


Mithreal, all you did was prove that you did indeed make up the "wave around" part.
posted by nomisxid at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2009


kirkaracha - according to all reports, he supplied ID. The police are not claiming that he didn't, although the bat crazy callers on talk radio sure seem to think he refused.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:13 PM on July 21, 2009


Mitheral: I see, you're trolling. You said it twice

And I see that you are dishonest. You seem incapable of realizing that you just make up and embellish stuff. Sheesh, it's pathetic. I did not say "pulling out his gun and start waving it around." There was nothing in the police report about the officer seeing "signs of forced entry." You simply made those up.
posted by JackFlash at 3:21 PM on July 21, 2009


nomisxid: "Mithreal, all you did was prove that you did indeed make up the "wave around" part."

Agreed that was hyperbolic, lets substitute "holding his gun while not pointing it at anything". A cop has no business drawing a handgun without needing to point it at someone.
posted by Mitheral at 3:22 PM on July 21, 2009


"There was nothing in the police report about the officer seeing 'signs of forced entry.' You simply made those up."

Yes the cop didn't use the words "signs of forced entry". What is a door that can not be secured due to a break in requiring the intervention of maintenance personnel if not a sign of forced entry? Or an eye witness personally interviewed by the cop that reports two men forcing a door?
posted by Mitheral at 3:25 PM on July 21, 2009


Police ask for charges to be dropped.
posted by darkstar at 3:27 PM on July 21, 2009


Oops...sorry, peacay. I didn't see that you'd already posted that NYT article.
posted by darkstar at 3:29 PM on July 21, 2009


Wait, the town car was still there? Where was the driver while all this was going on? Couldn't he have corroborated the ID?

According to Gates's account, the driver had already left before the police officer arrived on the porch.
"The driver, dressed in a black uniform, began to lean his shoulder into the door to try to force it open. They pushed for 15 minutes and got the door free. The driver then left....Gates's home is owned by Harvard so he picked up the phone to call the university's real estate maintenance office. Before he could finish the conversation, a police officer was standing on his porch and asking him to come out of the house.

'Instinctively, I knew I was not to step outside,' Gates said, describing the officer's tone as threatening. Gates said the policeman, who was in his 30s and several inches taller than him, followed him into his kitchen where Gates retrieved his identification

'I was thinking, this is ridiculous, but I'm going to show him my ID, and this guy is going to get out of my house,' Gates said."
posted by ericb at 3:38 PM on July 21, 2009


Police ask for charges to be dropped.

Yep -- first noted here on MeFi at 11:41 AM by allen.spaulding (and soon afterwards by many others).
posted by ericb at 3:42 PM on July 21, 2009


Mitheral: Yes the cop didn't use the words "signs of forced entry". What is a door that can not be secured due to a break in requiring the intervention of maintenance personnel if not a sign of forced entry? Or an eye witness personally interviewed by the cop that reports two men forcing a door?

Mitheral, stop digging. You are making yourself look foolish.

After the arrest, the cop asked Gates "if he would like an officer to take possession of his house key and secure the front door." Gates told him that the door was unsecurable due to a previous break in.

So up until that point, after Gates was arrested, the officer thought that there was no problem with the door. He offered to take the key and lock it. He had no idea that there was a problem with the door until Gates told him. There is nothing in evidence that the officer saw "signs of forced entry" when he first arrived at the house.
posted by JackFlash at 3:44 PM on July 21, 2009


What is a door that can not be secured due to a break in requiring the intervention of maintenance personnel if not a sign of forced entry?

A door with a sticky or misaligned bolt. No broken plates, no broken knobs, no damaged door frame.
posted by ericb at 3:46 PM on July 21, 2009


Professor Gates wants to do a documentary about police harassment and racial profiling. I hope that he will expose just how often 'disorderly conduct' is used on citizens as a nuisance charge. It probably shouldn't even be an arrestable offense.
posted by borges at 3:48 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


It probably shouldn't even be an arrestable offense.

I'm inclined to agree, especially given that it's often tacked on after the police have made an arrest and need to reverse-engineer a reason. Standing on its own is almost always bogus. Under these circumstances, it's a pretty clear abuse of power. If there are good reasons for someone to be cited for disorderly conduct, there is almost always an additional offense. If there isn't, it usually means that the person ought not to be arrested - and especially not if they are already home.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:51 PM on July 21, 2009


Gates told him that the door was unsecurable due to a previous break in.

That's according to the police report. The officer claims that Gates said that there had been a previous break-in.

According to Gates's account (via Ogletree), Gates was on the phone to get maintenance to come fix the door which he and the driver had successully forced open. It was obviously malfunctioning and needed repair.
"Professor Gates attempted to enter his front door, but the door was damaged. Professor Gates then entered his rear door with his key, turned off his alarm, and again attempted to open the front door. With the help of his driver they were able to force the front door open, and then the driver carried Professor Gates’s luggage into his home.

Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained."
posted by ericb at 3:52 PM on July 21, 2009


What is a door that can not be secured due to a break in requiring the intervention of maintenance personnel if not a sign of forced entry?

The door to my office in my 100 year old house? And pretty much every other door on the 2nd floor? Hell, they're not even secure from 10 lb cats.
posted by desjardins at 4:07 PM on July 21, 2009


For what it's worth, Lucia was present during the arrest, according to the police reports. She stood outside the entire time watching. I would be interested in hearing her perspective on what happened on the porch.

Without speculating as to her motives, I do wonder how Lucia, a 77 year old woman who works for one of the two newspapers covering the affairs of Harvard, would stand apparently close by watching these incidents, and STILL not recognize one of the most well-known members of the Harvard faculty.

Or is this a case where she started the giant rock rolling down the hill and could do nothing but stand and watch once the force of gravity took over?

I'd like to think, were I in her position, if I did recognize Gates, I'd at least tell one of the multitude of police standing around that I know who he is. Whether they could then stop the process already happening? I have no idea.
posted by hippybear at 4:12 PM on July 21, 2009


The lock may not have been the issue (although that was the problem with my front door getting jammed last winter -- even after having unlocked it from inside, as Gates did).

Also, the hinges could have sagged due to a door frame shift. As well, door hinge srcews could have loosened enough to jam into the frame itself.
posted by ericb at 4:21 PM on July 21, 2009


Whether they could then stop the process already happening? I have no idea.

I've never seen it work myself. Once a cops sets to arresting somebody it is already too late. An ego thing, I suppose.

An aside, the Massachusetts statute on disorderly conduct is embarrassingly broad, archaic, and thus prone to abuses like the situation with Professor Gates. For anybody who is interested, here's a lawyer's analysis the statute:

An idle and disorderly statute
posted by borges at 4:21 PM on July 21, 2009


...who works for one of the two newspapers covering the affairs of Harvard.

To be accurate: she works for the monthly alumni/ae Harvard Magazine.

The campus newspapers include the weekly undergraduate Harvard Independent, the daily student-run Harvard Crimson and the university-published Harvard University Gazette.
posted by ericb at 4:28 PM on July 21, 2009


Reading this thread, there seem to be a lot of people in quadrant B. There are also a respectable number of people in quadrants C or D. But there's almost no one in quadrant A.

I stared at your graph and your explanation for a little while and I can't make any sense of it. What are the units on each of the axes supposed to be? On the most natural interpretation, both of them should be credences. But if that's the case, then the X-axis is labeled with the content of the belief, but the Y-axis isn't. What's the content of the Y-axis belief? To be honest, I suspect your quasi-qualitative picture is trading on ambiguities in the word 'certainty' and the phrase 'what happened' to unfairly represent people you want to put in quadrant B. No one here is certain about exactly what went down. People you're putting in quadrant B think the evidence favors interpretations in which the cop acted badly, even if they couldn't tell you definitively whether Gates yelled or not. How do you get into quadrant D? You need to pretty strongly believe that the cop acted poorly but pretty weakly believe... what? I suspect that no matter what you try to fill in there, if it keeps people out of the A quadrant, it will keep people out of the B quadrant too.

On another interpretation, the X-axis doesn't represent credences in a proposition, but how badly you think the cop treated Gates, and the Y-axis represents your credence in the varying amounts of badness. But these are obviously not independent variables; you couldn't plot individuals as points on the graph; you'd need to represent them as functions.
posted by painquale at 4:28 PM on July 21, 2009


...and STILL not recognize one of the most well-known members of the Harvard faculty.

Again, to be fair, it's likely she didn't see the faces of the two men attempting to force the door open. She just saw two men. It's likely she wasn't aware whose house it was, as she only comes to work and enters her office (#7) five buildings down the street from the house (#17).

As we know, Gates was inside the house when he let the officer in. Again, even if standing outside across the street (or, on the sidealk in front with the gathering officers) she may not have been able to see into the house, even if she were able to recognize Gates.
posted by ericb at 4:34 PM on July 21, 2009


"'The best motto for a police officer is that sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me,' says George Kirkham, a former police officer and now a professor of criminology at Florida State University. 'People wind up venting, and you have to let them vent.'

Moreover, police officers should be particularly aware of historical injustices suffered by African Americans, he adds: 'Blacks have had experiences with bullhorns and dogs in the South, and those wounds go deep – they're more sensitive and we need to realize that.'"*
posted by ericb at 4:48 PM on July 21, 2009


You know, I'm happy we have a thread with this many comments that isn't about Sarah Palin.
posted by oaf at 4:49 PM on July 21, 2009


AP: Palin implicated in ethics probe.
posted by ericb at 4:50 PM on July 21, 2009


Where does the factoid that Ms. Whalen is 77 come from (apart this thread)? Most other sources I've seen, including this one, say she's 40.
posted by AwkwardPause at 4:59 PM on July 21, 2009


AIEEE! Zombie Palin!
posted by darkstar at 5:01 PM on July 21, 2009


Can I talk about Emmett Till yet, or is it too soon? That one still hasn't quite sorted itself out.

I don't know about it being so soon as to make it the wrong time, but it sure seems to me like this is the wrong place.

Also, it bears emphasizing the reason Gates was pushing on his door in the first place was the door was damaged during a recent break-in at his house. In what world is it unreasonable for a neighbor to report two people attempting to force open the door to a residence that had recently been the subject of a break-in? How on earth is it improper for police officers, upon receiving such a report, to approach the people on the scene to investigate?

Finally, to anyone those trotting out that old chestnut, "if this had been a white man who had mouthed off to the cop, nothing would have been done to him!" I offer this wager if you are white (if not, try to find a white person to take me up on this offer): Approach a police officer that you don't know, and who doesn't know you. Begin by confronting him with yelling and shouting accusations at him of racism, continue by making belligerent remarks about his mother, follow up with vague threats, and present a haughty, aggressive attitude throughout the encounter. Persist in this for several minutes after the cop tries to extricate himself from the confrontation. Do this, and if you can confirm that your white privilege protected you from any retribution, I will make a personal donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

NB: This is not to say that the cops were justified in arresting Gates. I share the view that vague, catchall statutes like "disorderly conduct" are tools the police should not have in their arsenal, because they lend themselves to abuse far too readily. But I see this is a problem related to police abuse of power, and not related to race.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 5:13 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Where does the factoid that Ms. Whalen is 77 come from (apart this thread)? Most other sources I've seen, including this one, say she's 40.

Well, I bet being labeled "the evil racist lady who sicced the police onto Professor Gates" would age me 37 years.
posted by yoink at 5:19 PM on July 21, 2009


Gates was pushing on his door in the first place was the door was damaged during a recent break-in at his house. In what world is it unreasonable for a neighbor to report two people attempting to force open the door to a residence that had recently been the subject of a break-in?

It was the police officer who said in his report that Gates referenced a prior break-in. No where does it say in Ogletree's or Gate's statements released today that they attributed the damage to a prior "break-in." Gates initially thought his secretary had turned the latch inside when leaving after having getting mail while he was away. When the door wouldn't unlock properly he went to the back kitchen door, went inside, turned off the alarm and unlocked the door from there. He thern went around front and pushed the door with the driver to get it open.

Also, let's assume there had been a previous break-in that had happened. How would the "neighbor" a 40 y.o. (or, 70 y.o.) fund-raiser who works at an office five-doors down the street know that such had happened?

As well, if a prior had happened wouldn't the CPD and the officer have been aware of such a report? Wouldn't they have cited such when making the official report and subsequent statements to the press?
posted by ericb at 6:11 PM on July 21, 2009


This is what happens when one asshole starts shit with another asshole. The professor shouldn't have such a big issue of things and the cop shouldn't have taken the bait. They both deserve timeouts.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:19 PM on July 21, 2009


The Gates affair: Would you stand for this?
posted by ericb at 6:25 PM on July 21, 2009


"What she sees are a couple of guys trying to break into a house. She calls the police.

By this time, you are on the phone in your own entry hall, asking Harvard to come and fix your front door. When you see the police officer on your porch, you assume it's someone to help you. When he sees you, a man at ease, chatting on a cordless phone, does the Cambridge police officer conclude things look okay? Does he take note of the fact that you make no attempt to run, as a robber might? Does he say, We got a call, sir. We're just making sure everything's OK, sir? Have a lovely day, sir?

Most certainly not. Instead, he goes into your Harvard Square home with his radio and his gun in the middle of the day and acts like he's dealing with some perp in a back alley at 3 a.m. He wants your identification. The police officer says you get upset right away, yelling, 'Is this because I am a black man in America?'

The way you remember it, you hand over your ID, and not until he insists you go outside with him do you get upset and accuse him of treating you this way because you are black.

You've given him your driver's license. You've given him your Harvard ID. Instead of leaving, he has called the campus police.

What would you do in Gates's situation? Would you stand for this kind of treatment, in your own home, by a police officer who by now clearly has no right to be there? Most people might not be bold enough to say the things Gates was accused of. (Alas, the magnificent 'I'll speak with your mama outside' attributed to him in the police report was never uttered, he says). But any normal person would have trouble keeping his cool.

So Gates was arrested for disorderly conduct."
posted by ericb at 6:27 PM on July 21, 2009


BTW -- I'd love to hear from the other officers (from CPD and HUPD -- especially those already on the porch) and the by-standers (on the sidealk and street) what they saw and heard going on.
posted by ericb at 6:29 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


This discussion reminds me of something I noticed at Obama's inauguration (btw, was never totally on the Obama bandwagon). I wandered around a bit in the standing reserved area and observed emotional displays by black folks that still give me chills. People openly weeping, or clinging to each other with a mixture of laughter and tears like they couldn't believe it was happening, or old people in wheelchairs nodding with big shit eating grins.

When I compared stories with friends of mine later (pretty much all white) it was clear they came away with vastly different impressions; "like a real chill concert" was one description that stuck out. The thing they were most taken with was the general upbeat mood of a crowd that size in the freezing cold.

It occurred to me later that black folks, probably even the real conservative ones, saw something real and tangible that to most white folks was symbolic and evidence of a victory in a larger struggle, but with no real stakes.

This could have been a really interesting discussion of race/class with the whole Harvard/townie thing (which Gates played masterfully in the audio comments linked above). Instead it's just...whatever this is. And like lord_wolf, I think Metafilter is never so ugly as when the subject is race.
posted by minkll at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2009


Statement from Cambridge Mayor E. Denise Simmons
"I am very pleased that the charges of disorderly conduct levied against Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. have been dropped. The City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and Professor Gates have released a joint statement that acknowledges '….the incident of July 16, 2009 was regrettable and unfortunate.' As the parties involved have placed this matter behind them, it seems appropriate for our community to do the same.

The incident did illustrate that Cambridge must continue finding ways to address matters of race and class in a frank, honest, and productive manner. Two months ago, I hosted a town hall meeting in City Hall in which community members were asked to discuss how race and class issues have impacted Cambridge. It was noted that bigotry, misunderstanding, and fear have continued to play a role shaping how we interact with one another – but it was also noted that continued community-wide discussions represent an important step in changing this pattern. I genuinely believe that by bringing people together, by airing our differences, and by challenging our attitudes, we can foster a more tolerant, more inclusive society. I shall continue my efforts to help bring that about, and while we will never have a perfect society, we should never stop striving."
posted by ericb at 6:31 PM on July 21, 2009


"....Gates apparently took umbrage at the officer’s line of questioning, at one point suggesting that the police presence could be explained by the professor’s race. The conversation escalated; the report depicts Gates as haughty and insulting. He was cuffed and charged with disorderly conduct.

Gates told the Globe yesterday that the report is full of the officer’s 'broad imagination.' Once the officer established that Gates was indeed standing in his own home, the encounter should have ended. Objecting to an officer’s presence in one’s residence should hardly be grounds for arrest.

Still, confrontations with police seldom end well, even if officers are in the wrong. If Gates believed he was being treated discourteously, he could have filed a complaint with the police department’s section for professional standards. Ultimately, though, it was the officer’s responsibility to de-escalate the situation, even by walking away. Police are trained specifically to ignore verbal provocations that come their way.

Cambridge police are well-regarded in the profession for dealing sensitively with the public, according to Northeastern University criminologist Jack McDevitt, a national expert on racial profiling. But even that department needs a reminder that its job is to keep the peace, not to spar with citizens who pose no risk to public safety." *
posted by ericb at 6:41 PM on July 21, 2009


Finally, to anyone those trotting out that old chestnut, "if this had been a white man who had mouthed off to the cop, nothing would have been done to him!" I offer this wager if you are white (if not, try to find a white person to take me up on this offer): Approach a police officer that you don't know, and who doesn't know you. Begin by confronting him with yelling and shouting accusations at him of racism, continue by making belligerent remarks about his mother, follow up with vague threats, and present a haughty, aggressive attitude throughout the encounter. Persist in this for several minutes after the cop tries to extricate himself from the confrontation. Do this, and if you can confirm that your white privilege protected you from any retribution, I will make a personal donation to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

This is such bullshit LTG, even worse than your normal drivel. Firstly, he didn't approach a cop. He was approached. Secondly, you're assuming facts even worse than the some of the more outlandish claims in the police report.

While living in Cambridge, the cops came to my house more than once after neighbors reported loud parties. I was always treated better than Dr. Gates even though I had dozens of drunken idiots in my place and was often drunk myself. More than once people yelled shit at the cops from the balcony. That's what drunk people do.

Even under the facts most sympathetic to the police in this situation, which are completely outlandish given extrinsic evidence, there is no question that they acted improperly. Furthermore, having been in related situations far worse than what the police allege happened here, I have no doubt that these officers abused authority - they looked past every reasonable element of the scenario and acted improperly.

They were afraid of a 58-year old man with a cane and a serious illness in his own home. If they aren't tough enough to walk away from him, they aren't fit to be police and ought to be summarily fired. They decided to arrest him and show him who's boss because he was uppity and had the temerity to ask for their names once they began to harass him. For this they ought to be sued.

I feel less safe in Cambridge knowing that these officers are still hiding behind their badge. I don't know how their families can look them in the eye. I don't know how a non-racist could look himself in the mirror after this. I don't worry that it's a problem for them.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:44 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


And I got the idea that Whalen was 77 from this NYPost article, although I have absolutely no idea what ever led me there. It may well be wrong, I don't mean to defend the source.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:46 PM on July 21, 2009


...although I have absolutely no idea what ever led me there. It may well be wrong, I don't mean to defend the source.

What is interesting about many MeFi discussions is that details, etc. get fleshed out by so many here, as more information is revealed from various sources.
posted by ericb at 6:49 PM on July 21, 2009


What is interesting about many MeFi discussions is that details, etc. get fleshed out by so many here, as more information is revealed from various sources.

And you post about 3/4 of the new information. Seriously dude, you're like a machine. Sometimes I wonder if ericb is an army of recently-laid-off journalists with lots of spare time and a dedication to spreading information. Even if not, I prefer the illusion. Keep up the good work.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:58 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


I agree--and to think he could just sit back and count his money.
posted by box at 7:07 PM on July 21, 2009


Hold up a sec. So we are certain that the Harvard Magazine office is at 7 Ware and Gates's house is a few houses down at 17 Ware, yes? On the same side of the street.

So where was Whalen when she observed the suspicious door-forcing activity on Gates's front porch? Was she walking or driving down the street on her way to/from lunch or something? Because she couldn't possibly have seen Gates's front door from inside 7 Ware. Could she?

I'd have to go at least out to the street before I could get a decent view of what my same-side neighbors down the block were doing on their porches. I couldn't get the right angle from inside my house, even from one of the side-facing windows. Especially with stuff like trees, hedges, fences, etc. intervening.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:08 PM on July 21, 2009


Which is not to imply that Whalen is fibbing or anything; I had just assumed that she must have glimpsed Gates's house from across the street is all.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:12 PM on July 21, 2009


And like lord_wolf, I think Metafilter is never so ugly as when the subject is race.

It can get ugly and it can be disappointing, but discussions about incidents like this are still far better here than they are just about anywhere else, including real life. Every time, be it this mess with Prof. Gates or stuff like the Oscar Grant shooting, at least a couple of people on other sides of the issue advance arguments in these threads that make me reconsider my own opinions and feelings.

And, as ericb points out, the continuous updating of details is awesome.
posted by lord_wolf at 7:31 PM on July 21, 2009


Hey allen, something you apparently didn't pick up in law school: Febrile fits of ad hominem attacks and profanity don't enhance your credibility. They make you look like a petulant child who's unable or unwilling to engage with the substance of disagreement on an adult level.

I guess you don't consider yourself obligated to treat me and proj with basic decency and respect because we diverge from the party line, so let me try to give you another reason why it's worth the trouble to at least try to stifle your vitriol and act like a grownup: There are almost certainly some onlookers reading this thread who haven't made up their minds about how they see this issue, and you're doing a disservice to your side by representing it with all the diligence and professionalism of a guest on Jerry Springer.

And to the substance of your remark, you're the one who's trying to make false equivalences. Guys shouting things at the cops from a balcony, and you being drunk, is not the same thing as hostile confrontation and belligerent haranguing as those which are chronicled in the police report. Want to prove me wrong? Find a cop, or have a cop find you if the distinction is that important, and do the things described in the police report. Prove me wrong and expose my "bullshit;" there's no personal risk since you're protected by white privilege.
posted by Law Talkin' Guy at 7:46 PM on July 21, 2009


So we are certain that the Harvard Magazine office is at 7 Ware and Gates's house is a few houses down at 17 Ware, yes?

Yes ... and you can take a virtual tour of Ware Street via Google Maps 'Street View' to see the two buildings.
posted by ericb at 8:06 PM on July 21, 2009


I just don't understand why you're arguing this line - I'd always thought of you as someone who would be outraged that the police falsely accused a man of a crime that was literally impossible to commit and then based on his responses arrested him anyway. That you're taking the report at face value also just seems out of character. This would seem to be an area where we would agree.

And if you look at the report, the worst thing that Gates is accused of is the claim that he called the police racist - when they were in his own home falsely accusing him of breaking in. He is sick and is incapable of yelling. He is 58 years old and has a cane. And yet this rose to the level of disorderly conduct. Furthermore, there is little reason to believe the police report given the contradicting information presented elsewhere.

If the police came to my house, armed with a gun, demanded to see my ID, and after establishing that I lived there refused to leave, instead calling for backup, I'd be angry too. But there's no way in hell I'd get arrested unless I physically assaulted them. That is the appropriate hypothetical. Next time the police harass you in your own home, if you get upset will you get arrested.

How many encounters have you had with the Cambridge police? What makes you think that people with personal experience are wrong? You can construct all the hypotheticals you want to erase away the racism, but you can't fight reality.

The most eminent Black scholar in the country, in one of the most progressive cities, in one of the most liberal states is still nothing more than a common criminal in the eyes of the police - even in his own home when he has not broken any law. This is just astounding. A man who has worked so hard his entire career and deserves our respect for his accomplishments and intellect is not only wrongfully arrested, but has to deal with this injustice in public and is denied the right to privately address his feelings. And to top it all off, some refuse to believe that this was racially motivated.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:08 PM on July 21, 2009 [4 favorites]


Was she walking or driving down the street on her way to/from lunch or something?

I think that is a safe assumption -- since the police report indicates that a police dispatcher request for an officer was made at 12:44 p.m. ("At that time, I overheard an ECC broadcast for a possible break in progress at 17 Ware Street. Due to my proximity, I responded.").
posted by ericb at 8:13 PM on July 21, 2009


Article from ABC News and the Associated Press:
"This incident should not be viewed as one that demeans the character and reputation of Professor Gates or the character of the Cambridge Police Department," said Cambridge Police Department Spokeswoman Kelly Downes in a prepared joint statement by the City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department and Mr. Gates. "All parties agree that this is a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances," said Downes.

At a press conference this afternoon Downes went on to say that she still believed there was "probable cause" for Gates' arrest. "I think what went wrong personally is that you had two human beings that were reacting to a set of circumstances, and unfortunately at the time cooler heads did not prevail," said Downes. "I think both parties were wrong," said Downes. "I think that's fair to say. It wasn't Professor Gates' best moment and it was not the Cambridge Police Department's best moment."
posted by blucevalo at 8:19 PM on July 21, 2009


I'm Glad Prof. Gates Got Arrested!
posted by ericb at 8:21 PM on July 21, 2009


But as inexcusable as this incident was, I say again that I'm glad Prof. Gates got arrested because it brings this pervasive problem to light in a way that our ADHD corporate media will cover and the vast millions of indifferent whites cannot ignore.

I wish it were so but this person vastly underestimates the degree of the ADHD-ness of the corporate media. As for the "vast millions of indifferent whites," I doubt that the episode will have much impact on that indifference.
posted by blucevalo at 8:29 PM on July 21, 2009


The good news about the Henry Louis Gates fiasco -- "America's most prominent black intellectual was arrested trying to get into his own house. So why am I glad?"
posted by ericb at 8:31 PM on July 21, 2009


Skip Gates Speaks -- "The Root [a Web site owned by The Washington Post Co.] Editor-in-Chief Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about his arrest and the outrage of racial profiling in America."
posted by ericb at 8:33 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


In an interview with the Washington Post, Gates says he has no problem with the neighbour:

"I'm glad that someone would care enough about my property to report what they thought was some untoward invasion," Gates said. "If she saw someone tomorrow that looked like they were breaking in, I would want her to call 911. I would want the police to come. What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That's what the deal was. It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty."
posted by showmethecalvino at 10:22 PM on July 21, 2009


The City of Cambridge, the Cambridge Police Department, and Professor Gates have released a joint statement that acknowledges '….the incident of July 16, 2009 was regrettable and unfortunate.'

TRANSLATION - "both professor gates and the cambridge police are way too fucking embarrassed by their actions to have them examined in a court of law"

and perhaps that's where it should lay - two people with their individual senses of entitlement and racial prejudice got into a foolish dispute and ended up acting like assholes to each other
posted by pyramid termite at 10:55 PM on July 21, 2009 [3 favorites]


Thanks for the links, ericb.

From The Root interview,
I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’

My lawyers later told me that that was a good move and had I walked out onto the porch he could have arrested me for breaking and entering.
I had no idea before this thread how important it could be to refuse to step out onto my own porch.

From "I'm Glad,"
the lack of giving a person the benefit of the doubt, the assumption that a black person is somehow a threat are things that are so common there isn't even any thought involved when they are activated. . . . Had Prof. Gates just been Henry Gates, a nobody and certainly had he been a poor man, not only would this not have made the news, but it's likely that Henry Gates would have ended up being convicted of disorderly conduct and either having to be locked up, pay a fine or both for having the unmitigated temerity to believe his home was his castle, that no policeman has the right to order him to do anything on his own property if he isn't bothering anyone.
Slightly different take from Melissa Harris-Lacewell:
Many are portraying him as a radical who easily and inappropriately appeals to race as an excuse and explanation [but] he is no race warrior seeking to right the racial injustices of the world. He is more a collector of black talent, intellect, art, and achievement. . . . he celebrates and studies blackness, but does not attach a specific political agenda to race. For those who yearn for a post-racial America where all groups are equal recognized for their achievements, but where all people are free to be distinct individuals, there are few better models than Professor Gates. . . . Gates is invested in black life, black history, black art, and black literature, but he has managed to achieve a largely post-political and even substantially post-racial existence.

Then he was arrested in his own home. . . . In a moment of overzealous policing a young officer in Cambridge managed to handcuff and detain the living embodiment of post-racial possibility.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:07 PM on July 21, 2009 [1 favorite]


Why are people going back go debating whether or not he "broke into" his house? He wasn't arrested for breaking into the house, he was arrested for "disorderly conduct" outside of the house.
posted by delmoi at 11:53 PM on July 21, 2009


Because it sets the stage for the events that led to the disorderly conduct. He physically, though not illegally, broke into his own house. The cops came to check it out, and were given his identification. That's where the opinions really diverge. Some say that as soon as the cop saw the ID that he should have backed off. Gates was clearly angered that the suspicion continued. The continued questioning is evidence of racism. Others, myself included, think that the ID was step one in the cop's SOP. People can illegally break into homes they own, and Gate's isn't even the legal owner.

So if you're trying to see things from Gates' POV, it means that the B&E was nothing illegal, and the cop should get out. If you look from a suspicious cop's POV, the B&E requires you to continue questioning.
posted by FuManchu at 12:15 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


People can illegally break into homes they own

Cite please. This is explicitly not in the common-law definition of burglary, which MA has codified in MGL c. 226 s. 16/16A. Furthermore, residence matters, not ownership. You cannot commit a B&E where you reside. I think you may have confused yourself with the "Googling around" you mention above. Finally, Gates entered his home with a key through the back first, and only returned to the front for the purpose of addressing the stuck door. So there's really no claim here. The only way it makes sense for the police to remain is if they did not believe he resided there.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:26 AM on July 22, 2009


You cannot commit a B&E where you reside.

Well, there were instances of people being charged on B&E on their own residence when family had clearly asked for the charges to be brought. And I'd imagine they can occur with recent divorces.

But then the question rests on how they establish residency. If I broke into my old apartment and hand any cops that show up my ID with that address still on it, will I be allowed to continued burgling by your standards?
posted by FuManchu at 3:02 AM on July 22, 2009


Also, I don't see any residency/ownership issues in the law you cite
posted by FuManchu at 3:26 AM on July 22, 2009


You can't jut google around to determine the law. MA codified the common law definition of burglary and like many states relaxed the requirement that it occur at night and only in a dwelling. The focus on legal residence and not ownership is a common law principle. You're just way off here and more Googling won't fix it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:02 AM on July 22, 2009


Sorry, my goal isn't to determine the law, it is to determine what the SOP might be of the cops. As someone write above, I would expect it to be much like a traffic stop. Cop gathers information, runs it through the computer or headquarters, and doesn't let you go until everything's cleared. I understood your claim to be that once residence was seen on any of his IDs, the cop should have left. My non-thorough searches showed to me some instances where the cops clearly didn't leave at that point, and indeed arrested a person.

Given my hypothetical above, I don't think I would get away with it in real life. You seem to think the cops should have left me at that point.
posted by FuManchu at 4:21 AM on July 22, 2009


Let you go? A traffic stop is different b/c you can drive away. You can't just let the cops mess with people in their own homes. If the cops think you don't belong in your own home they should be able to harass you? Gates presentedv alid ID and yet the cops did not accept it. If they mistakenly believed it was fraudulent, seems like they aren't qualified to be in the field. This is nothing like a traffic stop
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:43 AM on July 22, 2009


If I broke into my old apartment and hand any cops that show up my ID with that address still on it, will I be allowed to continued burgling by your standards?
posted by FuManchu at 4:44 AM on July 22, 2009


You're being ridiculous. If the police check your id, verify you actually reside there, and have no probable cause to believe anything is wrong, of course they should leave. You seemto think the police were merely verifying Gates' ID which is not supported by any version of the facts.

If I call the cops and say you broke into your home and they show up, demand ID, then ask for more proof, then call you a liar without probable cause, can they stay until they are 100% satisfied or decide they don't like your answers so thy arrest you for disorderly conduct?
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:59 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


But the police hadn't yet verified he "actually resided there." Hm, I may have mistakenly projected the anger in this article's description onto others here. It said:
You've given him your driver's license. You've given him your Harvard ID. Instead of leaving, he has called the campus police.

What would you do in Gates's situation? Would you stand for this kind of treatment, in your own home, by a police officer who by now clearly has no right to be there?
I am also reading in the police report itself that the officer intended to leave the house with his ID to convey more information to "ECC", and not leave the scene altogether.

I can still think the disorderly conduct charge was bogus without thinking the officer's prior actions were uncalled for.
posted by FuManchu at 5:33 AM on July 22, 2009


He presented multiple forms of valid ID and there was no probable cause for the police to stay. Give me an intelligible principle that justifies continiued harasment in his own home after this. Should they demand to see proper title? What if they think that's fake too? Gates established residence.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:26 AM on July 22, 2009


They would run it through the computer back in the officers car or headquarters. They would confirm the accuracy of the information, as far as they could, and ensure no outstanding warrants. Just like the traffic stop SOP that you dismissed earlier. The officer would also probably wait for campus police to arrive and convey all the information he had, and let them handle it.

Is THAT so hard to understand?
posted by FuManchu at 6:32 AM on July 22, 2009


A house is not a car. See the Fourth Amendment, linked above.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:37 AM on July 22, 2009


Houses can't drive away, so why should we have this policy? Do you understand the justifications behind letting the police do this in some circumstances? Why stop there? Why not wait for a court order verifying residency? Why not let the police camp out in your house and detain you until the stars align just right such that the manifest intent of the universe is clear and there is 0 chance that you don't reside there. Or we could just follow the law.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:46 AM on July 22, 2009


Carroll v. United States
Automobile Exception
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:00 AM on July 22, 2009


They were afraid of a 58-year old man with a cane and a serious illness in his own home. If they aren't tough enough to walk away from him, they aren't fit to be police and ought to be summarily fired.

The officer acted poorly. He made mistakes. And he might even have a fair measure of racial prejudice. But the idea that so small of a mistake, absent any context that might show an ongoing issue, should lead to his dismissal is too radical for me. We don't solve anything by firing the guy. We have a better chance at making a difference for both the cultural climate and the officer by using this as an opportunity to reinforce proper procedure, better situational analysis, and, like the mayor said, "to address matters of race and class in a frank, honest, and productive manner."

I can completely understand this kind of reactionary position, and I also understand any cynicism in thinking an idealistic resolution mostly likely won't come about and instead nothing much will change at all, bad this doesn't change the fact that the position is imprudent policy.
posted by effwerd at 7:27 AM on July 22, 2009


Is asking for or confirming identification covered under the same principles as search and seizure? Serious question.

I understood the issue to be just as borges raised above: "but in this case there was a reasonable suspicion give the phone call reporting a crime in progress."

Not finding any good reference on the web, save for this Defendants' Rights book. They describe it as:
Police officers may legally enter residential premises when they believe in "good faith" that a crime is being committed there. This is known as the crime-in-progress exception. In such cases, the police have the discretionary power to enter the premises in order to investigate the crime in progress and to arrest suspects without warrants. Later, the police may let the suspect(s) go free if it turns out that they were not involved in the commission of a crime.
They were confirming that he was not perpetrating any crimes by breaking into his own house. And unlike allen.spaulding, I don't have to stretch my own imagination thinking of ways some scumbag HAS actually done something wrong in this way (say violating a restraining order from a recently divorced ex).
posted by FuManchu at 7:34 AM on July 22, 2009


Is asking for or confirming identification covered under the same principles as search and seizure? Serious question.

INS v. Delgado: "[I]nterrogation relating to one's identity or a request for identification by the police does not, by itself, constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure."
posted by oaf at 7:50 AM on July 22, 2009


At this point I 'm just glad they didn't tase him. I shudder to think what would have happened if he had been physically injured or even killed.
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 8:01 AM on July 22, 2009


Sleeping man tasered in his own home, twice. Once they confirmed his ID and residence, they tased him again.
posted by FuManchu at 8:11 AM on July 22, 2009


INS v. Delgado: "[I]nterrogation relating to one's identity or a request for identification by the police does not, by itself, constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure."
posted by oaf at 10:50 AM on July 22 [+] [!]


I think that that is out of context.

"The Fourth Amendment is meant to regulate "seizures" of persons as well as searches for tihngs. Given the infringement on "locomotion" involved in a seizure, one might more accurately characaterize the concern here in terms of reasonable expectations of "autonomy" rather than of "privacy." Although the Court has not used either phrase in defining seizure under the Fourth Aemendment, the Court's language invokes the autonomy concept. Consider, for instance, the Court's first attempt to define seizures of persons outside the contest of arrest, which came a year after Katz, in Terry v. Ohio. There the Court stated that a seizure occurs "whenever a police officer accosts an individual and restrains his freedom to walk away." Subsequently, the Court variously characterized a seizure as occurring when "a reasonable person would have believed that he was not free to leave" or when "a reasonable person ... was not at liberty to ignore the police presence and go about his business." Its most recent pronouncement on the autonomy concept came in Florida v. Bostick, where it stated that police confrontation implicates the Fourth Amendment only when it has communicated to a reasonable person that the person is not "free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter."

From:
# Reasonable Expectations of Privacy and Autonomy in Fourth Amendment Cases
# Christopher Slobogin and Joseph E. Schumacher Duke Law Journal, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Feb., 1993), pp. 727-775
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:12 AM on July 22, 2009


Sleeping man tasered in his own home, twice.

How dare you bring the injustices suffered by a powerless non-celebrity into this conversation.
posted by kid ichorous at 8:33 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Comrade_robot, the issue then goes to whether 'seizing' Gates was unreasonable given the report of a crime in progress, correct? The Wikipedia article on the case says the judges ruled that stop was reasonable. I'd certainly think it would be reasonable in a possible B&E-in-progress, no?
posted by FuManchu at 8:39 AM on July 22, 2009


I think that that is out of context.

Did you even read it? That case deals with seizure of persons, not things. The INS conducted surveys of factory employees, questioning them individually, to determine if they were legally in the U.S.
posted by oaf at 8:41 AM on July 22, 2009


You're being ridiculous. If the police check your id, verify you actually reside there, and have no probable cause to believe anything is wrong, of course they should leave. You seemto think the police were merely verifying Gates' ID which is not supported by any version of the facts.

I think the fact that the person inside the house with the IDs was witnessed forcing entry into the house constitutes all the "probable cause" you need to double-check the IDs and to double check the person's story. Gates's house is a pretty fancy one in a pretty fancy part of town. It's not absurd to imagine it being targeted for a non-opportunistic burglary. Under your understanding of the law, allen.spaulding, high-end burglars would operate with absolute impunity as long as they prepared fake IDs with the addresses of the houses they broke in to.
posted by yoink at 8:42 AM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Henry Gates speaking with his daughter Elizabeth about what happened.
posted by thatelsagirl at 8:48 AM on July 22, 2009


So, the full sentence is: (a) Interrogation relating to one's identity or a request for identification by the police does not, by itself, constitute a Fourth Amendment seizure. Unless the circumstances of the encounter are so intimidating as to demonstrate that a reasonable person would have believed he was not free to leave if he had not responded, such questioning does not result in a detention under the Fourth Amendment.

Now, from what I posted: Florida v. Bostick, where it stated that police confrontation implicates the Fourth Amendment only when it has communicated to a reasonable person that the person is not "free to decline the officers' requests or otherwise terminate the encounter."

So interrogation is not a Fourth Amendment seizure. Interrogation that a reasonable person does not believe he can decline is a Fourth Amendment issue, yes?
posted by Comrade_robot at 8:50 AM on July 22, 2009


Henry Gates speaking with his daughter Elizabeth about what happened.

Interesting reading. Example:
"No, when I was arrested I was not read my Miranda rights. I clearly was arrested as a vindictive act, an act of spite. I think Sgt. Crowley was angry that I didn’t follow his initial orders—his demand—his order—to step outside my house because I was protected as long as I was in the house because he didn’t have a warrant. I think what he really wanted to do was throw me down and put handcuffs on me because he was terrified that I could be dangerous to him and that I was causing violence in my own home—though obviously he didn’t know it was my home."
posted by ericb at 8:52 AM on July 22, 2009


Also:
"Whether he’s an individual racist? I don’t know—I don’t know him. But I think he stereotyped me.

And that’s what racial profiling is all about. I was cast by him in a narrative and he didn’t know how to get out of it, and then when I demanded—which I did—his name and badge number, I think he just got really angry. And he knew that he had to give me that, and his police report lies and says he gave it to me. If he had done that I would have simply taken it down and wrote a report! I was definitely going to file a report, now—just not as big as the one I’m about to file!"
posted by ericb at 8:53 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Comrade_robot, the issue then goes to whether 'seizing' Gates was unreasonable given the report of a crime in progress, correct? The Wikipedia article on the case says the judges ruled that stop was reasonable. I'd certainly think it would be reasonable in a possible B&E-in-progress, no?
posted by FuManchu at 11:39 AM on July 22 [+] [!]


He presented multiple forms of valid ID and there was no probable cause for the police to stay. Give me an intelligible principle that justifies continiued harasment in his own home after this. Should they demand to see proper title? What if they think that's fake too? Gates established residence.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:26 AM on July 22 [+] [!]


So from what I'm reading, Allen Spaulding is saying that the ID's are enough to establish residence, so the police no longer have any reason to be inside the house, since they now know that there is no "B&E-in-progress". Is this what you are disagreeing with?
posted by Comrade_robot at 9:01 AM on July 22, 2009


Cambridge Police Department still has a lot to explain
"....The incident itself set off a series of other troubling incidents.

For starters, police used an investigatory exemption in the public records law to bar the public’s right to view Gates’ police report. Even after the charges against Gates were dropped, police were unwilling to release the report and, mysteriously, a leaked copy that appeared on Boston.com’s Web site was replaced the next day with a less complete version. Globe editors declined to explain to the Chronicle why the documents were swapped, while the department said it was conducting an internal investigation to find out who leaked the arrest report.

Meanwhile, one has to ask: Where has Commissioner Robert Haas been? Investigating a leaked report should be the least of their worries. Haas should be front-and-center either defending or apologizing for his department. So far he’s been hidden from view.

This was clearly the most controversial moment in Haas’ two-year tenure. But when it came time to answer questions from the press this week, legal adviser Kelly Downes — not Haas — stood in front of the cameras.

Haas and City Manager Bob Healy might hope this goes away. It won’t, even if Gates ultimately chooses not to pursue the matter further.

Our city’s reputation has been damaged.

The public’s confidence in the men and women patrolling our streets will need repair.

It will take years to heal from the incidents of the past few days."
posted by ericb at 9:02 AM on July 22, 2009


Gates to turn attention toward race and the criminal justice system.
posted by lunit at 9:12 AM on July 22, 2009


He presented multiple forms of valid ID and there was no probable cause for the police to stay.

To repeat the Dave Chappelle reference from above:
"Apparently, this nigger broke in and hung up pictures of his family everywhere. An open and shut case."
posted by ericb at 9:15 AM on July 22, 2009


Jesus H, Comrade_robot. Yes, I and others are saying that ID is not enough without at least checking against their records.

Fake IDs and outstanding restraining orders are two among many issues that the cops come across that they would completely miss adhering to your and allen.spaulding's standards.
posted by FuManchu at 9:15 AM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Those two excerpts you cite, ericb, are very interesting (as, too, is the fact that in the interview he completely absolves his neighbor of any wrongdoing in calling the cops in the first place and says he hopes she'd do it again in the same circumstances).

I think Gates is almost certainly right that the arrest was "vindictive." Cops hate people demanding their name and badge number, they hate people who refuse to do what they say. It's interesting, though, that Gates says he was determined to "file a report" against this policeman even before he arrested him. I think that's a very revealing statement. It shows that Gates was outraged from the very beginning of his encounter with the police officer. The script that was running in Gates's head was not "someone saw us breaking down the door, it seems reasonable that this cop needs to be satisfied that I actually live here" but "I'm being assumed to be a burglar simply because I'm black." He speaks in the interview about being "accused" of breaking into his own home--but of course no such accusation was ever made. I'm sure, though, that that remains the salient feature of this experience for Gates: the feeling that his right to peaceful enjoyment of his own property was put in doubt simply because of his being black.

I notice, too, that in the interview that Gates says that if he'd been white the cop would have gladly given him the name and badge number. Any white person who has ever been involved in any kind of altercation with the police would laugh hollowly at that claim, of course. Police treat anybody who "knows their rights" as uppity troublemakers who need to be taken down a peg or two. The surest possible way--whether you are white or black--to have the cops look for some bullshit reason to arrest you is to ask for badge numbers. This, of course, is not right; it simply is so.

Which brings me to what really struck me about all of this, which I've always thought is in many ways one of the most insidious effects of living in a society with such a long, tortuous history of racism; that there is an appalling multiplier-effect for all racist insult. That is, in every unhappy social interaction of whatever kind, if you're black (or hispanic or whatever) it must be almost impossible not to suspect that part of the reason for the breakdown has to do with racial prejudice. I often think of this if I go into a shop or a restaurant and get treated rudely or get ripped off in some way. It seems to me that one of the great unrecognized privileges of being white in the US is that in those circumstances--unpleasant as they may be--I just get to think "what a jerk" and not "maybe that was because of my race?"

The same thing applies in this case. The real privilege a white person would have had in Gates's position is not necessarily that the cop would have been more deferential (though that is certainly a possibility), but that a white person wouldn't have been in the position of suspecting that the reason for the cop's officiousness was rooted in some particular hostility to or disrespect for his very being.

It seems to me entirely possible (though only one possibility among many) that the breakdown that occurred between Gates and this cop was a case of two guys playing radically incompatible scripts. Gates was playing out a "white cop has no respect for a black man" script and the cop was playing out a "snooty Harvard professor thinks he can boss me around" script.
posted by yoink at 9:25 AM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


By the way, anybody seen anything out there about the cop's disciplinary record? Be interesting to know if he'd been accused of racially-inspired misconduct in the past. Master-Googler ericb?
posted by yoink at 9:31 AM on July 22, 2009


Jesus H, Comrade_robot. Yes, I and others are saying that ID is not enough without at least checking against their records.

For sake of argument after he had presented his driver's license, his official Harvard I.D., Dr. Gates had provided a copy of a utility bill, would this suffice to establish his residence?

In other words does providing a driver's license and a utility bill rise to being a valid demonstration of established and legal residence to a city employee?
posted by ericb at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2009


Jesus H, Comrade_robot. Yes, I and others are saying that ID is not enough without at least checking against their records.

Public records in Cambridge indicate that the home (17 Ware) is owned by "PRESIDENT & FELLOWS OF HARVARD COLLEGE , C/O HARVARD REAL ESTATE INC."

Would police records have indication of who is renting that property?

And, furthermore, as one of only 20 professors who are chaired and carry the title 'university professor,' I suspect that Gates, like President Faust, might live in his university-housing rent-free.
posted by ericb at 9:46 AM on July 22, 2009


ericb, no clue. But the cop in his report was going to run the information past HQ computers and the college police. I would imagine that's their standard.
posted by FuManchu at 9:47 AM on July 22, 2009


"In online interviews, Gates said that claims that he was publicly yelling at Sgt. Crowley are false, and that with a bronchial infection, he was not capable of shouting, a claim repeated to the Herald by Ogletree. Crowley’s report said Gates had refused to show his ID, which Gates also has denied.

A 55-year-old neighbor who said he witnessed the incident but declined to give his name, however, said that Gates was in fact yelling loudly, as indicated by a photo taken by another neighbor.

“When police asked him for ID, Gates started yelling, ‘I’m a Harvard professor . . . You believe white women over black men. This is racial profiling.’"

Boston Herald
posted by AwkwardPause at 9:51 AM on July 22, 2009


In other words does providing a driver's license and a utility bill rise to being a valid demonstration of established and legal residence to a city employee?

It's kind of a trick question. In both Boston and Cambridge all you need to show Proof of Residency to a city employee is a utility bill "dated for service in your name at your cambridge address within the previous 30 days." when dealing with City Hall (e.g. getting parking permits, etc.).
posted by ericb at 9:53 AM on July 22, 2009


Also, I realize that Gates isn't the owner, as I pointed out earlier that this would have been an additional issue.
posted by FuManchu at 9:53 AM on July 22, 2009


It's kind of a trick question. In both Boston and Cambridge all you need to show Proof of Residency to a city employee is a utility bill "dated for service in your name at your cambridge address within the previous 30 days." when dealing with City Hall (e.g. getting parking permits, etc.).

Yes. But in those circumstances you haven't just been witnessed breaking into a house.
posted by yoink at 9:57 AM on July 22, 2009


Damn, yoink beat me. Seriously, what was your trick question supposed to show?
posted by FuManchu at 10:00 AM on July 22, 2009


Interesting article, AwkwardPause. I assume most people here will ignore the neighbor's testimony, but it fits what I've heard of Gates from people who know him (and it fits the one photograph we have of the incident--although that could be misleading). The police union's unequivocal support of the cop means, alas, nothing at all. Has there ever been a cop in the history of the world, no matter how egregiously in the wrong, that police unions haven't described as shining examples of rectitude who simply followed procedures?
posted by yoink at 10:05 AM on July 22, 2009


Jesus H, Comrade_robot. Yes, I and others are saying that ID is not enough without at least checking against their records.

Fake IDs and outstanding restraining orders are two among many issues that the cops come across that they would completely miss adhering to your and allen.spaulding's standards.
posted by FuManchu at 12:15 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


Certainly I could come up with any number of scenarios wherein a gang of fiendish criminal masterminds could break into a home cleverly disguised as the legal occupants. That is not, however, the question. The question is the legal standard, which I do not believe is "The cop gets to stay in your house until he's absolutely sure that you're not that guy from Mission Impossible wearing a rubber mask and one of those voice changing dealies."
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:13 AM on July 22, 2009


fiendish criminal masterminds

When the straw you are grasping at is "it takes a fiendish criminal mastermind to A) think of and B) purchase a fake ID" then you may very well be close to drowning.
posted by yoink at 10:16 AM on July 22, 2009


When the straw you are grasping at is "it takes a fiendish criminal mastermind to A) think of and B) purchase a fake ID" then you may very well be close to drowning.
posted by yoink at 1:16 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


You propose instead, then, that the police honestly believed that they were in the presence of a criminal mastermind who had clearly come prepared to break into a residence, complete with false identification, but as a means of entry decided that they would batter down the front door with their shoulder in the middle of the day?

I don't think I'm the one clutching at straws here.
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:19 AM on July 22, 2009


Well that's at the discretion of the police, and the judges who can punt their cases if they don't meet a "good faith" standard of a crime-in-progress. And like has been mentioned countless times before, the standard operating procedure simply seems to be running the ID past "ECC" and calling in the university police when on their property. It's not a terrible burden, and will weed out the 99% of benign cases while assuring the police have covered their asses in case they get sued when the doppleganger bandits do arrive.
posted by FuManchu at 10:21 AM on July 22, 2009


Comrade_robot, how do they catch people who have violated restraining orders, or eviction notices and locks, or transgressed owner/tenant property, or are simply family members trying to steal from their own home? I submit that those are far more often encountered by police than an actual burglary-by-stranger.
posted by FuManchu at 10:24 AM on July 22, 2009


to clarify, those latter two examples will only show up if there've been prior incidents with the people or location, of course. still something they'd want to look up, is all
posted by FuManchu at 10:35 AM on July 22, 2009


It may be SOP to run an ID past "ECC" as part of a traffic stop, but I am not certain that this is the case for somebody in their own home, where they enjoy special protections that people in cars don't get. I do not believe that it is reasonable by default to assume that someone in their house is not there legally, though yes, there are instances in which this is the case.

To look at it the other way, should police be able to enter any house on a phone call, and run the ID's everybody inside?
posted by Comrade_robot at 10:51 AM on July 22, 2009


...and calling in the university police when on their property.

How did Sgt. Crowley know he was on Harvard University property?
posted by ericb at 11:04 AM on July 22, 2009


"Wouldn’t it have been much easier for the police to figure out who lives there before you knock on the door? And don’t give me that nonsense about a crime in progress. If the officer had time to meet the 911 caller outside of Gates’ home (as he stated in the police report,) he had time to do a little more due diligence before he knocked on the door."*
posted by ericb at 11:07 AM on July 22, 2009


criminal mastermind

So you're sticking to the notion that fake IDs are strictly the purview of "criminal masterminds" then? Amazing the number of teenaged "criminal masterminds" there are, isn't it?
posted by yoink at 11:09 AM on July 22, 2009


Wouldn’t it have been much easier for the police to figure out who lives there before you knock on the door?

Do the police have a "big book of who lives where"? Had the cop looked up the legal owner of the property, he'd have found "Harvard University." That wouldn't have helped, would it? Even if he'd been able to find out that the legal resident was one "H.L. Gates" how, exactly, does that help him identify the man in the house who claims to be one "H.L. Gates"? Remember, the cop finds him inside the house--he's had plenty of time to find out the name of the owner.

If your house is seen being broken into by two men who have forced the door open, how do you want the cops to handle the investigation? The cop comes up and finds a guy inside with a driver's licence and another ID--do you really want the cop to take a cursory glance at those and say "sorry, I'm outta here"? What if it was a burglar who found those pieces of ID in the house? Are you confident that the photos on your ID are of such stellar quality that there could be no doubt in the police officer's mind that they are photos of you? Wouldn't you be rather pleased than not to know that a diligent police officer will take a moment to double check the validity of those pieces of ID?
posted by yoink at 11:19 AM on July 22, 2009



So you're sticking to the notion that fake IDs are strictly the purview of "criminal masterminds" then? Amazing the number of teenaged "criminal masterminds" there are, isn't it?
posted by yoink at 2:09 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


No, I'm sticking to the notion that a burglar who has done so much research so as to prepare false identification on the off-chance that he is caught during his robbery would be unusually well prepared.

Do you believe the police officer had any probable cause to believe the identification to be false? Were there any other circumstances, such as non-matching ID's, or an ID which didn't match an airline ticket?
posted by Comrade_robot at 11:30 AM on July 22, 2009


Are you confident that the photos on your ID are of such stellar quality that there could be no doubt in the police officer's mind that they are photos of you?

I shudder to think what kind of proof you think would reasonably suffice, if two forms of official ID don't satisfy you.

(And I wonder what sort of burglar breaks into a house and makes his first priority finding a couple of forms of ID for the resident, rather than perhaps gathering items with potential resale value.)

And how would verifying the validity of the license help to this end anyway? What, they'll radio back with a list of physical markings for the officer to use in verifying Gates's identity?
posted by desuetude at 11:36 AM on July 22, 2009


Crowley's own words from his report indicate that he had no suspicion that Gates was an intruder. Before asking for I.D. he stated: "...I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence..."
posted by ericb at 11:37 AM on July 22, 2009


Do the police have a "big book of who lives where"? Had the cop looked up the legal owner of the property, he'd have found "Harvard University."

Well, in Crowley's report he said he called HUPD...and he said that he saw HUPD officers out front. Couldn't he have just walked out and asked them about Gates? Surely, HUPD is aware of the residence of one of the only 20 "University Professors."
posted by ericb at 11:39 AM on July 22, 2009


This "proof of residence" discussion is getting kind of ridiculous. What's your point yoink?
posted by ericb at 11:40 AM on July 22, 2009


Sgt. Crowley could have done many things differently. He could have deescalated the situation. Already sensing that Gates was legally in the house, if he for some reason wanted other confirmation Crowley could have most likely gotten it from the HUPD officers who were out front. Instead he got all puffed-up when asked for his badge number. He arrested Gates on his porch ... and according to Gates never read him his Miranda Rights -- not following SOP (as you are so wont to determine).

Crowley fucked up. He arrested a man in his own home -- who, yes, was likely irate. Crowley used a trumped up charge of disorderly conduct to haul this guy off his porch and to jail for four-hours.
posted by ericb at 11:47 AM on July 22, 2009


No, I'm sticking to the notion that a burglar who has done so much research so as to prepare false identification on the off-chance that he is caught during his robbery would be unusually well prepared.

Dude, Gates had the key to the front door and still needed to force it open. How much more prepared would a potential burglar have to be? Fuck ups happen--that's often how the well-prepared burglar gets caught. Burglary is actually a pretty low-risk crime. There are plenty of burglars who drive a truck up to a house in broad daylight, force an entry, remove all the contents, and drive off. As long as they don't skulk about twirling a mustache, by and large people assume that anyone acting so brazenly must have good cause to be doing what they're doing.

"...I was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence..."

Oh come on ericb, you're smarter than that. "Led to believe" does not mean "I was completely satisfied" it means "I was told." Anybody who thinks that the cop acted solely out of a perverse desire to humliate Professor Gates from the start--in other words, that he walked up to the front door knowing that the man inside the house was the legal resident and thought "heh, I'll have some fun taunting this uppity nigger" is just as unhinged as the Freepers who are claiming that Gates is the second coming of Tawana Brawley.

The cop had perfectly good reason to be suspicious about the situation. Even if he was completely sure of the validity of the ID, he still had the problem that the claimed "legal resident" had forced entry. The legal owner of the house is Harvard University (which the cop may or may not have known). Would it not have been perfectly possible that Gates had once been the legal resident of the house but that (for whatever reason) he no longer was? Could not Harvard (the legal owner) have changed the locks on him for perfectly valid legal reasons?

None of this is remotely far-fetched. I'll bet anything you care to name that people break into residences they used to live in all the time--and no doubt often do so while carrying ID with the address of the residence on them. Again--should a cop investigating such a case simply depart on seeing the ID, or should they try to contact the landlord/owner to make sure that the person's claim of current residence is correct?
posted by yoink at 11:53 AM on July 22, 2009


Something tells me that Sgt. Crowley and Officer Figueroa won't be ordering the "Professor Skip Gates" burger ("Classy teriyaki burger with grilled pineapple and our famous onion rings") -- $9.95 -- at Mr. Bartley’s Burger Cottage in Harvard Square anytime soon.
posted by ericb at 11:58 AM on July 22, 2009


Anybody who thinks that the cop acted solely out of a perverse desire to humliate Professor Gates from the start--in other words, that he walked up to the front door knowing that the man inside the house was the legal resident and thought "heh, I'll have some fun taunting this uppity nigger" ...

Not my position at all.
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on July 22, 2009


This "proof of residence" discussion is getting kind of ridiculous. What's your point yoink?

My point is that there are perfectly good reasons for the officer not to have simply taken one look at Gates's IDs and said "I'm sorry to disturb you sir, goodnight." I'm saying that the assumption that no part of the officer's conduct can be explained without imputing only the vilest of motives to him is simply not warranted by the facts as far as we know them.
posted by yoink at 1:04 PM on July 22, 2009


Anybody who thinks that the cop acted solely out of a perverse desire to humliate Professor Gates from the start...

I'm saying that the assumption that no part of the officer's conduct can be explained without imputing only the vilest of motives to him is simply not warranted...


My straw allergies are acting up something fierce.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:21 PM on July 22, 2009


"Oh, yes, I want to rob that house. I think I'll go fabricate an ID that makes me a Harvard professor with the exact address on it that I want to rob. What a great plan. As long as the police officer doesn't decide to check my ID against the Harvard University ID database, I'm in!"
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:24 PM on July 22, 2009


I called the cops one night because someone seemed to be kicking in a second-floor window from a fire escape at the house down the block from me. The cops showed up, drew their guns, got the person to come down.

She lived there. She'd locked herself out, and her ID was inside. They called a housemate to come and confirm her identity. They - two cops, the neighbor - kind of hung out on the stoop, waiting for the housemate to get home. The neighbor was not handcuffed.

This is not a fancy part of the city, by any stretch, and the cops here don't always act very sensibly, in my opinion. In this case, however, they did.
posted by rtha at 1:53 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


My point is that there are perfectly good reasons for the officer not to have simply taken one look at Gates's IDs and said "I'm sorry to disturb you sir, goodnight."

Perfectly good reasons, if we're living in a soap opera.

(For instance, it could be his long-lost brother who got plastic surgery to look just like Professor Gates so that he could get into the house to bug it for sundry mafia-like organizations. But actually, he's really just undercover to research a book. He'll be posting chatfilter next week, just you wait.)
posted by desuetude at 2:11 PM on July 22, 2009


Perfectly good reasons, if we're living in a soap opera.

So you're saying that only in a soap opera would someone break into a residence of which they were once the legal resident (therefore having relevant ID) and were now no longer. Care to place a wager on that?
posted by yoink at 2:13 PM on July 22, 2009


So you're saying that only in a soap opera would someone break into a residence of which they were once the legal resident (therefore having relevant ID) and were now no longer. Care to place a wager on that?

He didn't break in. He let himself in through the back door with his key, unlocked the front door, then pushed the stuck door open from the outside with a shoulder.

And his true, verifiable, quadruple-checked identity was apparently not the issue, since he wasn't hauled off for suspicion of fraud, but for disorderly conduct.
posted by desuetude at 2:26 PM on July 22, 2009


He didn't break in. He let himself in through the back door with his key, unlocked the front door, then pushed the stuck door open from the outside with a shoulder.

And his true, verifiable, quadruple-checked identity was apparently not the issue, since he wasn't hauled off for suspicion of fraud, but for disorderly conduct.


Try to keep up. I'm not saying he committed a felonious act of breaking and entering. He was quite obviously in his legal residence. I am saying that the policeman had perfectly plausible grounds to want to double check his story after he was presented with ID.

In other words, I'm saying that there are perfectly plausible real-world scenarios (e.g. someone breaking into a house of which they were once the legal resident, but to which they no longer have a legal claim) which would have given the policeman reasonable grounds to continue to ask questions even after Gates had shown his ID. In other words I am addressing the many people in this thread who claim that the policeman should simply have turned on his heels and gone about his business after he saw Gates's ID.

As to breaking in--he did, in fact, break in to his house. He was witnessed breaking in to his house. That is why the policeman was called. That is why the policeman thought it necessary to make inquiries of the person he found in that house. The person who had been witnessed doing the rather unusual thing of breaking in. It wasn't, as it happens, a felonious act of "breaking and entering" but the policeman did not know that at the time he approached the house and the fact that the house had been broken into gave him good reason to want to double check any story that the person he found inside the house happened to give him.
posted by yoink at 2:52 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


As to breaking in--he did, in fact, break in to his house.

No. He didn't. You don't have the full story and you should read some of the other links provided here before making a long protracted argument about it.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:09 PM on July 22, 2009


Cambridge is only one of two cities in Massachusetts (Wooster is the other) without direct representation. The city is run by Robert Healy, who has been in power for 28 years (beat that, Menino). The City Council is powerless, the Mayor is a resume/ribbon-cutting post, and the residents are utterly unrepresented.

City of Cambridge
Under the City's Plan E form of government, "interference with [the] City manager by [the] council [is] forbidden." The penalty is "a fine of not more than five hundred dollars or ... imprisonment of not more than six months, or both, and upon final conviction thereof his office in the city council shall thereby be vacated and he shall never again be eligible for any office or position, elective or otherwise, in the service of the city.
There has been a very close (revolving door) relationship between city government (community planning dept) and Harvard/MIT for nearly that long. The "People's Republic" myth actually has a core of truth in the central-planning power concentrated in the City Manager, who has a three-cornered constituency -- 1) the non-taxpaying educational institutions (Harvard, MIT, Leslie), 2) large bio/tech in Kendall Sq, and 3) cops and construction (the detail symbiosis). Cambridge police salaries are in the 99th percentile and cop quality in Cambridge has actually improved a lot from the 60's and 70's.

Healy has a discrimination case against him, "The jury awarded $1.1 million real damages and $3.5 million penal damages." The judge in the case called his testimony "ridiculous" and "reprehensible." The City Council voted to fund his appeal to the tune of more millions.

I used to see Gates and Cornel West with their students in the Casablanca before Larry Summers dissed West and the group broke up.

I lived at 2 Ware for a couple of years, and witnessed police clubbing demonstators in the street below (Harvard St) in the early seventies. I've lived around HS/PS since then, and now live three blocks from Ware St.

I would have given anything to be a fly on the wall of that meeting in Healy's office the next morning, with the absent commissioner and Crowley and other brass and the lawyers from the city and county. Maybe they had Charles Ogletree on the phone.

I'm surprised that none of the esteemed lawyers in this thread have commented on the potential liability for the City of Cambridge. Seems to me they are backing their ass out of this jam as fast as possible. Remember, this is a vindictive, litigious, cop-loving City Manager.

Ware St is not Roxbury or Dorchester. There are people walking up and down the street all the time during mid-day weekdays. Lucia could have walked ten feet closer and gotten a better look, or yelled at him from a protected distance if she was so afraid of getting near a black man.

I've read most of the comments here, and scanned several thousand on the boston.com, tab/chronicle, and other news sites. I'm saddened by some of the comments here (but even more depressed by the pervasive racism found on boston.com, etc) with their stereotypes and justifications and straw-men, but also by the lack of more critical thinking (police report = reality) (a house is like a bus without wheels).

Thank you, fellow Cantabrigians allen.spaulding and ericb and other discerning mefites for an interesting a revealing conversation.
posted by psyche7 at 3:10 PM on July 22, 2009


Dude, Gates had the key to the front door and still needed to force it open. How much more prepared would a potential burglar have to be? Fuck ups happen--that's often how the well-prepared burglar gets caught. Burglary is actually a pretty low-risk crime. There are plenty of burglars who drive a truck up to a house in broad daylight, force an entry, remove all the contents, and drive off. As long as they don't skulk about twirling a mustache, by and large people assume that anyone acting so brazenly must have good cause to be doing what they're doing.

The police keep telling me that most burglaries are crimes of opportunity. I believe the scenario where the burglar has meticulously gathered identification and keys to a specific target to be rare, at best.

Plausible scenarios are not the basis of law.
posted by Comrade_robot at 3:36 PM on July 22, 2009


Plausible scenarios are not the basis of law.

No, but scenarios that are plausible because of past crimes that have been committed are the basis of standard practices by police that, in almost all cases, don't get questioned in the national media. Yoinks' whole point isn't that a criminal might have fabricated ID. It's that the cops sticking around to check out the veracity of the ID is a normal thing in general for cops to do, given a thousand other cases where the mere presentation of ID did not tell the whole story.
posted by fatbird at 3:43 PM on July 22, 2009


"Sgt. Crowley's report almost certainly contains intentional falsehoods, but even accepting his account at face value, the report tells us all we need to conclude that Crowley was in the wrong here, and by a large factor."

From here.
posted by AwkwardPause at 3:55 PM on July 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


From here.

Very well said!
posted by ericb at 4:01 PM on July 22, 2009


No. He didn't. You don't have the full story and you should read some of the other links provided here before making a long protracted argument about it.

Yes, he did. He had his driver force the door open with his shoulder. He broke into his own house. I know he had already entered via a rear door. I explicitly stated that I am not using the term in a legal sense. In a purely "how the fucking English language works" way, however, the man broke into his own house. He had someone force open a door using his shoulder.

The police keep telling me that most burglaries are crimes of opportunity. I believe the scenario where the burglar has meticulously gathered identification and keys to a specific target to be rare, at best.

Most calls to the police (if we included automated burglar alarms and so forth) are false alarms. Does that mean that police should ignore all calls on a purely probabalistic basis?

A good cop, surely, is one who would think of the "rare" possibilities and seeks to exclude them, as long as they are not absurd. I notice desuetude wouldn't take my wager on the bizarre "soap opera"-like implausibility of someone breaking into a residence that they once did but no longer do reside in legally. Anyone else care to?

You're all allowing your knowledge after the event of what the facts actually were to overly color your sense of the what the facts plausibly could have been.
posted by yoink at 4:02 PM on July 22, 2009


Most calls to the police (if we included automated burglar alarms and so forth) are false alarms. Does that mean that police should ignore all calls on a purely probabalistic basis?

I'm not sure how that follows, and I'm pretty sure you know that's ridiculous. A rare scenario is not the basis for erosion of Fourth Amendment rights. A man in his own house enjoys certain protections under the Fourth Amendment. One of them is that if he doesn't want police officers inside, he can generally tell them to go away unless they have a warrant. This right is not taken away just because the police officer in question can come up with a plausible story as to why this person might be up to no good.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:15 PM on July 22, 2009


A man in his own house enjoys certain protections under the Fourth Amendment. One of them is that if he doesn't want police officers inside, he can generally tell them to go away unless they have a warrant. This right is not taken away just because the police officer in question can come up with a plausible story as to why this person might be up to no good.

Someone called the police to report an apparent break-in in a particular location. What gives you the idea that the police officer needed a warrant to enter that particular location?
posted by oaf at 4:33 PM on July 22, 2009


Someone called the police to report an apparent break-in in a particular location. What gives you the idea that the police officer needed a warrant to enter that particular location?
posted by oaf at 7:33 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


Once Gates establishes his identity, the officer now needs a warrant to be in his house, because, as repeatedly stated above, a man inside his own house enjoys certain protections under the Fourth Amendment.
posted by Comrade_robot at 4:36 PM on July 22, 2009


Once Gates establishes his identity, the officer now needs a warrant to be in his house

We're clearly none of us lawyers. Anyone know if the Supreme Court has ruled on what constitutes "sufficient" proof of legal occupancy of a residence once a policeman has entered a house under circumstances like these? I'd have thought that there would be some precedent in this area.

Again, imagine the case where I break into the apartment I rented last month, but no longer rent. I'm caught in the act by a policeman who asks to see my ID. I show him my driver's licence, which has the address of the apartment I've broken into on it. He remains suspicious. Is he legally required to leave the premises before he, say, calls the landlord to check whether I'm still the lessee? Can he legally detain me either inside or outside the house while he checks? Anyone know the actual law?
posted by yoink at 4:48 PM on July 22, 2009


He had someone force open a door using his shoulder.

Even in non-legal simple English terms, your statement above and your other statement

He broke into his own house.

are two completely different things. I would agree with you if he hadn't been inside already, and this may seem nitpicky but it looks like you are extrapolating from that point. A point that is absolutely false in every sense. If my window gets stuck, am I breaking into outside?
posted by P.o.B. at 4:54 PM on July 22, 2009


I think that the discourse on this thread is much more interesting than the actual incident itself, which is of course disappointing. I find it also disappointing, but not surprising, that a thread with more than 600 comments, devotes substantially more space to the age of Gates's neighbor and the landscaping of his street, than to the situation's larger moral or political implications (e.g., racial profiling in general, the trope of the black man arrested for entering his own house, the definition of "racism," etc.).

1. I think it is difficult to talk about racism because we lack a finely-tuned language to discuss what it means. Some of us are more sympathetic to Gates and view racism as a system of power that bars us from living in a just society, regardless of our intentions. I think that other posters--specifically, those eager to note their lack of outrage--believe that racism is an expression of conscious malicious intent; consequently, "racist" automatically implies affiliation with, say, the Klu Klux Klan, when many people of color use the words to discuss power imbalances that happen in our daily life; these complaints thus seem automatically disproportionate.

The emphasis on intention also makes many white Americans skeptical of whether racism exists, since they do not know themselves to possess racist intentions. (Thus the emphasis always on racism as happening in the south or the midwest, with rednecks, etc.--i.e., racism is something other people do.) This focus on intention also makes white Americans feel that accusations of racism are nearly always unjust since they appear arbitrary (and therefore insincere) and since they themselves do not observe racism (which understandably would not happen to them).

2. My question for those who are not outraged would be: What would it take you to be outraged? That is, what would actually constitute racist behavior? Gates's arrest at his own home is a classic American icon of racial profiling. Would you need the cop to actually be a member of the Klan or to have spouted hate speech? That is--does it require evidence of the officer's intention? If your point where things seem uncontroversially racist is set at such an extreme point, why do you require such absoluteness?

3. One rhetorical strategy in this thread has been to argue: (1) This is how reality works (i.e., cops often exercise power in unjust ways); and (2) there are other, non-racist explanations for the officer's behavior. How do either of these arguments disinfect the situation of its obvious racial overtones?

If you are someone who has made such an argument, my second question is -- Do you believe that the policeman's behavior was just? Do you believe the police's response (arrest, calls for back-up, and public shaming via a highly visible arrest) was proportionate to Gates's action, which at its worst was talking back in a rude manner? Would you prefer to live in a society in which Gates is arrested in such a way, regardless of how rude he may or may not have been behaving?

4. It seems obvious that the majority of posters in this thread believe that it is worse to suffer (possibly but not absolutely justified) accusations of racism, than it is to certainly violate someone's civil liberties. I would not be surprised if many people on this thread thought that being called a racist was the worst shaming one could suffer. Thus, the discussions about the fact pattern of this situation are ways to change the subject and rather self-consciously avoid the difficulty of what this situation means.

One Metafilter trope is the poster who is preemptively exasperated by claims of racism and accusations of inauthentic outrage and who makes an effort to note how calm and rational he is being, unlike those who are of course instantly offended. These posts are almost always followed by very reasonable discussions by the supposed frothing, left-wing activists, such as Lord Wolf, desuetude, and iamkimian.

4. I think it's worth noting that claiming to not have an opinion (or deciding to trust one party over another by default) is itself an ideological position, not the avoidance of one. I am skeptical of the repeated claims by posters who are saying that they are keeping their cool, given that Metafilter is a space that values quickness of judgment and given the posters' use of a quasi-legal terminology, which implies that this is a zone where we non-technocrat civilians are not allowed to posit opinions and which also insinuates that discussion of racism alone would constitute persecution.

Sorry, this was much longer than I thought it'd be!
posted by johnasdf at 5:04 PM on July 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


I believe Allen.Spaulding is a lawyer, and he seems to feel that Gates's 2 ID's were sufficient.
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:06 PM on July 22, 2009


Okay, I'm going to try this again. Remember this incident from 2007 in Atlanta?

"A historian at the 'Historians against the war' conference in Atlanta was stopped for jaywalking. … He asked to see the police officers identification, and the police officer took offense stating 'See my Uniform!'. The officer kicked the mans leg out, pushed him to the ground and handcuffed him. The police officer had 5 other police officers step on the historian causing bruises on his neck."

Let me apply johnasdf's argument to this situation: " 2. My question for those who are not outraged would be: What would it take you to be outraged? That is, what would actually constitute racist behavior?" "That is--does it require evidence of the officer's intention? If your point where things seem uncontroversially racist is set at such an extreme point, why do you require such absoluteness?"

It seems clear to me that the officer's intent is irrelevant. Had the officer been white and the historian black, it would be a racist incident using johnasdf's deconstructionist argument.
posted by found missing at 5:18 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


So the back-and-forth on police procedures is maddening for a few reasons. But the worst of it is the idea that the police procedures should not be designed to protect the constitutional rights of individuals to be secure from unwarranted searches and seizures, but that they should be designed around plausible scenarios where someone would get away with a crime. This is nonsense and it's not how the law works. Many criminals hide things in their body cavities and without a full body cavity search during the investiagtion of a crime, plenty of contraband would go undiscovered by the police. We don't allow it. Furthermore, if someone indeed is going into their old apartment, calling in their ID and checking for outstanding warrants won't stop them. Just because a criminal might get away with a crime under some circumstance does not mean we ought to let the police use increasingly invasive procedures without limitations. This is just not how we design policing practices in the US. And this is why we require probable cause.

And in this instance, there was no probably cause for the police to remain. A witness, who did not live on the street, reported a possible breaking-and-entering. Had she known the house and been able to identify the individuals as people who did not live there, perhaps there would have been a stronger argument to continue an investigation. She did not - she merely was a passerby. The police came to the door and saw no evidence of a crime in process. They found a 58 year-old man with a cane on the phone to his landlord in order to have the door fixed. He had the keys to his house and was able to identify himself and state his profession, which makes immediate sense if you know the area even slightly. The police officer has been trained to spot fake IDs and having recognized that this was one legitimate, that the story was plausible, that the only report of a problem came from a bystander with no personal knowledge of the situation, and without any sign of a crime in progress, the police should have apologized and left.

Had there been a stronger eyewitness identification, had there been broken glass, or burglary tools, or evidence that a crime was in progress, perhaps the police would have been right to have aggressively interrogated Dr. Gates. There was no professional justification. This is why people like Skip Gates and myself think that something else was going on. And do you know what the best proof is? The outcome. If this had just been shoddy but neutral policing, I don't see the cop arresting him in the end. That's the part that just doesn't jive with the defense that some are putting up here. Not only are they getting the law wrong, but they are also blindly ignoring the outcome of the events. Because there was no reason to bring him out of his home and arrest him for disorderly conduct on top of everything else. No valid police reason. It would be pretty incredible for this to have been a simple mistake that resulted in a trumped up vindictive charge by accident.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:35 PM on July 22, 2009 [4 favorites]


Once Gates establishes his identity, the officer now needs a warrant to be in his house, because, as repeatedly stated above, a man inside his own house enjoys certain protections under the Fourth Amendment.

So you're saying that as soon as Gates showed his driver's license and Harvard ID to the officer, the officer was required to leave immediately? If you think that's correct, I'm not sure why.
posted by oaf at 5:36 PM on July 22, 2009


So you're saying that as soon as Gates showed his driver's license and Harvard ID to the officer, the officer was required to leave immediately? If you think that's correct, I'm not sure why.
posted by oaf at 8:36 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


So you want to say that the officer can enter the house without a warrant because there is a crime in progress, right?

And if there's no probable cause to believe that there is a crime in progress, the officer is no longer permitted to be inside the house without a warrant, right?
posted by Comrade_robot at 5:43 PM on July 22, 2009


Gates's arrest at his own home is a classic American icon of racial profiling.

You can't know this, of course. Like some of the responses you're saying are reasoned, your comment here reads things into the situation that are implied, and strongly so in some cases, but there's no direct evidence for them.

Were the police called by the neighbor because she saw two men who weren't white forcing open the front door of the house next door? Did the police treat Gates differently because he is black? Did they require to identify himself more thoroughly because he was black? Would they have ignored his behavior (whatever it was) on the front porch if he weren't black?

Sadly, the answer to some of these is probably "yes." But it's improper to read things into the situation that you can't possibly know, and then treat them as fact. That's not a reasoned or reasonable approach by any measure.
posted by oaf at 5:48 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obama calling Cambridge police "stupid."

So I guess that settles it.
posted by shothotbot at 5:56 PM on July 22, 2009


So you're saying that as soon as Gates showed his driver's license and Harvard ID to the officer, the officer was required to leave immediately? If you think that's correct, I'm not sure why.
I'm not sure why this even matters since it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he should have been arrested for something unrelated after it had already been established that it was his house. It's a complete derail.
Sadly, the answer to some of these is probably "yes." But it's improper to read things into the situation that you can't possibly know, and then treat them as fact. That's not a reasoned or reasonable approach by any measure.
That's absurd. No one applies that standard to things they think about or do in their daily lives. It's not "improper" to make reasonable inferences given the various likelihood of different possibilities. If the cop didn't want people to think he was being a racist, then he shouldn't have arrested an old man in his house (or on his porch).
posted by delmoi at 6:03 PM on July 22, 2009


are two completely different things. I would agree with you if he hadn't been inside already, and this may seem nitpicky but it looks like you are extrapolating from that point. A point that is absolutely false in every sense. If my window gets stuck, am I breaking into outside?

The eye-witness account which the policeman was operating upon was of TWO people trying to break into the house. It appears that after Professor Gates entered the back door he came back out and stood with the driver while the driver broke into the house. So, yes, you are being insanely nitpicky.

The officer had an eye-witness report of somebody breaking into the house. Not a legal judgment that felonious breaking and entering had occurred, but that TWO people had been seen physically breaking into a house. So, the officer's job was to determine if a crime had occurred.

I do not know what legal rulings control a policeman's actions in this situation, it does seem to me as a matter of plain common sense, however, that it is reasonable for the policeman to approach a house where a break-in has occurred with some suspicion. It therefore seems reasonable to me, too, that when the occupant of the house reacts angrily to your presence (IF that is what in fact occurred--obviously the facts are in dispute; we do have at least one witness who contradicts Professor Gates's account of his conduct later on, so we have some reason to doubt his version of events--just as we obviously have good reason to be suspicious of the officer's version of events) you may entertain some doubts about his right to be inside that house even if one of his ID cards has the correct address on it. It seems, though, that nobody has any specific legal precedent to cite in relation to this question, however.

None of these would be reasons to arrest anyone, of course--but none of these are the reason that Professor Gates was arrested. As to the arrest, I think it was bogus and I think it was largely vindictive. Whether the motivation for that vindictiveness was racism or general "I'll show YOU who's boss" police behavior, we'll never be likely to know.
posted by yoink at 6:04 PM on July 22, 2009


That's absurd. No one applies that standard to things they think about or do in their daily lives. It's not "improper" to make reasonable inferences given the various likelihood of different possibilities. If the cop didn't want people to think he was being a racist, then he shouldn't have arrested an old man in his house (or on his porch).

So you're saying that it's fine to simply decide things are "facts" as long as they fit your general understanding of the way the world works. Huh...the spirit of George Bush lives on.
posted by yoink at 6:07 PM on July 22, 2009


He broke into his own house. I know he had already entered via a rear door. I explicitly stated that I am not using the term in a legal sense. In a purely "how the fucking English language works" way, however, the man broke into his own house. He had someone force open a door using his shoulder.

You can't break into your own house after you've already opened another door with a key, a key to your own house that you legitimately possess on your own keyring without any other extenuating circumstances.

Christ, what a stupid argument. The copper should have left immediately he discovered that the alleged perpetrator did in fact live there. Gates could have broken a frickin window and it shouldn't matter because he lives there and it's his own house, and he established that when he was asked to.

The cop's motivation is a topic worthy of discussion, albeit futile (we can only speculate that race and class were contributory factors).
posted by goo at 6:11 PM on July 22, 2009


It's not "improper" to make reasonable inferences given the various likelihood of different possibilities.

The key word here is "reasonable."
posted by oaf at 6:13 PM on July 22, 2009


Look, I get it. I understand the pretense of the cop being there and everything else. I just don't get why you keep insisting on the idea that it's an actual fact that he broke into his house. It's alright to say he was trying to fix the door, loosen it, unstick, unjam...or even *gasp* open his freaking door.
posted by P.o.B. at 6:19 PM on July 22, 2009


On non-preview:

you may entertain some doubts about his right to be inside that house even if one of his ID cards has the correct address on it

You may, but you'd be an idiot. A very middle-class man, middle-aged, with a cane, with luggage, with ID affirming that address as his residence, shouldering the front door of the home of which he'd already opened the back door with his key, in the middle of the day - is not a burglar.

If anything, they need to send the officer back for training at the very least.
posted by goo at 6:19 PM on July 22, 2009


yoink - you need to remember the witness who reported the suspicious entry did not know the residents of the house. I think you would have a stronger argument had it been a neighbor who knew for certain, or to a reasonable degree of certainty, that the "suspects" did not live there. This is the major difference between this case and Mental Wimp's story above, where he lived there and knew the neighbors (it was mistaken identity, but a reasonable one). Really, the police had very little to go on when they approached the house itself.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:21 PM on July 22, 2009


I'm not sure why this even matters since it has absolutely nothing to do with whether or not he should have been arrested for something unrelated after it had already been established that it was his house. It's a complete derail.

Well, the derail started up here when liza expressed outrage at the fact that the police had entered Gates' home without his permission. I asked why she thought permission was necessary, and then Comrade_robot replied with "United States Bill of Rights" (and later, "Fourth Amendment"). Sadly, as indicated by the number of favorites, there are quite a few people who don't understand that that's not a correct answer, given the circumstances.
posted by oaf at 6:23 PM on July 22, 2009


Well, the derail started up here when liza expressed outrage at the fact that the police had entered Gates' home without his permission. I asked why she thought permission was necessary, and then Comrade_robot replied with "United States Bill of Rights" (and later, "Fourth Amendment"). Sadly, as indicated by the number of favorites, there are quite a few people who don't understand that that's not a correct answer, given the circumstances.

That's arguable. The officer did not witness a break in. The officer was responding to a phoned in report of a break in (we do not know how much time elapsed between the call and the response). There was no evidence of a crime in progress when the officer arrived.
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:27 PM on July 22, 2009


There was no evidence of a crime in progress when the officer arrived.

If you completely ignore the initial report of a break-in.
posted by oaf at 6:33 PM on July 22, 2009


If you completely ignore the initial report of a break-in.

This is nonresponsive. A person who did not live there and did not know the inhabitants of the house reported seeing two people struggling to open a door around noon on a busy street. The police arrived and there was no evidence of a crime.

If I called the cops now, refused to give my name, and said there was a drug deal going on in your house, could they come, break down your door, demand to see ID, search your house, seize your computer? Of course not. Just because there was a vague claim without any additional information does not give the cops free reign, especially when there was no supporting evidence.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:36 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


There was no evidence of a crime in progress when the officer arrived.

If you completely ignore the initial report of a break-in


Of which there was no evidence by the time the police arrived, because no break-in occurred.
posted by goo at 6:39 PM on July 22, 2009


This is nonresponsive.

Incorrect.

The police arrived and there was no evidence of a crime.

The police report appears to be gone now, and I don't have a copy. What was the exact situation when they arrived?
posted by oaf at 6:42 PM on July 22, 2009


Try to keep up, yoink, I understand your words. But the police officer wasn't asking for further proof of residence. If so, there would be a long evaluation of whether Gates producing junk mail or an electricity bill was the more valid choice.

Assuming that the police radio really was not working properly inside the house, the officer could have stepped out onto the porch. The report states that another officer had already arrived at that time, so if Gates had been a nefarious and cunning burglar, he still would have been under supervision while his identity was verified. (However, the interest in his identity seems to fade from the report at this point, in favor of being outraged by Gates's outrage.)

As to breaking in--he did, in fact, break in to his house. He was witnessed breaking in to his house. That is why the policeman was called.

He was witnessed appearing to break into his house.

You keep saying "break into." That's inflammatory, it implies the crime of "breaking and entering." The door was unlocked. By him, the resident. From the inside, after having entered the house in the usual manner from another door. Leaning on a jammed door which you have previously unlocked with your own key from the inside of the house would not be reasonably described as "breaking in" by most people. By this standard, I break into my house every day in the summer, right before I...break from within against to? (Um, what's the term for forcing the door closed from the inside?)

But yeah, actually, most of the time the cops will take you on your word if you produce multiple forms of ID that seem to verify your identity. With maybe a semi-stern "get that door fixed, you gave the neighbor a scare." It's called "the benefit of the doubt." White folks get it all the time, myself very much included.
posted by desuetude at 6:42 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


What was the exact situation when they arrived?

There was no broken glass, no burglary tools, no signs that property was being removed from the house. Whalen remained outside and the officer spoke to her, before approaching the porch. It was 12:45 pm in one of the nicest parts of Cambridge. Whalen did not know the actual owners of the house so she could not say for certain that what she saw was a B&E. Gates was inside on his cell phone. There was no sign that he was doing anything illegal. That's from the police's own report. Given all of this information, there is no evidence that a crime was being committed.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2009



The police report appears to be gone now, and I don't have a copy. What was the exact situation when they arrived?


As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of (REDACTED) Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me. He replied "no I will not".
posted by Comrade_robot at 6:47 PM on July 22, 2009


He replied "no I will not".

And then the officer teleported through the door?
posted by oaf at 6:52 PM on July 22, 2009


The police report appears to be gone now...

Which has become an issue here in the Boston area.

Some local press and blogs are focusing on the fact that the Boston Globe removed Crowley's report yesterday (mentioned above) and wondering why. After some uproar yesterday regarding the missing report the Globe today posted Figuero's less-detailed report in its stead

Crowley's report, though, is available here and here.
posted by ericb at 6:54 PM on July 22, 2009


"For starters, police used an investigatory exemption in the public records law to bar the public’s right to view Gates’ police report. Even after the charges against Gates were dropped, police were unwilling to release the report and, mysteriously, a leaked copy that appeared on Boston.com’s Web site was replaced the next day with a less complete version. Globe editors declined to explain to the Chronicle why the documents were swapped, while the department said it was conducting an internal investigation to find out who leaked the arrest report."*
posted by ericb at 6:57 PM on July 22, 2009


He replied "no I will not".

And then the officer teleported through the door?
posted by oaf at 9:52 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


What a peculiar attitude you have.

... "He then demanded to know who I was. I told him that I was 'Sgt. Crowley from the Cambridge police' and that I was 'investigating a report of a break in progress' at the residence. While I was making this statement, Gates opened the front door and exclaimed 'why, because I'm a black man in America?'. I then asked Gates if there was anyone else in the residence. While yelling, he told me that it was none of my business and accused me of being a racist police officer. I assured Gates that I was responding to a citizen's call to the Cambridge Police and that the callar was outside as we spoke. Gates seemed to ignore me and picked up a cordless telephone and dialed an unknown telephone number. As he did so, I radioed on channel 1 that I was off in the residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative."

I assure you, I didn't leave out the part where Sgt Crowley wrote, "I also noticed that Professor Gates was dangling from the ceiling wearing that harness from Mission Impossible."
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2009


johnasfd, I was working on a point-by-point answer to your post, but thought better of it. You ask some really loaded questions of those who are saying "don't rush to judgement," and set up not a few strawmen.

There's a saying in business: "I know half my advertising dollars are wasted; I just don't know which half." Race and racism are obviously, unavoidably involved in this incident. But I don't know what kind of racism, and how much. Is it the racism of a cop who consciously or not is racist against black people and treats them differently than whites? Is it the racism of a cop who thinks he's not racist but has absorbed the institutional racism that leads to racial profiling? Is it the understandable sensitivity to all interactions between black people and police of a black scholar who's studied his people his entire life? Or is it a cop with a temper and an authority complex who's sin was not noticing that the situation called for more racial sensitivity?

The fact pattern matters insofar as we're trying to determine what sort of racism it is. The sort of racism it is matters because our response to the incident should be tailored to it. If it's a couple of racist cops, fire them to set an example for other racist cops. But if it's the institutional racism to which police departments are all-too-frequently prey, then firing those cops is probably counterproductive because the rest of the cops will say to themselves "look what happens when you do your job the way you're told to do it." Institutional racism is not effectively fought by firing people who aren't even conscious that they're doing it.

I've very aware of systemic and institutional racism, but your questions strongly imply that I'm blind to it or denying it exists, so I can't really answer them fairly. You further imply that my refusal to add to the outrage here is an ideology that claims "this is a zone where we non-technocrat civilians are not allowed to posit opinions and which also insinuates that discussion of racism alone would constitute persecution."

I could as easily accuse you of trying to silence my input by aiming soft accusations of racism or at least ignorance at me. You ask "It seems obvious that the majority of posters in this thread believe that it is worse to suffer (possibly but not absolutely justified) accusations of racism, than it is to certainly violate someone's civil liberties." Of course it's not worse, and I doubt anyone here would agree with your statement. What's being argued here is whether this incident fits that statement--that's part of why we're haggling over the fact pattern.

I see a tremendous amount of complexity in this situation, and I don't see a trump card the way some do that simply decides it. For someone like allen.spaulding, the fact that it was racist decides all, it was obviously wrong, and the officers should be fired. I'm more troubled by the collision someone identified above, where the cops acted within their discretion to enforce a broadly written and easily abused statute--legally sound collides with socially disastrous and morally wrong. What's the solution then? Take away the discretion from the cops? How often have mefites decried brutally simple rules like zero tolerance policies that leave no room for common sense? And in what way was their discretion abused? A consciously racist way? An institutional way?

I see the bad outcome here. What I don't see is an easy way to distill that outcome down to, as allen.spaulding puts it, a principle that makes it simple.
posted by fatbird at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


Really, the police had very little to go on when they approached the house itself.

He had an eye witness who had seen two people breaking open the front door of the house. He had that eye witness with him. The door was, presumably, still ajar when he approached it (given that Gates was calling maintenance to come and fix it). That strikes me as sufficient "probable cause" to enter the house. Do you know of any court cases that would suggest otherwise?

A very middle-class man, middle-aged, with a cane, with luggage, with ID affirming that address as his residence, shouldering the front door of the home of which he'd already opened the back door with his key, in the middle of the day - is not a burglar.

Think v-e-r-y, v-e-r-y hard. Which bits of this account did the officer in question know about? Which bits are merely speculation? He knew "middle-aged man," he knew "shouldered the front door of the home open with another man who is no longer in evidence," he knew "has ID affirming address as his residence."

The luggage is speculation (had the driver carried it upstairs? I don't know). The cane is speculation (Gates says he needed it on leaving the house--not that he was using it when the officer arrived).

The "very middle class" is kinda meaningless. Maybe the officer is a particularly skilled sociolinguist, but we don't know. The "already opened the back door" is utterly irrelevant. How was the officer supposed to know this? Do you think that the witness who called this in saw Gates open the back door with a key? Do you think the officer had checked out local CCTV cameras or something? Maybe he'd dialed up a spy satellite a la 24?

So, we have a cop, who has an eye-witness to the front door being forced open. He is confronted on the premises by a middle-aged man who has appropriate ID. The question then is, at what point does the officer's action become unreasonable? Is it unreasonable for him to ask himself "o.k., this ID looks legit, but why was the guy forcing the door open? Maybe I should just check a few further details--I know, I'll call in the Harvard police, they should know what's what"? That seems entirely reasonable to me, although I don't know where the law would stand.

The point at which the officer's actions did become unreasonable is, in my view, the point where he A) failed to state his badge number (of course, the accounts on this point differ, but I'm strongly inclined to believe Gates here, knowing how rarely cops do willingly give their badge number) and then B) when he chose to arrest Gates for the B.S. disorderly behavior charge rather than just walking away once he was sure of the situation.

Of course "unreasonable" is one thing "expressly motivated by racism" is another. We have ample and repeated evidence of police mistreating people who lecture them about their obligations and duties, regardless of race. It is entirely possible that this cop was a racist prick who didn't like being talked down to by a black guy. It is, though, grossly unfair to simply say "well, that's often the way the world works, so I'll just publicly label this guy as a vicious racist because I like it when my prejudices get confirmed!"
posted by yoink at 7:00 PM on July 22, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I called the cops now, refused to give my name, and said there was a drug deal going on in your house, could they come, break down your door, demand to see ID, search your house, seize your computer?

What part of that scenario do you think fails to match the case at hand?
posted by yoink at 7:03 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Huh. Reading the police report again, he actually says that he started to leave after he received Gates's Harvard ID card.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:04 PM on July 22, 2009



If I called the cops now, refused to give my name, and said there was a drug deal going on in your house, could they come, break down your door, demand to see ID, search your house, seize your computer?

What part of that scenario do you think fails to match the case at hand?
posted by yoink at 10:03 PM on July 22 [+] [!]


The police report doesn't say whether or not the caller identified herself at the time of the call.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:06 PM on July 22, 2009


What a peculiar attitude you have.

Oh, please.

I notice that both you and allen.spaulding left out the part where Crowley arrived and spoke with the caller (Whalen), who confirmed her earlier statement. One of the people she described earlier trying to force open the door was apparently in the house. The proper course of action suggested by this information is not "call in the SWAT team," but it certainly isn't "do absolutely nothing," either. All of this was before Gates opened the door and started confronting the guy on his porch.
posted by oaf at 7:08 PM on July 22, 2009


fine yoink. If I show up at your house, call the police, and say I saw you breaking in, what then? Can they demand to see your ID? What if they don't like the answers you give? Can they search your house? Can they impound your computer? Give me an intelligible principle to limit the behavior of the police when all they have is an noncredible eye witness.

See, this is another part of the problem. Whalen had no credibility at all, but the police seemed to believe her over Gates, even after Gates identified himself as the lawful resident and a Harvard Professor. She didn't know who lived there. She wasn't from there herself. She wasn't even sure what she saw. She thought they had backpacks for Christ's sake. Once the cops saw an old man with a breathing problem and a cane, who gave his name and his occupation, which would immediately resonate with the CPD given the location, then they ought to have laughed at Whalen for being a total fucking idiot. I mean, really.

I was in DC earlier today. While I was walking down 16th Street, I saw someone futzing with his keys as he tried to enter a really nice house just north of R St. I'd never seen the man before. If I called the cops, they came, demanded to see ID, and then continued to pester the person in his own home, based solely on my word, well, it'd be some pretty awful police work.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:12 PM on July 22, 2009


One of the people she described earlier trying to force open the door was apparently in the house.

Did Whalen actually say this?

All of this was before Gates opened the door and started confronting the guy on his porch.

Are you saying that when the officer arrived, Professor Gates opened the door and initiated a confrontation?
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:12 PM on July 22, 2009


The police report doesn't say whether or not the caller identified herself at the time of the call.

No, it says that the officer spoke with her--and she gave her name--when he arrived. She had chosen to stay at the scene and continued to stay while the officer investigated. Please do point out the part of that that looks like a prank caller phoning in a bogus tip to try to get someone into trouble.
posted by yoink at 7:13 PM on July 22, 2009


I feel like I should add at this point that even if the officer had legitimate grounds to arrest Gates, he shouldn't have. If you're supposed to be able to deal with hardened criminals, you damn well ought to be able to be professional about a graying academic insulting you.
posted by oaf at 7:15 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


No, it says that the officer spoke with her--and she gave her name--when he arrived.

Does the police report really say that? "observed a white female, later identified ..."
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:17 PM on July 22, 2009


"o.k., this ID looks legit, but why was the guy forcing the door open?

I think the script can go something like "was there a problem with the door?" rather than "why don't we step outside." Again, there was backup already present.
posted by desuetude at 7:18 PM on July 22, 2009


The Harvard Crimson: Harvard Students, Professors Eye Racial Factors in Gates' Arrest
"Allegations of racial profiling continued to mount after the arrest of prominent black Harvard professor Henry Louis 'Skip' Gates, Jr. last week, but students and faculty interviewed Tuesday were cautious about leveling blame, even while acknowledging the possibility of police misconduct.

...Nevertheless, Spencer H. Hardwick '11, president of the Black Students Association and also a Crimson news writer, said that 'the situation clearly requires an investigation into the motives of the officers involved and the policies and procedures of the Cambridge Police Department' in order to 'prevent further incidents of arbitrary and unfair treatment against innocent citizens.'

Students interviewed were wary of passing judgment on police or the professor without more definitive information...

...Faculty in the department of African and African American Studies interviewed Tuesday commented more explicitly about the persistence of racial profiling in American society, noting that the police actions were indicative of a lapse of communication and racial understanding plaguing much of the country.

...The University has grappled with racial profiling issues a few times in recent years, although those cases involved the Harvard University Police Department, not the Cambridge Police Department. Last summer, HUPD officers, in a confrontation allegedly 'laced with obscenities,' approached a young black man attempting to remove a lock from a bicycle who turned out to be a Boston area high school student working at the University for the summer. The incident helped trigger a University task force review of community and police relations, and prompted HUPD to reach out to the community, drawing praise from black student organizations.

...Not everyone reflecting on the incident immediately concurred that the arrest exemplified on-going societal prejudices. Gates' lawyer, law school professor Charles J. Ogletree, Jr., has declined to say whether he believes the incident was racially motivated, and Cambridge police representatives carefully kept to their prepared statement, which said that the dropping of charges was 'a just resolution to an unfortunate set of circumstances.'

Damaris J. Taylor '12, alumni and public relations chair for the Harvard Black Students Association, said that based on police reports, he personally didn't think the arrest was racially motivated and that 'the officer was just doing his job.' But he also said that while the professor may have overreacted or even acted rudely, the police should not have issued an arrest.

Harvard President Drew G. Faust said in a statement Tuesday that she continues to be 'deeply troubled by the incident,' although she is gratified that the charges have been dropped. She added that 'legacies of racial injustice remain an unfortunate and painful part of the American experience' and that, as U.S. President Barack Obama has remarked, 'we can and must do better.'"
posted by ericb at 7:18 PM on July 22, 2009


Are you saying that when the officer arrived, Professor Gates opened the door and initiated a confrontation?

The police report says that as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a report of a break-in, Gates opened the door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" You find this implausible?
posted by oaf at 7:20 PM on July 22, 2009


I just want to point out that the police get tons of bogus tips, especially from overanxious old people who see all those "See something say something" ad campaigns. Beyond the overt TIPS program, we've got tons of media trying to draft citizens into being junior detectives, or whatever. The idea that the cops must take all of these at face value and show no discretion is silly. As soon as they got to the porch and met Gates, it should have been obvious to even the worst of cops that Whalen's story wasn't credible.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:20 PM on July 22, 2009


The "very middle class" is kinda meaningless.

By his own account he had a two piece suit on. Maybe had the jacket off when the officer arrived though. I'm pretty the picture of him being arrested he didn't have any dark clothing nor did he have a backpack on. So there's two out of three identifiers the cop has to go on that are out the window right away. So a man wearing nice pants, button up polo, 60ish, doesn't move to quickly, leisurely talking on the phone doesn't sound like the cop should've been alarmed by anything when he approached the house.
posted by P.o.B. at 7:20 PM on July 22, 2009


BTW -- on local news tonight it was reported that Prof. Gates flew from his Martha's Vineyard home today to New York to do media interviews. I hope we'll see some more "fleshed-out" reporting from the network news programs (such as 20/20, 60 Minutes, Dateline NBC, etc.) sometime soon.
posted by ericb at 7:22 PM on July 22, 2009


The police report says that as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a report of a break-in, Gates opened the door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" You find this implausible?

As I turned and faced the door, I could see an older black male standing in the foyer of (REDACTED) Ware Street. I made this observation through the glass paned front door. As I stood in plain view of this man, later identified as Gates, I asked if he would step out onto the porch and speak with me.

Crowley initiated the exchange. It doesn't say that Gates stepped out onto the porch. In fact, a few sentences later, he says "I radioed on channel 1 that I was off in the residence", which would lead me to believe that Crowley entered the house.
posted by Comrade_robot at 7:25 PM on July 22, 2009


I just want to point out that the police get tons of bogus tips, especially from overanxious old people who see all those "See something say something" ad campaigns.

The Boston area is famous for being afraid of flashing LEDs.
posted by oaf at 7:28 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


In fact, a few sentences later, he says "I radioed on channel 1 that I was off in the residence", which would lead me to believe that Crowley entered the house.

He later talks about exiting the kitchen because Gates was shouting too loudly for him to be able to communicate on his radio (which sounds pretty bogus). He had clearly entered the house, though his report doesn't say at what point in the conversation he did so or why.

Gates's version has the police officer following him as he went to get his ID.
posted by yoink at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2009


The Boston area is famous for being afraid of flashing LEDs.

It's odd. I think people would all be done for a LOLBOSTON moment right now. Instead, there's a lot of people defending the cops, or if not defending them, trying to construct a reality in which they were justified in making the decisions they did. I didn't really see the same people making these arguments in the Mooninite or MIT airportgirl situations.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2009


Crowley initiated the exchange.

And Gates appears to have escalated it. Do you find the statement in the police report—that Gates opened the door and said "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a break-in—implausible?
posted by oaf at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2009


all be down, even.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:31 PM on July 22, 2009


The police report says that as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a report of a break-in, Gates opened the door and said, "Why, because I'm a black man in America?"em>

Gates admits to saying it, but says he said it after having provided his IDs and Crowley refused to give him his badge number.

posted by ericb at 7:34 PM on July 22, 2009


And Gates appears to have escalated it. Do you find the statement in the police report—that Gates opened the door and said "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a break-in—implausible?

Given that Gates denies it, yes I find this implausible. I believe Gates' story that he said this after his arrest. Skip Gates doesn't just yell at white people for no reason and he knows how to talk to the police. When you compare the two reports, and look at the people making them, I think one is far more plausible than the other - especially on this point.

I mean, imagine a cop claiming that Stephen Hawking had fired a gun at him, but then he fired back and his bullet hit the other bullet and they stopped in mid-air. And so he arrested Hawking. Hawking, of course, would say this is ridiculous and makes no sense. To me, that claim is roughly as plausible.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:34 PM on July 22, 2009


I just want to point out that the police get tons of bogus tips, especially from overanxious old people who see all those "See something say something" ad campaigns. Beyond the overt TIPS program, we've got tons of media trying to draft citizens into being junior detectives, or whatever. The idea that the cops must take all of these at face value and show no discretion is silly.

How is that relevant to a 40 yr old woman who waits at the scene for the police to arrive and whose account has been verified subsequently by Gates himself?

No one is saying that every random tip has to be taken seriously (although they mostly have to be investigated). But we know for a fact that this woman was telling the truth. There are large numbers of people in this thread saying that because Gates was a middle aged, middle class man the policeman should have believed him immediately. Well Whalen was a middle aged, middle class woman. Why was he supposed to ignore her testimony?

Ooh, it's so tempting to accuse you all of sexism right now!
posted by yoink at 7:35 PM on July 22, 2009


When you compare the two reports, and look at the people making them, I think one is far more plausible than the other

Remember, there is an eye-witness to the events outside the house who specifically refutes parts of Gates's account (viz, that he maintained his composure and never raised his voice). I take the cop's report with massive doses of salt--but people who lose their tempers and behave badly frequently emend their memories of their behavior.

How many times in your life have you heard this: "I'M NOT SHOUTING!"?
posted by yoink at 7:38 PM on July 22, 2009


Whalen was not correct. She thought they had backpacks. She admitted she couldn't see who it was. She forgot to mention that one of the parties was a taxi driver who had unloaded luggage from the car. She wasn't from the area. She didn't know who lived in the house. This is the most important element, given the time and location. It's a pretty remarkable claim to make without any real knowledge of the area. Which she did not have. And the police ought to have asked her that. When they met Gates, they should have realized she was wrong about the situation, given how ludicrous the whole thing was. Of course, as many believe, the cops always believed her story and never trusted Gates.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:39 PM on July 22, 2009


What eye witnesses are you talking about? Gates admits that he lost composure once he stepped outside and was immediately arrested. Nobody has come forward to say that there was a time period between when he exited the porch and when he was arrested - at least not to my knowledge. Indeed, it seems like there is nothing to support the claim that Gates was yelling on the porch before he was arrested.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:41 PM on July 22, 2009


So you're saying that it's fine to simply decide things are "facts" as long as they fit your general understanding of the way the world works. Huh...the spirit of George Bush lives on.

Well, yes. The alternative proposed is not accepting any facts about anyone ever because we can't know what they're really thinking, which is absurd. There is a huge difference between being certain of something without good evidence, and thinking that something is probably true based on the evidence along with your understanding of the world.

The police report appears to be gone now, and I don't have a copy. What was the exact situation when they arrived?

For the millionth time, it doesn’t matter, because we are discussing the arrest which happened after the police knew for sure that there had been no crime. That the cop entered the home, then left the home, is completely beside the point.
posted by delmoi at 7:41 PM on July 22, 2009


Given that Gates denies it, yes I find this implausible.

Hot-shot academics can be quite temperamental sometimes.
posted by oaf at 7:47 PM on July 22, 2009


Well, yes. The alternative proposed is not accepting any facts about anyone ever because we can't know what they're really thinking, which is absurd. There is a huge difference between being certain of something without good evidence, and thinking that something is probably true based on the evidence along with your understanding of the world.

Saying something is "probably true" is utterly and completely different from saying that it is a "fact."

I think it is "probably true" that Sgt. Crowley was motivated by racial prejudice in his treatment of Gates, but I know I have no possible way of knowing that that is a "fact." I think it is "probably true" that Gates reacted hostilely and uncooperatively to the cop before he had good reason to do so, but I have no way of knowing that that is a fact. To me it seems the absolute essence of reasonable public and political discourse that we maintain a clear distinction between things our "gut" tells us to be likely and things that we have actual evidence to support.
posted by yoink at 7:51 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


For the millionth time, it doesn’t matter, because we are discussing the arrest which happened after the police knew for sure that there had been no crime. That the cop entered the home, then left the home, is completely beside the point.

No, it's not, because knowing what happened up to that point is required for a complete understanding of the situation at the time of the arrest.
posted by oaf at 7:52 PM on July 22, 2009


giant rockShe had chosen to stay at the scene and continued to stay while the officer investigated.

That's what I'm curious about. If she "stuck around" in the vicinity of the house (across the street, etc.), didn't she then see the door opened, then the driver -- who was dressed in a livery outfit -- get the bags from the towncar (likely parked in Gates's driveway -- visible in all photos of 17 Ware Street), walk up to the porch, bring the luggage in, see the driver drive away? Could she see Gates making a call from the foyer? Was the door still open, or was it now cloased? When police arrived did she inform them of those details?

I think hippybear is onto something from his comment yesterday:
"Or is this a case where she started the giant rock rolling down the hill and could do nothing but stand and watch once the force of gravity took over?"
Gates's has said in his statement yesterday and in his interview today with his daughter:
"We depend on the police—I’m glad that this lady called 911. I hope right now if someone is breaking into my house she’s calling 911 and the police will come!"
I'd love to hear her interviewed: what she thought she saw, what she said to the police, how she feels the incident played out, etc. You've got to believe that ABC, CBS and NBC are courted her for such an interview.
posted by ericb at 7:55 PM on July 22, 2009


Fatbird, I think a lot of your points are thoughtful and reasonable and I appreciate the lack of a blow-by-blow.

What I read from your and oaf's comments, is that it is highly probable that the police officer was at least partially motivated by racism, whether intentional or not, but we cannot arrive at any conclusions because we cannot go beyond this "highly probable" standard--we are unable to absolutely prove racism. Consequently, the discussion remains perpetually at the level of facts, because the facts will bring us incrementally closer to ascertaining the truth of the situation--until then it is unfair (I take you to be saying) to discuss the racial aspects of this situation.

As you can guess, my feeling is that this is a procedure that, whether intentional or not, has the effect of closing down discussions of race. (And I think it's problematic to characterize the viewpoints of people who disagree with you as simply "outrage"--a common response in race/gender conversations in mefi; this is also why I asked for a brightline case--what would the officer need to do in this situation to be a racist in your opinion?) I think that this procedure is premised on the belief that being labeled a racist is an irrevocable indictment, one that should not be made without an airtight case. I believe the way to dissolve a taboo is to discuss it and further explore the complexities of the issue rather than saying that certain topics are off-limits. Because racism is systematic, we all possess some racist tendencies, so it is not nearly as condemnatory to raise the possibility of racism. My desire is not to start a flamewar, but to show a willingness to discuss why people are uncomfortable discussing race. Your comment (in which you mention my loaded questions and strawmen) suggests that I was unable to discuss race without a bias of my own, but I hope both of my comments indicate that my default mode is not instant unfairness and outrage. I would mention that I have suggested no real world consequence as a result of believing race to be involved, such as firing the cop or changing the law. I would also add that, while I may seem on the left fringe on this issue, I'm a pragmatist: I've actually defended the depositions of numerous city police officers in civil litigation, including at least one case slightly similar to this.

All I'm saying is that race is involved and that we should be willing to discuss it. My hunch seems to match that of oaf (who says that the answer to the question "Did the police treat Gates differently because he is black?" may be "probably yes") and you also agree that race is somehow involved. Yet I disagree with your description of this thread--that posters obsessed with the facts are trying to judicially analyze exactly how much racism and what type. Most of the posters seem to suggest that race was not involved at all and that other explanations are mutually exclusive. My position (that race was likely partially involved) is actually much more hedged and less extreme.
posted by johnasdf at 7:56 PM on July 22, 2009


Whalen was not correct. She thought they had backpacks. She admitted she couldn't see who it was. She forgot to mention that one of the parties was a taxi driver who had unloaded luggage from the car. She wasn't from the area. She didn't know who lived in the house. This is the most important element, given the time and location. It's a pretty remarkable claim to make without any real knowledge of the area.

Bullshit. How is "admitting she couldn't see who it was" being "not correct"? She correctly said that she saw two men that she couldn't identify forcing their way into a residential house. "Forgot to mention that one of the parties was a taxi driver"--that's just utterly fucking despicable. Do you really think she witnessed the arrival, witnessed Gates walk around and let himself in the back, come back out and ask the guy to help him force the door open etc. etc. etc.? Really? I just do not understand this desperate desire so many people have to vilify this person who did absolutely nothing wrong. Gates himself says that he hopes she would do exactly the same thing in the same circumstances in future.

"Wasn't from the area" and "didn't know who lived in the house"? So what? She saw two people forcing open the front door of a residential house. In whose world is that not a suspicious action? If you see some guy walking down the street trying the handles of parked cars do you say "hey, I don't live on this street, maybe this guy lives here and just has a car-handle fetish; it's nothing to do with me"? She didn't know that this was going to lead to an epic clusterfuck, did she? All she had reason to expect was that the cop would show up, the person inside would explain why they were there and why they'd forced the door open, and that would be that.

She committed a purely altruistic act and for that she'll find that whenever she Googles her name for the foreseeable future she'll bring up a myriad of creeps branding her a vicious racist.
posted by yoink at 8:02 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


Gates has also stated he has a Bronchial infection which would put the nix on yelling for most people, but the diversity between loud and yelling can be quite a bit. Maybe he should give up a medical report to show that it would have been painful for him to yell, like the police report states over and over.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:05 PM on July 22, 2009


Most of the posters seem to suggest that race was not involved at all

That is simply incorrect. I doubt you could find two separate posters in this thread saying that they are confident that race was not involved. You can find many saying that we do not yet have sufficient evidence to prove that it was. You can find, I think, a majority of actual discreet participants insisting that there is no other possible interpretation.
posted by yoink at 8:06 PM on July 22, 2009


...was a taxi driver.

Actually, to be accurate, the driver is from a private car service that Gates's uses. In Gates's account the driver is indeed black and wears a black suit and driver's cap.
posted by ericb at 8:07 PM on July 22, 2009


A simple request that we all avoid ad hominem responses, such as "Bullshit" and labeling people who disagree with you as "creeps"?
posted by johnasdf at 8:11 PM on July 22, 2009


Look yoink, Whalen was simply wrong about the circumstances that she witnessed. She lacked crucial knowledge that would have demonstrated why she was wrong. She acted without this knowledge. You say "so what" but you need to realize that for all her altruism, she acted with uncertainty. That's fine, but we need to recognize that she's an non-credible witness. She didn't know what she was talking about and she set into motion a pretty disastrous set of events that led to the wrongful arrest and humiliation of a great man. I'm not saying that she wouldn't have reported this to the police had the men been white. I don't know. What I do know is that she lacked important information that ultimately led her to make a misguided claim. She was wrong about what was happening.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:14 PM on July 22, 2009


Gates has also stated he has a Bronchial infection which would put the nix on yelling for most people, but the diversity between loud and yelling can be quite a bit. Maybe he should give up a medical report to show that it would have been painful for him to yell, like the police report states over and over.

There's a much more obvious solution that doesn't involve forcing an innocent man to turn over his medical records. The police ought to turn over the tapes of officer calling dispatch. If his report is correct (despite the fact that Gates insists that it's ludicrous and it doesn't pass the smell test) then we should hear Gates making all of the shouts that he did.

There's a reason we haven't heard those tapes. They would have been released immediately if they supported the officer's version of the story. He's claiming a bullet hit a bullet and most people know that it's nonsense.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:17 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


And Gates appears to have escalated it. Do you find the statement in the police report—that Gates opened the door and said "Why, because I'm a black man in America?" as Crowley was explaining that he was investigating a break-in—implausible?

Who the fuck cares if he escalated the discussion? How is this suspicious behavior regarding the establishment of legal inhabitant of the house -- would a burglar stop to discuss race relations in America? I don't think any cops in Boston are shocked, shocked to hear that black men often feel that they are the targets of racial profiling by the police.

Is there so little crime in Cambridge that multiple squad cars are needed to deal with an irate 58-year-old black man raising his voice on his own front porch? Egads, send some of those cops to Philly, maybe they can use some enhanced interrogation techniques on the yappy dog on my block.
posted by desuetude at 8:21 PM on July 22, 2009


There's a much more obvious solution that doesn't involve forcing an innocent man to turn over his medical records.

I was mostly being facetious when I said that. Mostly.
posted by P.o.B. at 8:25 PM on July 22, 2009


I was mostly being facetious when I said that. Mostly.

Got it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 8:26 PM on July 22, 2009


I'm reading a lot of comments about whether the cops are racist(s). Obviously other than in the institutional we're-all-soaking-in-it way, that's not something we can establish. It's more useful to ask whether, regardless of their overall beliefs and sentiments on racial issues, they behaved in a racist fashion in their treatment of Gates. The answer to this question can be yes without indicting them as KKK members or excluding the possibility that the cops are jackasses who might arrest whites they feel haven't kowtowed enough.

This entire discussion is fascinating to me as a native Texan. Normally racism is something that happens to people of color in my part of the country and is evaluated by Northerners. One of the staples of discussions of racism among white liberal Southerners of my acquaintance who get tired of being told racism is our problem and ours alone is that racism in the North just doesn't happen in the same way it happens down here. I guess that's true because I can't see how anyone I know down here could deny that race was involved in a big way in an incident like this, but because this happened in Cambridge, there's some debate about whether race was involved.
posted by immlass at 8:55 PM on July 22, 2009


I'm getting annoyed that we seem to have to re-hash the same things for 400 comments. We keep slipping from one debate to another. Let's create a handy chart for reference.

Beliefs on the racist qualities of Officer Crowley:
A) It is certain that Crowley acted without racial prejudice
B) It is possible that Crowley acted with prejudice, but see no evidence to claim so
C) It is likely that Crowley acted with prejudice, as his actions are much more likely to occur with a black suspect than a white one
D) It is certain that Crowley acted with prejudice

Actions that Crowley that were either wrong or evidence of his racism:
1) Taking the witness at her word and approaching the house
2) Approaching the house without researching the property
3) Entering the property without Gates' consent
4) Demanding ID from Gates
5) Ignoring Gates' request for his own information
6) Calling in the Harvard campus police
7) Taking Gates' information in order to relay it to ECC
8) Arresting Gates once they were outside

So now we can have handy handles so that we don't keep changing issues. Mine would be B58.


Now, one contention seems to be that (4) was acceptable, but (7) was not. Frankly, I fail to see how they are different. If the officer can ask someone for his ID, he can certainly take the time to check it against police records.

Also, it seems that (1) is now in contention as well?
posted by FuManchu at 9:00 PM on July 22, 2009


No, it's not, because knowing what happened up to that point is required for a complete understanding of the situation at the time of the arrest.

Uh, no it's not. He was arrested for disorderly conduct in public. Nothing other then his disorderly conduct is relevant to whether or not he was conducting himself in a disorderly manner.
posted by delmoi at 9:05 PM on July 22, 2009


What I read from your and oaf's comments, is that it is highly probable that the police officer was at least partially motivated by racism, whether intentional or not, but we cannot arrive at any conclusions because we cannot go beyond this "highly probable" standard--we are unable to absolutely prove racism. Consequently, the discussion remains perpetually at the level of facts, because the facts will bring us incrementally closer to ascertaining the truth of the situation--until then it is unfair (I take you to be saying) to discuss the racial aspects of this situation.

Fairness has something to do with it when we're talking about emailing people and demanding resignations, but in the context of a thread on a discussion site, productivity is a big part of it too. Talking about what should happen to the officers in question is pointless when we don't know even generally what they're guilty of. allen.spaulding was ready to fire them with the argument "the act speaks for itself."

As you can guess, my feeling is that this is a procedure that, whether intentional or not, has the effect of closing down discussions of race.

That may be true, but I don't see how I can help that without censoring myself--in effect, shutting down one side of the discussion to protect the other.

(And I think it's problematic to characterize the viewpoints of people who disagree with you as simply "outrage"--a common response in race/gender conversations in mefi; this is also why I asked for a brightline case--what would the officer need to do in this situation to be a racist in your opinion?) I think that this procedure is premised on the belief that being labeled a racist is an irrevocable indictment, one that should not be made without an airtight case.

Characterizing one side as just expressions of outrage is a simplification, and I don't intend it to shut down debate. I must observe, though, that the outrage side hasn't lacked for articulate proponents who seem not to be afraid to argue their side.

I'm not asking for an airtight case, or absolute proof. But so far, all people like allen.spaulding have pointed to in order to demonstrate the officer's racism is 1) the arrest, and 2) the fact that there's an institutional problem with racism among the police. It's not about a burden of proof necessary to convict, it's about some direct evidence that these cops are racist. A bright line in this case would be a witness who heard one of the officers use the n-word to address Gates; or a history of race related complaints against the officers; or if the arrest were more demonstrably about Gates' race than about the typical officer's authority complex.

I believe the way to dissolve a taboo is to discuss it and further explore the complexities of the issue rather than saying that certain topics are off-limits. Because racism is systematic, we all possess some racist tendencies, so it is not nearly as condemnatory to raise the possibility of racism

I don't think the discussion has foundered on a taboo. I think what we're struggling with here just is a big part of the complexity of racism: the spectrum and difference between systemic racism and individual racism, between conscious and unconscious racism, between cultural and reflective racism. And characterizing this incident as racist requires grappling with that complexity.

All I'm saying is that race is involved and that we should be willing to discuss it.

Perhaps the axis of the misunderstanding here is how we're trying to discuss race, not whether we can discuss it. Some of us want to place the incident in the larger context of systemic racism; some of us want to dissect the facts of this incident to isolate the racism, if it's possible, so we're condemning the right thing.

Most of the posters seem to suggest that race was not involved at all and that other explanations are mutually exclusive.

I don't believe this. As I pointed out earlier, being unwilling to condemn the incident as racist doesn't entail believing that racism wasn't present, it means wanting to see it clearly before labeling it as such. For most of the 'withhold judgement' crowd here, it seems to be more an effort to eliminate the parts of the incident that weren't racist. Has anyone here argued strongly that racism isn't an obvious issue in this incident?
posted by fatbird at 9:48 PM on July 22, 2009


I'll go with B58 as well.
posted by fatbird at 9:54 PM on July 22, 2009


That may be true, but I don't see how I can help that without censoring myself--in effect, shutting down one side of the discussion to protect the other.

For years I used to throw my own feces at people when they disagreed with me. Some said that I was shutting down intelligent conversation, but really, they just wanted me to censor myself.

I'm not saying you're wrong, but you'll have to do better than this old canard.
posted by allen.spaulding at 9:56 PM on July 22, 2009


For years I used to throw my own feces at people when they disagreed with me. Some said that I was shutting down intelligent conversation, but really, they just wanted me to censor myself.

So my contributions to this thread are nothing but me throwing my own feces? That's awesome, allen. And I'm the one shutting down debate?
posted by fatbird at 10:00 PM on July 22, 2009 [1 favorite]


That's a ridiculous way to interpret the statement. Someone accused a certain debate tactic as designed to silence others. Your response was, well, I'd change but then I'd be silencing myself, therefore I won't change. This is an old trick. I showed that such a justification can be used to evade any criticism of an argumentative tactic, regardless of what it is.

But go ahead, play the victim card. Throw in two scoops of reverse discrimination and a pinch of fidelity to epistemological limitation and we're all set.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:11 PM on July 22, 2009


I've been arguing against you, and said that I was being told that I was shutting down intelligent conversation. You analogized that with your statement how your throwing feces got you the same response. You think it's a great leap to see your comparison between my arguments and throwing feces?

I'm not playing the victim card (though you can take your "two scoops of reverse discrimination", implying that I'm some angry white male with an axe to grind, and blow it out your ass). I'm pointing out that your response to me is an attack with no value to the thread except to demonstrate the absurdity of the charge that I'm the one shutting down debate.

Johnasdf said that the fact-checkers were having the effect of shutting down discussion. I replied that the fact-checking was important to me, and I didn't see a way to avoid the effect if it's there without shutting down discussion of the facts. It's not about censorship, it's about the problem of protecting one aspect of the discussion at the expense of another.
posted by fatbird at 10:22 PM on July 22, 2009


I replied that the fact-checking was important to me, and I didn't see a way to avoid the effect if it's there without shutting down discussion of the facts.

So this makes me worry. Do you really not understand the claims being made here?

FPP: Dalai Lama shot in back of the head by Chinese national.

Some Posters: This is outrageous
Others: We don't know all the facts, this could have been in self-defense. How dare you make accusations before all the claims are in?
Some Posters: This speaks for itself
Others: Well you can jump to conclusions all you want, but some of us care about the truth and refuse to condemn another until all the facts have been presented.

The problem is the burden of proof you're asking for, combined with the condescending way that you are portraying others, makes it seem like only one party is interested in "fact-checking," and that others are hot-heads whose outrage makes things worse.

So let me put this bluntly. One of the country's leading scholars, a man who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of truth and a deeper understanding of racial issues, a brilliant and deeply respected individual, was arrested in his own home after being falsely accused of breaking in. The charges presented against him were facially ridiculous, even under the most generous interpretation of events. This man is 5'7, walks with a cane, and has significant breathing issues; he has won a MacArthur genius grant and is widely beloved within his community. He was falsely accused by a police officer of breaking in, and then in a sworn statement, of acting completely irrationally, out of character, and generally conforming to a preconceived notion of both professorial entitlement and black outrage. He has denied this charges, presented evidence that some of them are literally impossible, and remained remarkably lucid and thoughtful throughout an incredibly difficult time. One of the most accomplished black men in the country was reduced to a common criminal on trumped up charges and arrested in his own home. He now has to deal with all of this in public. He was just humiliated by the police and now even the President is talking about it, and he has lost the ability to have any control over his public image because of some hothead cop who lied in a sworn statement designed to cover his own ass after a bullshit arrest. Talk radio and right-wing bloggers are saying he wanted this, that he planned it, that he was a race-baiter, and that the cop was a hero.

Now you might not think that this speaks for itself. That's fine. You might think that there are some important facts we don't know. I don't know Emmet Till's mother's maiden name. Doesn't mean I don't think I can weigh in on injustice. Others are pointedly telling you that you are setting a bar so high that even this blatant example of racial injustice becomes "unclear" to you and that you are aggressively casting aspersions on those who feel outrage. I don't know Emmet Till's mother's maiden name. It's not important. Most of the discussion here is not important. If you can look at that photo of a brilliant black man being brutalized in his own home and think that those who are upset are in the wrong, I don't know what information will ever change your mind.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:43 PM on July 22, 2009 [5 favorites]


If the officer can ask someone for his ID, he can certainly take the time to check it against police records.

Sure. From AwkwardPause's link:
Any further investigation of Gates' right to be present in the house could have been done elsewhere. His decision to call HUPD seems disproportionate, but we could give him points for thoroughness if he had made that call from his car while keeping an eye on the house.
Which would have struck an appropriate balance between continued presumption of guilt, and respect for someone's right to be unharassed in what was probably (based on the just-viewed ID) his own home.
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:50 PM on July 22, 2009


If I accepted your presentation of the narrative, Allen, I would happily agree the act speaks for itself. But I don't. And neither do others. I would go into what I disagree with, but that's what's been argued over the last 700 posts, and I doubt one more recital will make a difference.

It's not that I think there are important facts we don't know. I disagree with the spin you've put on it, with the hyperbole you've employed, and with tacit acceptance of some details as settled when I don't think they are. It's not that I'm setting a high bar. I don't need a videotape of the cops in question wearing white sheets. I've already agreed that the end result is a terrible thing, and that race is unavoidably part of the whole incident. I don't think anyone is wrong to be upset that this happened.

What got me involved here was posting the officer's email address--the call to arms to let him know exactly what you think, and the wishes for him to be fired. Just hours after it happened, and a "get the racist officers" posse is already being formed. That's exactly when I start asking questions about the details. Because before I try to get someone fired, I'd like a little certainty about why I'm trying to get him fired. And the fact that, 700 posts in, you're still making basic errors of fact about it is exactly why I'm still arguing the facts.
posted by fatbird at 11:28 PM on July 22, 2009 [3 favorites]


Allen, it's not just that people believe your interpretation of the facts to be problematic. It's that they believe it to be problematic in very specific and fundamental ways, and furthermore that your use of emotionally-loaded but irrelevant points (such as Gates' prestige and accolades) undermines your objectivity on this issue.

To them, this isn't about obscure trivia like Emmet Till's mother's maiden name. It's about discrepancies in the different accounts of the story, discrepancies that are currently only resolved if you take one side at face value and discount the other. You can argue that the legacy of racism, in both its personal and institutionalized forms, must significantly inform our assumptions. You may be right, but others don't agree and I feel like we've gotten so bogged down in the details that we've missed the opportunity to hear your reasoned case for why you believe that. In the meantime, your opponents are fully aware of the legacy of racism but are unwilling to specifically apply it to this incident with any level of certainty.

Where there isn't certainty, there's benefit of the doubt. Not just for things we don't know, but for recognition of the "fog of war". We could play Monday Morning Quarterback here, or we could realize that these two men had to make decisions based upon much more limited information than we have now.

In my opinion, that benefit of the doubt goes both ways. I wouldn't have wanted Gates arrested, I'm certainly glad the charges were dropped. If he decides to initiate a civil suit against the city then that's his right and I support it fully. But I also believe that the officer should be protected from immediate harm caused by accusations of racism. I don't think we the public are the appropriate arbiters of justice in this case, and I don't think it's worth continuing the spectacle just so we might possibly bring national attention to the (very real) problems with institutionalized and personal racism.

And that's where you lost me, personally. Your first contribution to this thread was a call for this cop's personal information because you had "a few opinions to share with him and his family." You may feel that was justified, that nothing will change unless we get angry about this and call for change. I think that's wrong, and I think that your approach was destructive in nature.

I don't mean to be dismissive, and I mean no offense. I certainly understand your frustration... to you, this whole comment may just read as willful blindness disguised with a condescending "let's be reasonable" tone. I promise I don't mean it that way, and I do respect the perspective of those who have more certainty than I do.

I just don't agree with it.
posted by Riki tiki at 1:10 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


Uh, no it's not. He was arrested for disorderly conduct in public. Nothing other then his disorderly conduct is relevant to whether or not he was conducting himself in a disorderly manner.

And the events leading up to it have some bearing on whether how reasonable Gates' behavior was. To construct a hypothetical situation where it doesn't matter what happened up to that point is to ignore relevant facts. Being willfully uninformed makes a complete understanding of the situation an uphill battle.

Regardless of whether Gates was actually violating the law, he shouldn't have been arrested. Shouting too loudly at police officers for accusing you of breaking into your own home is up there with jaywalking. Do Cambridge police routinely ticket people for jaywalking?
posted by oaf at 4:33 AM on July 23, 2009


"Gates said Crowley walked into his home without his permission and only arrested him as the professor followed him to the porch, repeatedly demanding the sergeant's name and badge number because he was unhappy over his treatment.

Crowley said Wednesday that he won't apologize.

President Barack Obama, during a prime-time news conference Wednesday, said he didn't know what role race played in the incident but added that police in Cambridge, a city outside Boston, 'acted stupidly' in arresting Gates even after he offered proof that he was in his own home.

'I think it's fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry,' Obama said. '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 enforcement disproportionately, and that's just a fact.'"*
posted by ericb at 5:53 AM on July 23, 2009


Conservative African American pundit John McWhorter (often called a conservative) blogging on Gates:


That sort of thing has not been typical, however, of Gates. He has even been assailed by black writers lefter than him of being what used to be called an accommodationist, such as by Reverend Eugene Rivers, and Houston Baker... Gates has never been a rabble-rouser.

And meanwhile, the idea that he should have exhibited "deference to the police" ignores the totemic status that black men's encounters with the police have in the way countless people process being black and what it means. There's a reason Gates told the Washington Post Tuesday that what happened to him was part of a "racial narrative," and that awareness surely informed his angry conduct.

The relationship between black men and police forces is, in fact, the main thing keeping America from becoming "post-racial" in any sense.

[...]

What creates the true rub is unpleasant live social encounters, and none have such potent effect as ones with the cops.

When I first started writing for the media on race, despite my initial reputation as a hidebound "black conservative" I made sure to point up how important this problem between blacks and police forces was, such as in this now ancient editorial. It was the first time I got a raft of hate mail from white people--they only wanted me to write about things black people were doing wrong. I expanded it into a chapter in my anthology of essays--and my impression is that it has been the least read of any of the chapters in that book. People seem to see the issue as somehow beside the point.

It isn't--it's a defining sentiment of a race in transition. It's behind the notorious "Stop Snitching" ideology that discourages black inner city residents from helping cops root out the thugs killing other black people. It's one of the keystone topics of "conscious" rap. It's black Harvard sociologist Lawrence Bobo, who sat with Gates at the stationhouse after his arrest, saying "Ain't nothing post-racial about the United States of America."

[...]

One night at about one in the morning I was walking to a convenience store. I was in jeans, sneakers and a short-sleeved button-down shirt open over a T-shirt. I had a few days' worth of stubble. I crossed a two-lane street far from the traffic light or crosswalk, and when I saw a car coming at about 25 yards away I broke into a quick trot to get across before it got to where I was.

I hadn't realized that the car was a police car, and the officer quickly turned on the siren, made a screeching U-turn and pulled up to me on the other side of the street. The window rolled down, revealing a white man who would have been played by Danny Aiello if it had been a movie. "You always cross streets whenever you feel like it like that?" he sneered. "I'm sorry, officer," I said; "I wasn't thinking." "Even in front of a police car?" he growled threateningly. My stomach jumped, and I realized that at that moment, despite being a tenured professor at an elite university, to this man I was a black street thug, a "youth."

I simply cannot imagine him stopping like this if a white man of the same age in the same clothes with the same stubble had done the exact same thing; he was trawling through a neighborhood which, unfortunately, does sometimes harbor a certain amount of questionable behavior by young black men on that street at that time of night, and to him, the color of my skin rendered me a suspect.

I explained again as calmly as I could that I had meant no disrespect. I frankly suspect that the educated tone of my voice, so often an inconvenience in my life, was part of what made him pull off - "Not the type," he was probably thinking. But if I had answered in a black-inflected voice with the subtle mannerisms that distinguish one as "street," the encounter would quite possibly have gone on longer and maybe even gotten ugly. He pulled off, and left me shaken and violated.

This kind of thing--i.e. the larger "narrative"--is what informed Henry Louis Gates' response to the police questioning him for breaking into his own house. It's a real problem. There are things that would help us get past it, and training white officers in sensitivity is but one.

[...]

But until that happens, we cannot call people like Gates drama queens for treating the invasion of their privacy by the fuzz as a symptom of something larger and vocalizing accordingly.

I maintain that racism is no longer the main problem for black America--but have always said that when racism rears its ugly head it must be stomped upon. In 2009, Obama acknowledged, black men's encounters with the police (as well as some black women's) are unlike enough to what whites encounter that attention must still be paid.


***

Randall Kennedy reading from a 1955 New Yorker story read written by Gates.

"Blacks — in particular, black men — swap their experiences of police encounters like war stories, and there are few who don't have more than one story to tell."

The story goes on to cite examples of prominent African-American men and their seemingly inexplicable — but perhaps all too explicable — encounters with police officers.

•"Erroll McDonald, one of the few prominent blacks in publishing, tells of renting a Jaguar in New Orleans and being stopped by the police — simply 'to show cause why I shouldn't be deemed a problematic Negro in a possibly stolen car.' "

• "Wynton Marsalis says, '(Expletive), the police slapped me upside the head when I was in high school. I wasn't Wynton Marsalis then. I was just another nigger standing out somewhere on the street whose head could be slapped and did get slapped.'"

•"The crime novelist Walter Mosley recalls, 'When I was a kid in Los Angeles, they used to spot me all the time, beat on me, follow me around, tell me that I was stealing things.' "

•"William Julius Wilson ... was stopped near a small New England town by a policeman who wanted to know what he was doing in those parts."

The book Kennedy quotes from is one of his own: Race, Crime and the Law. The magazine story was written by Henry Louis Gates Jr.

What makes the Gates affair so extraordinary, Kennedy says, is its outrageousness — it's like the unimaginably perfect rock in a whole river of rocks.

posted by johnasdf at 5:57 AM on July 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


Do Cambridge police routinely ticket people for jaywalking?

No.

Jaywalking ("Is it any wonder, then, that the word 'jaywalker' was supposedly coined in Boston?") is against the law in Massachusetts (Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 90, Section 18A) and punishable by $1.00. Since the law has been on the books, it has never really been enforced.
"'To stop a pedestrian -- it's kind of a joke,' says Lieutenant Jack Albert, traffic commander for the Cambridge Police Department. 'Do you know what it would cost the community to prosecute that violation? It's like $75 or $80 to prosecute. But there is a law on the books.'"
As well, many believe that if a pedestrian refuses to pay, they can't be identified, as they are not required to produce an I.D.
posted by ericb at 6:10 AM on July 23, 2009


To add to Randall Kennedy's list:
"Gates said he has gone out of his way in the past to avoid run-ins with police. When he first arrived at Harvard in 1991, he moved into a large house in the mostly white suburb of Lexington and promptly visited the police station to introduce himself.

'I wanted them to see my black face,' Gates said. 'I would be driving home late from Harvard. I had a Mercedes. I didn’t want to be stopped for "driving while black." ...I should have done that with the Cambridge Police Department.'"*
posted by ericb at 6:17 AM on July 23, 2009


Actually I have been stopped for jaywalking in Cambridge twice my lifetime. Most recently about 9 years ago.
posted by batou_ at 7:50 AM on July 23, 2009


Interesting commentary from McWhorter; thanks for that.

I still think this whole episode is inflated beyond significance, distorted by the peculiar laws and forces of celebrity, and captive to those larger political conversations for which we lack a ready lightning-rod. If we fold the tabloid into an ink blot test, it's because we need the latter.

We all know that police get away with homicide on a regular basis, and it's marvelous filler for the back pages. The bruising of a Harvard ego - one that is sufficiently charged with politics to light up our AM towers, and with that germ of controversy and story to drive our presses - is a matter of more consequence than any number of prose-simple assaults and slayings. Witness fellow Bostonian David Woodman, whose death informs no political agenda, offers no editorial insights, invites no spin, bites no dog, and goes unanswered and comparatively unremembered.
posted by kid ichorous at 7:51 AM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Maybe I've been really lucky, but as a black male, I rarely have such unpleasant dealings with cops and can't remember the last time I did. On the flip side, that could all change tomorrow.

Gates sounds like he has a chip on his shoulder, for understandable reasons, but that usually doesn't fly with cops, right or wrong. I get the sense that Gates was reacting to decades of abuse and discrimination as opposed to this isolated incident and again that's understandable, I'm just not sure it was the right course of action in this situation. But at this point, it probably doesn't matter. What is true and what really happened has taken a back seat to the larger racial narrative in America and if that birthed some actual education on both sides. In that context, whether Gates was wrong (and he sounds like he was being a bit dickish along with the cop) becomes immaterial and possibly good.

The cop? The cop clearly was a dick and should have the sense not to arrest an old guy with a cane, even if he is mouthing off. A good cop should know how to prevent a situation from escalating. The flip side of that is that good citizen should know the same.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:53 AM on July 23, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sorry forgot to add that I did not get ticketed either time. However, I have been ticketed for riding my bike down an empty sidewalk in Cambridge (~5 years ago).
posted by batou_ at 7:59 AM on July 23, 2009


Actually I have been stopped for jaywalking in Cambridge twice my lifetime. Most recently about 9 years ago.

But were you actually jaywalking?

Charging Gates with a public disturbance for raising his voice on his own front porch is like charging someone for jaywalking for standing on the street next to the curb while waiting for the light to change.
posted by desuetude at 8:00 AM on July 23, 2009


desuetude, upthread someone asked a question about Cambridge police ticketing people for jaywalking. I am just replying to that.
posted by batou_ at 8:05 AM on July 23, 2009


Sgt. James Crowley, Cambridge Police on WEEI this morning (audio | 22:29).
posted by ericb at 8:26 AM on July 23, 2009


I'm surprised this thread is still going strong. I just watched Frederick Wiseman's (of Titicut Follies) Law & Order again last night. It is hard to find a legal copy, but torrents abound if you want to Google it. Set in 1969, weeks after the riots, Wiseman follows around predominently white police officers doing beat work in mostly black neighborhoods. The Miranda warning is clearly in the still-optional stage. My first viewing of it, I was really shocked by the lack of racism and how well cops handled themselves. Sure there were some shocking scenes, but for the most part the cops seemed content on merely keeping calm and preventing the situation from escalating.

But on viewing it last night, I began to realize the point of the film. There was one paticularly shocking scene that sort of stands out from the rest of the movie. An undercover cop (who is black) is conducting a sting at a hotel known for prostitution. The cameras come in a bit after the bust is made, and there's a bit of commotion as the prostitute tries to get away. She's young, black and actually very pretty. They catch her quickly and the first thing we see is the cop choking her from behind and asking her a series of condescending questions. It is really brutal, he is really choking her, her eyes sort of begin to bug out and just as she begins to go limp the cop lets go. There are several officers here and the one asking her questions continues to calmly ask her questions as she's gasping for breath. She's clearly broken down and pleads for them not to choke her again, to which he responds with a complete denial that they were ever choking her at all. He strolls through her room, goes through her diary, ignores her pleas to stop rummaging through her things. He finds a picture of another known prostitute, asks her if she knows her and if he can keep the picture. It is her only picture of her friend and she wants to keep it, but he keeps asking her and she relents. It was a great power play, straight out of 1984 or Schindler's List. They had broken her very quickly. They booked her, but it is clear from the conversation that this was all theater. No one even questioned that by arresting her they were going to stop prostitution, or that she'd be anywhere but back to where she was as soon as she was released. It was just like the myriad of mundane social ills the documentary captures: burglary arrests, domestic disputes, drunks.

Why was she treated so harshly, so differently? A lot of factors are at play, but I think the key difference is that when law & order becomes paramount, we quickly lose any civil liberties we might have. You get the feeling that the police sort of expected everything else to occur and they were there to help people deal with it the best they can, but with prostitution they were some sort of moral knights protecting society, and if a few townsfolk die while you're trying to save the dragon it pays off in the long term. And that's sort of what we have here. Hey if a black guy can yell at a cop, who knows where we go from here. We lose all law & order, look at the crowds! At this point they stopped carrying about whether an actual crime took place, but whether this notion of law & order is being maintained.

The above example of jaywalking in front of a cop is great, he doesn't care so much that anyone is jaywalking, but that they are doing it in front of his car. Can't have a black thug doing that, what will they do next? Gotta maintain that law & order.
posted by geoff. at 9:10 AM on July 23, 2009


carrying = caring, ugh that's what I get for not looking at what I type.
posted by geoff. at 9:13 AM on July 23, 2009


I don't think the cops were being racist in any demonstrable way, but they were being fascist. If you can't be arrested for yelling at the Starbucks guy for fucking up your latte, I don't see why you can be arrested for yelling at cops for assuming you broke into your own damn house.

They were simply pissed that he was telling them that they fucked up and arrested him just to shut him up.
posted by ignignokt at 9:24 AM on July 23, 2009


Though, I've gotta say, his neighbor is an asshole. If it was a white guy in a suit trying to get his door unstuck, I really doubt any cops would be called.

Stuff like this always makes me think of a white acquaintance that crashed his car into a telephone pole while drunk. What did the cop do? Told him to be careful and to drive home. White privilege can be an awesome thing. For white people.
posted by ignignokt at 9:32 AM on July 23, 2009


Though, I've gotta say, his neighbor is an asshole. If it was a white guy in a suit trying to get his door unstuck, I really doubt any cops would be called.


Ugh. You have no way at all of knowing what was going through the person's mind that called the cops. It was someone who worked in the neighborhood, and made a call to say that it looked like someone was breaking into a house. You really think that they would have not called if the people they had seen shouldering a door were white? Would you say this if the caller was black? Not every white/black interaction has to be based on racism, you know.

For all you know, the person knew Gates, and thought she was doing him a favor. Gates even said he is glad that someone is keeping an eye on his house. So can we stop with the "she was white- he was black- therefore she's a racist!" bullshit now? This is about the cop that fucked up.
posted by oneirodynia at 9:46 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


The above example of jaywalking in front of a cop is great, he doesn't care so much that anyone is jaywalking, but that they are doing it in front of his car. Can't have a black thug doing that, what will they do next? Gotta maintain that law & order.

Stuff like this always makes me think of a white acquaintance that crashed his car into a telephone pole while drunk. What did the cop do? Told him to be careful and to drive home. White privilege can be an awesome thing. For white people.

This reminds me of something that happened to me in Vancouver. I live downtown, and at the time lived across the street from a very expensive hotel that had a cut-through, a covered passage that exited into the middle of the block, right across from my front door, that I often used to go to the 7-11. It was around midnight. As I went from my apartment to the 7-11, there were four black teenagers sitting on the steps to the passage, just hanging out. As I returned, there were two cops who had all four standing up. One was being handcuffed and the other three let go. The other three walked into the street to cross it, and one cop yelled at them not to jaywalk, as I was in the middle of the street, jaywalking to my apartment door.
posted by fatbird at 9:53 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


You have no way at all of knowing what was going through the person's mind that called the cops.

You're right - I don't. I should have thrown "probably" in there before "an asshole."

I'd still bet that white people that have to forcibly unjam their doors get the benefit of the doubt more often than black people.
posted by ignignokt at 9:54 AM on July 23, 2009


I bet Korean store owners do too, among others.
posted by kid ichorous at 10:06 AM on July 23, 2009


fatbird: Oddly/sadly enough, that makes me recall another fucked up incident.

I looked out the window and saw three guys barbecuing by their building, which was next to my building. (I took a picture because I was snap-happy back then.)

An hour so later, I saw this.

It's not illegal to barbecue there, nor were those guys loud or disruptive. The cop left a few minutes later, and no one ended up getting arrested. However, I imagine being forced to assume the position and questioned by a cop probably makes the rest of the barbecue much less fun.

I know there's a lot of possible explanations for the cop's behavior. Maybe those guys "fit the description" of someone he was looking for. (Personally, I suspect one of the people from my building called the cops.) I don't know exactly what was running through the heads of the policeman or whoever (if anyone) called him.

But a questioning-and-search has never happened to me while barbecuing in semi-public (I'm Asian), and I've never heard about this happening to anyone white.
posted by ignignokt at 10:10 AM on July 23, 2009


From Crowley's interview: I'm still just amazed that somebody of his level of intelligence could stoop to such a level and berate me, accuse me of being a racist, of racial profiling, and speaking about my mother. It's just beyond words.

Oh, if only all of us could put somebody in jail for being insulted. What a great world we live in, this U.S. of A., where people can be put in jail for saying "yo mamma"!
posted by jabberjaw at 10:21 AM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


From Crowley's interview: I'm still just amazed that somebody of his level of intelligence could stoop to such a level and berate me, accuse me of being a racist, of racial profiling, and speaking about my mother. It's just beyond words.

I'm still just amazed that Crowley could possibly have remotely thought for one nanosecond that handcuffing a black Harvard professor, even an obscure one, on his front porch before a crowd and hauling him off to the hoosegow would in any conceivable way end well for Crowley. Does this guy have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever?
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:35 AM on July 23, 2009


From Crowley's interview: I'm still just amazed that somebody of his level of intelligence could stoop to such a level and berate me, accuse me of being a racist, of racial profiling, and speaking about my mother. It's just beyond words.

I've got a few words that can describe the background processes that led to his interpretations of Gates behavior and caused him to have this emotional reaction. I have all kinds of words.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:51 AM on July 23, 2009


Maybe you should take a break from the thread allen.spaulding, it seems to be making you angry and your usual thoughtfulness isn't on display so much.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'd swear there was a supreme court case in the last 10 years where they ruled that yelling "fucking pigs" at a police man was protected by the 1st amendment. So far, all I can find is a Virginia case (in Lynchburg of course), where the judge wrote,

"the First Amendment requires properly trained police officers to exercise a higher degree of restraint when confronted by disorderly conduct and abusive language. "
posted by nomisxid at 11:07 AM on July 23, 2009


also seemingly applicable, how a police department in washington state (shoreline is just north of seattle) dealt with the hijacking of a home.



"Police officers who arrived said Vanvolkenburg's name was on the tax records, so they let him stay....County officials said the little piece of paper does not prove ownership, even if someone lived in a house for years....Sharon Larson took the papers to the sheriff's office and made one more plea.

A SWAT team searched the home Monday evening but Vanvolkenburg was not inside."
posted by nomisxid at 11:31 AM on July 23, 2009


Obama's comment on this is really getting a lot of play in the media: here's an NYT article. I kind of surprised, I didn't think the comment was really that interesting.
posted by delmoi at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2009


er I am kind of surprised.
posted by delmoi at 11:37 AM on July 23, 2009


I'm still just amazed that Crowley could possibly have remotely thought for one nanosecond that handcuffing a black Harvard professor, even an obscure one, on his front porch before a crowd and hauling him off to the hoosegow would in any conceivable way end well for Crowley. Does this guy have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever?

This comment sums up the strange intersection of class and race that make these things so interesting.
posted by Bookhouse at 11:40 AM on July 23, 2009


I'm still just amazed that Crowley could possibly have remotely thought for one nanosecond that handcuffing a black Harvard professor, even an obscure one, on his front porch before a crowd and hauling him off to the hoosegow would in any conceivable way end well for Crowley. Does this guy have no sense of self-preservation whatsoever?

I think there's two things going on that make the action more plausible from Crowley's perspective.

First, a variation of the saying "all politics is local". I doubt Crowley was thinking about how this would play in the national media. He probably didn't expect it go national at all, if he thought about it at all. The constituency to which he was playing was 1) Gates himself, and 2) all the police officers he'd summoned. It's been pretty well established here and elsewhere that a lot of police take a "brook no dissent" attitude towards people, and I'd imagine that it's an attitude that's reinforced by having a bunch of cops watching you, who will comment later on about how you handle it if you don't do it in the "right" way.

Second, cops do this sort of thing all the time without repercussion: arrest the troublemaker, establish your authority, let him go later (maybe). To the extent that racism played a direct role in Crowley's mind, that probably just reinforced the plan to do what he'd likely done many times over without issue. Crowley himself said that he didn't think the fact that it was Professor Gates was significant.

That's all speculation, but I wouldn't be surprised if that were the general mental state Crowley was in when he decided to make the arrest. In that interview, he seems a bit surprised that it's caused an uproar at all.
posted by fatbird at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2009


And the events leading up to it have some bearing on whether how reasonable Gates' behavior was. To construct a hypothetical situation where it doesn't matter what happened up to that point is to ignore relevant facts. Being willfully uninformed makes a complete understanding of the situation an uphill battle.

Well, first of all the charges have already been dropped. But it's pretty clear that the cop knew he was in his own home (or on the porch) when he was arrested. The question about whether he "broke in" or whatever is totally irrelevant. It's just an attempt to muddy the water. We don't need a "complete understanding" of everything, only the facts that pertain to whether or not he was conducting himself in a disorderly manner.

If you get arrested for DUI, the judge is not going to care what happened at the bar, or why you decided to get behind the wheel or whatever. All that matters are the facts that pertain to the moment you were pulled over.

The issue the cop was called about was over, he could have left, but he chose to arrest the guy because his poor little feelings were hurt.
posted by delmoi at 11:59 AM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


BTW, it's not uncommon for Harvard to own all or part of a prominent faculty member's house (and for them to get services from Harvard's real estate office as a result); a dear friend's father is a bigwig professor there and owns his house in Cambridge save for the partial amount the university owns.

As a former Somervillain (1 stop up from Hahvahd on the T), I've been told that the appalling real estate market makes sweetheart arrangements like these a good way to lure in professors who might not be able to afford a house there otherwise. How prevalent this is, I don't know -- but it's not unheard of.
posted by bitter-girl.com at 12:14 PM on July 23, 2009


I've read (almost) this whole thread and here's what I don't get, and have not seen mentioned in the entire thread.

If you are breaking into your own house, which Gates clearly was, by all parties' accounts, why are you not contemplating the possibility that the police are going to show up? You live in a city, with lots of neighbors and police. Your house (and/or other houses on your block/in your neighborhood) have been burglarized in the past. Why does it appear that Gates didn't even contemplate the question "what if someone sees me doing this and I have to prove to them that I live here and am not a burglar?"

I've broken into my house before (by jimmying a window, which is even more suspicious than shouldering a door) and you better believe I was EXPECTING the police to show up any minute, and had my ID on me and was prepared to tell them the whole story.

The existence (or non-existence) of a racial element notwithstanding; just from a practical point of view, why is he surprised and completely unprepared when the police arrive after he just busted down his front door in broad daylight?
posted by jckll at 12:15 PM on July 23, 2009


ABC News video: Sgt. Crowley is unrepentant.
posted by ericb at 12:22 PM on July 23, 2009


Why does it appear that Gates didn't even contemplate the question "what if someone sees me doing this and I have to prove to them that I live here and am not a burglar?"

Because he had unlocked the front door and found that it wouldn't open. He wondered if his secretary had latched it from inside. He entered through the back door, saw that it wasn't latched from inside and found that it was stilll stuck. He went back to the front. In Gates's mind he wanted to "unstick" it and asked his driver to help him do so. The driver pushed on it with his shoulder, eventually getting it open. In actuality and in Gates's mind he didn't "break-in" to his own home and likely didn't even considered that someone might mistake what was going on.

And, as I mentioned above:
She had chosen to stay at the scene and continued to stay while the officer investigated.

That's what I'm curious about. If she "stuck around" in the vicinity of the house (across the street, etc.), didn't she then see the door opened, then the driver -- who was dressed in a livery outfit -- get the bags from the towncar (likely parked in Gates's driveway -- visible in all photos of 17 Ware Street), walk up to the porch, bring the luggage in, see the driver drive away? Could she see Gates making a call from the foyer? Was the door still open, or was it now cloased? When police arrived did she inform them of those details?
posted by ericb at 12:31 PM on July 23, 2009


...why is he surprised and completely unprepared when the police arrive after he just busted down his front door in broad daylight?

I don't think he was surprised. He said he was grateful that someone called. Gates ended up getting miffed at the attitude he perceived Crowley copped (hey!) after Crowley refused to provide him with his badge number.
posted by ericb at 12:33 PM on July 23, 2009


Cambridge mayor: Gates' arrest shouldn't have happened.
posted by ericb at 12:38 PM on July 23, 2009


“As I said yesterday, that apology will never come,” Sergeant Crowley said on Thursday. “It won’t come from me as Jim Crowley, it won’t come from me as a sergeant in the Cambridge police department.”
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 12:40 PM on July 23, 2009


WCVB-TV: Officer Reacts To Racism Charge.
posted by ericb at 12:41 PM on July 23, 2009


Question -- having nothing to do with this case, but still curious. All local reports indicate that Crowley lives in Natick, MA. Does anyone know if there's a residency requirement for police officers in Cambridge? I believe there is one in Boston for police and firefighters. Or, am I incorrect on these points?
posted by ericb at 12:43 PM on July 23, 2009


Does anyone know if there's a residency requirement for police officers in Cambridge?

Ah, it appears the answer is "no:"
"Cambridge residents are strongly encouraged to apply as residency preference is given during the hiring process."
posted by ericb at 12:47 PM on July 23, 2009


ericb: "Why does it appear that Gates didn't even contemplate the question "what if someone sees me doing this and I have to prove to them that I live here and am not a burglar?"

Because he had unlocked the front door and found that it wouldn't open. He wondered if his secretary had latched it from inside. He entered through the back door, saw that it wasn't latched from inside and found that it was stilll stuck. He went back to the front. In Gates's mind he wanted to "unstick" it and asked his driver to help him do so. The driver pushed on it with his shoulder, eventually getting it open. In actuality and in Gates's mind he didn't "break-in" to his own home and likely didn't even considered that someone might mistake what was going on."

Sorry, but that's crap. Gates is assuredly one of the smartest and most educated men in the universe. And you mean to tell me he didn't even consider that 2 people forcing open the front door to a house might be perceived as a break-in?
posted by jckll at 12:51 PM on July 23, 2009


If you get arrested for DUI, the judge is not going to care what happened at the bar, or why you decided to get behind the wheel or whatever. All that matters are the facts that pertain to the moment you were pulled over.

This isn't really comparable. Is there a decibel level over which Gates was guilty of disorderly conduct and one under which he wasn't? Are there other, say, field disorderliness tests that can be administered to determine whether or not he was disorderly?
posted by oaf at 12:53 PM on July 23, 2009


Second, cops do this sort of thing all the time without repercussion: arrest the troublemaker, establish your authority, let him go later (maybe).

Sure, but in Cambridge and Boston, I would think the cops had traded roughly a million stories about running afoul of Harvard or MIT students/faculty or other "posh" people who make a giant screaming stink about pretty much any encounter with the police. Crowley's not a newbie; after he had seen the Harvard ID, what in god's name would make him proceed to think something so idiotic as "I'll show this guy!" and believe that the powers that be would do something other than crush him like a used leech bug.

'Cause, yeah, if I were a cop in Boston and pulled over someone named Kennedy in a Mercedes, I'd probably go ahead and cavity search 'em on Mass. Ave. if they gave me any lip. What could possibly go wrong? Beyond even the class-conflict issues, have these folks never seen other cops end up on YouTube and pilloried after a tazering incident or watched an episode of The Wire?

I'm paid to be an authority figure too, but if I were inclined to be an unethical asshole in class (which I'm not), the fact that most of my students carry cellphones that record video would lead me to conclude it might not be the wisest career move.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:53 PM on July 23, 2009


Apropos of absolutely nothing; after reading this thread for three days, I only just now noticed how close officer Jim Crowley's name is to the famous segregation laws.

A totally meaningless coincidence, but for a discussion so focused on race relations, I can't believe it took me up to this point to see it.

posted by quin at 12:56 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


And you mean to tell me he didn't even consider that 2 people forcing open the front door to a house might be perceived as a break-in?

I actually don't think he considered that. I suspect that he figured he had already entered his house and was trying to solve a problem with the door. In the end we know that he and the officer engaged with each other, ID was given. It's obvious that emotions and words were exchanged. Who said what to whom and in what order? We will never know the exact details, as it boils down to "he said, he said." As delmoi points out above, the most salient issue is why was Gates arrested for "disorderly conduct" Was it warranted?
delmoi: "Well, first of all the charges have already been dropped. But it's pretty clear that the cop knew he was in his own home (or on the porch) when he was arrested. The question about whether he "broke in" or whatever is totally irrelevant. It's just an attempt to muddy the water. We don't need a "complete understanding" of everything, only the facts that pertain to whether or not he was conducting himself in a disorderly manner."
Even if Gates considered it, it doesn't matter now, since he was never charged with B&E, he provided his ID to Crowley, etc.
posted by ericb at 1:00 PM on July 23, 2009


ericb: "...why is he surprised and completely unprepared when the police arrive after he just busted down his front door in broad daylight?

I don't think he was surprised. He said he was grateful that someone called. Gates ended up getting miffed at the attitude he perceived Crowley copped (hey!) after Crowley refused to provide him with his badge number."

But he was surprised. He demands the officer's name and badge number, as if he doesn't understand why he is being questioned. After he just forced open the front door to a house.

I'm not saying from that point on there aren't some misdeeds by the officer (and, in my opinion, by Gates too) but it seems like the entire situation could have been avoided had Gates thought for one second about why a police officer might be showing up at his door.

In my opinion, a reasonable person in his position would surmise that the officer is investigating the suspicious activity that he (Gates) had just performed. (Not that he was doing anything wrong or illegal by breaking into his own home, but from an outsider's perspective, it is highly suspicious activity.) My question is, why is his gut reaction that the officer is racially profiling? And not just responding to a report of suspicious activity /slash/ a possible break-in?

To me, that initial conclusion by Gates--that the officer's presence was racially motivated, when one could reasonably assume it was just a police officer investigating a potential crime--is the watershed moment in the whole interaction.
posted by jckll at 1:02 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


But he was surprised. He demands the officer's name and badge number, as if he doesn't understand why he is being questioned. After he just forced open the front door to a house.

In a long thread on a contentious issue involving race, I used the word "lynching" to describe the reponse of some posters to the officers. When it was pointed out to me that this was in bad taste, I immediately saw why and apologized, but at the time, my use of word didn't ring any bells in my head.

Sometimes, the obvious just doesn't occur to people.
posted by fatbird at 1:10 PM on July 23, 2009


He demands the officer's name and badge number, as if he doesn't understand why he is being questioned. After he just forced open the front door to a house.

It depends on whose narrative you follow. Crowley's is the one your are citing. Go back and check out Gates's story (links can be found above to his statement through Ogletree, his interview with his daughter at DailyBeast.com, and his personal statement at Washington Post's TheRoot.com.

In Gates's narrative he says that he cooperated, went to the kitchen to get his I.D., that Crowley followed him into the house univited, that he asked for Crowley'sd identifying information (i.e. name and badge number) and when Crowley refused he got agitated and asked "Is this because I'm a black man," etc.

As I said, it's a "he said, he said" set of events.

I personally claim to not know or prefer either narrative. All I am concerned about was whether or not the arrest for "disorderly conduct" was necessary and legal. I am "on the fence" as to whether 'racial profiling' was involved in this unfortunate affair.
posted by ericb at 1:11 PM on July 23, 2009


"Cop who arrested black scholar is profiling expert" (via Yahoo News)
posted by sk381 at 1:12 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


*I personally claim to not know which narrative is more accurate nor do I prefer one over the other*
posted by ericb at 1:13 PM on July 23, 2009


After he just forced open the front door to a house.
posted by jckll at 4:02 PM on July 23 [+] [!]


Did he? I believe Professor Gates's statement is that he asked the driver to apply force to the door with his shoulder, not that he himself struck the door. So the most Professor Gates can be accused of is standing next to a man who applied force to a stuck door.

Even so, if you tried your key at the front door, found that it wouldn't open, assumed that it was latched shut, then went around to the back door, opened that, went into the house, and then realized that the front door was damaged, you might now think that getting your front door unstuck is mostly a maintenance issue and not a cause for alarm.

It's not as though Professor Gates charged his front door shoulder-first repeatedly until the locks broke.
posted by Comrade_robot at 1:22 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Cop who arrested black scholar is profiling expert"
The course, called "Racial Profiling," teaches about different cultures that officers could encounter in their community "and how you don't want to single people out because of their ethnic background or the culture they come from," Fleming said.
On the one hand, this would seem to exonerate Crowley of racist intent and racial profiling. On the other hand, it raises more questions about how he could not realize that arresting Gates for some yelling looks just like racial profiling.
posted by fatbird at 1:28 PM on July 23, 2009


This isn't really comparable. Is there a decibel level over which Gates was guilty of disorderly conduct and one under which he wasn't? Are there other, say, field disorderliness tests that can be administered to determine whether or not he was disorderly?

The charges were dropped and the mayor has said that the arrest shouldn't have happened. So it seems like the determination has already been made and the answer is "no". In fact, there is no 'decibel level' at which point it becomes disorderly.

But you're really ignoring what I'm saying here. I never said that what he said and how he acted were not related to the disorderly conduct charge, rather what I said was that things that happened that were not related to the disorderly conduct charge were not related. It doesn't matter if he 'broke into' his house before the cops showed up, any more then it matters if people at the bar told you you were fine to drive.

You were going on and on about whether or not the guy 'broke in' or whether he refused to show ID or whatever. None of those things have anything to do with whether or not he should have been charged with disorderly conduct after it was clear he wasn't breaking and entering.

--

Remember the white guy in Utah who got tasered for arguing (politely) with a cop about a speeding ticket, or the grandmother who got tasered for yelling at one? Both of those people were white. And both of those cops were assholes. So clearly plane old assholism, rather then racism may be the motivating factor here.
posted by delmoi at 1:42 PM on July 23, 2009


To me, that initial conclusion by Gates--that the officer's presence was racially motivated, when one could reasonably assume it was just a police officer investigating a potential crime--is the watershed moment in the whole interaction.

That is a crucial moment (as is the one where the cop decided not to just ignore the yelling and leave), and we're all sort of working to figure out what caused the two men to act as they did -- in ways that seem unreasonable or at least unlike the way we think we'd act. That's where the influence of our sum total experiences and all the deterministic forces of what we know and think about race, class, gender, etc. become important.

Here I am wondering why Crowley (who wasn't impulsive; he's trained not to be impulsive in much more dramatic situations) would behave in a manner highly likely to land him right in the soup, but within the context of his experience and police culture, it's probably far more reasonable than it seems to me.

And in Gates's position, I can guarantee that I'd be moronically oblivious of the fact that I might inspire someone to call the cops when I was unjamming my door (especially if had just gotten home from a long-ass plane trip), and I'd be startled to see police on my doorstep. Then 1.5 seconds later, it would all snap into place, and I'd be face-palming and saying, "Oh my god, I'm sorry, it must've looked as if I were breaking in." But I'm also a 47 year old, protestant-raised, midwestern white female fraidycat who becomes immediately deferential and self-effacing around powerful people with guns.

That's reasonable for me, but if I were someone who had in the past been unfairly singled out as a suspicious person for no good reason, or if many of my friends, relations, and acquaintances had been, and many people who looked like me had been injured or killed in similar incidents, and I was dog-tired etc., and some cop said what sounded to me like "Just step out here and prove you aren't the criminal you appear to be," then it doesn't seem all that unreasonable to react angrily or at least be resistant when you know that if you take one step out the door, you can be taken into custody or much, much worse without a lot of recourse.

Most of all, one's reaction would depend on the body language, words, and tone the cop initially used. I got pulled over for speeding a few months ago, and at one point, the state trooper, who looked to be about 12 to me, asked, "Where are you going?" And I unthinkingly answered him, but you know, after the fact, I was pissed. What business was it of his that I was driving to town to get breakfast? How was that relevant? Give me the ticket I deserve or give me a warning, or do whatever, but stop acting like you are entitled to pry into my life because you have a position of power, jagoff. I would never say that stuff to a cop, but a lot of people might have, and it would be perfectly reasonable -- if dangerous.
posted by FelliniBlank at 1:56 PM on July 23, 2009 [4 favorites]


Chris Bodenner over at Andrew Sullivan's blog posts some emails from lawyers who actually have some clue. Excerpt:
In my decades of practice as a state prosecutor, I have never seen "disorderly conduct" charged for acts which did not originate and occur in a public setting. I cannot conceive of a case in which a prosecutor would pursue a charge of "disorderly conduct" occasioned by tone or speech in one's own home. Nor have I seen tone or content of speech as a basis for charging disorderly conduct even in a public place. At the risk of restating the obvious, "disorderly conduct" aims to penalize what it says: conduct. Disorderly conduct is something more than "disorderly speech." In my opinion, the criminal prohibition would be fatally and unconstitutionally overbroad were it to be deemed to apply to pure speech. What citizen then meaningfully would be on notice to what speech would be viewed as "disorderly" and risk criminal prosecution and penalties?
posted by delmoi at 1:58 PM on July 23, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's hard to know how obnoxious Gates was being. Regardless, the officer looks like he was just pissed off at being disrespected and then arrested Gates. Rather than letting anger get the better of him he should have just gotten into his cruiser and left Gates screaming on the front walk. It's pretty clear that neither party was an angel here, but the professional thing to do would have been leaving. "Dr. Gates I am sorry this has upset you. Our discussion is no longer productive and I am leaving. Good Day."

Of course, one must question the wisdom of berating a police officer in such respects. That rarely ends well.

Anger causes many bad things to happen.
posted by caddis at 2:35 PM on July 23, 2009


Obama's second bite at the issue seems to me to just about sum things up:
"And my suspicion is that words were exchanged between the police officer and Mr. Gates and that everybody should have just settled down and cooler heads should have prevailed. That's my suspicion."
posted by yoink at 4:05 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


So, it turns out the cop in the case...

* Once tried to save the life of a black man by administering mouth-to-mouth.
* Was corroborated in his official report by a black police officer.
* Has taught an academy class for five years for other police officers about avoiding racial profiling and dealing with cross-cultural issues.
* Was assigned to teach the class by the black police commissioner.

Shame on all of you that suggested there couldn't possibly be any explanation to this incident beyond a racist cop.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 4:36 PM on July 23, 2009


Shame on all of you that suggested there couldn't possibly be any explanation to this incident beyond a racist cop.

Well, as strongly as I argued the "wait for the facts" case above, I have to say that none of those things are quite conclusive proof of a total absence of racial prejudice on the cop's part. I think the mouth-to-mouth thing is completely irrelevant (I mean, he'd really have to be some kind of KKK nutbar to refuse to administer first aid to a guy because he was black). We all know that for police the first rule of policing is to back up each other's stories, so the "corroboration" thing doesn't mean much.

I do think the other two are more significant. I mean, it's hard to imagine that the police commissioner would have chosen this guy to teach the class on racial profiling if he had any reputation at all for racist actions or attitudes. They certainly make the more extreme readings of his actions and motivations that some have offered in this thread seem a bit far-fetched. On the other hand it leaves you with an even stronger "WTF?" reaction to what then did ensue. If he ever teaches that class again he'll have a great "here's how NOT to do it" story to tell everyone.
posted by yoink at 4:57 PM on July 23, 2009 [2 favorites]


I was pretty disappointed to hear that Obama publicly took Gates' side, even though I'm on Gates' side. This makes the cop look like an underdog to too many white Americans who are willing to believe that THEY stick together.

I'm afraid Crowley means well, after his fashion, when he discusses race. I believe that if Crowley took a lie-detector test -- one of the new ones, that actually work -- he would swear he was not a racist, and he would be shown to be telling the truth. But that would only mean that he sincerely believes it. It wouldn't mean that he could be exonerated of behaving at all times without racial prejudice. I think this incident was a rich layer cake of racial prejudice and cop attitude, frosted with machismo.
posted by Countess Elena at 5:24 PM on July 23, 2009


Conor Friedersdorf on Andrew Sullivan's blog again, brining up something that's been bothering me too :
Interesting as it is to speculate about Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge Police Department, the attention the case is generating reflects an unfortunate feature of American public discourse: you've got someone like Radley Balko who spends the bulk of his career documenting the most grave instances of police misconduct imaginable -- including cases that involve the incarceration of innocent people for years on end -- and most of even the egregious cases he writes about never break into mainstream conversation, whereas a minor altercation involving a Harvard professor who isn't even being charged with a crime spawns wall-to-wall media coverage.

Isn't it notable that six months into his presidency, the most prominent advocacy President Obama has done on behalf of minorities mistreated by police is to stand up for his Ivy League buddy? Somehow I imagine that Professor Gates would've fared just fine absent help from Harvard's most prominent alumnus.
--
Also, while I tend to think this is a case of a cop being an asshole, not a racist I have to take issue with the idea that these points:

* Once tried to save the life of a black man by administering mouth-to-mouth.

How does that make you not a racist? I mean, if you save a woman's life, does that mean you're not sexist? The fact that he's not so racist that he would stand by while a black person died doesn't mean he's totally not racist at all.

*Has taught an academy class for five years for other police officers about avoiding racial profiling and dealing with cross-cultural issues.

Which is more ironic then anything, since he obviously sucks at it. The other two points mostly just amount to "Has black friends".

But anyway, like i said, I think this is more about a power tripping asshole cop then anything racial.
posted by delmoi at 6:22 PM on July 23, 2009 [1 favorite]


Obama's second bite at the issue seems to me to just about sum things up...

I've set my TiVo to record Terry Moran's interview with Obama tonight on Nightline.
posted by ericb at 6:40 PM on July 23, 2009


I mean, he'd really have to be some kind of KKK nutbar to refuse to administer first aid to a guy because he was black.

And let's not forget that it was Celtic's basketball star Reggie Lewis to whom he adminstered CPR.

Crowley was a campus officer and certified emergency medical technician at Brandeis assigned to the gymnasium where the team conducted off-season practice.
posted by ericb at 6:49 PM on July 23, 2009


Can you imagine the brouhaha had Crowley not offered Lewis aid?
posted by ericb at 6:52 PM on July 23, 2009


Interesting as it is to speculate about Henry Louis Gates and the Cambridge Police Department, the attention the case is generating reflects an unfortunate feature of American public discourse: you've got someone like Radley Balko who spends the bulk of his career documenting the most grave instances of police misconduct imaginable -- including cases that involve the incarceration of innocent people for years on end -- and most of even the egregious cases he writes about never break into mainstream conversation, whereas a minor altercation involving a Harvard professor who isn't even being charged with a crime spawns wall-to-wall media coverage.

Gates acknowledges the disproportionate attention to this due to his personal high-profile. He hopes to parlay this incident from current discussion to on-going dialogue and debate regarding race, policing, etc. in present-day America.
"And for that reason the story is on the front page of the Washington Post this morning and prominent all over the airwaves. As it should be. But Gates, as he told me yesterday, knows 'that what happened to me, happens over and over and over to black men in America, and you sure don’t read about it on A1.'"*
posted by ericb at 7:09 PM on July 23, 2009


Skip Gates, please sit down -- "You are suffering from what I call the 'Ivy League Effect'" (by a Phantom Negro).
posted by ericb at 7:14 PM on July 23, 2009


"You are suffering from what I call the 'Ivy League Effect'" (by a Phantom Negro).

FTA: "Wow, that Ivy League Effect has washed out his healthy fear of the police. Yikes. -- Phantom Negro"

As an Ivy League Negro like Gates and this fella, I have to say that I would go to great lengths to get some of what the Phantom Negro was smoking before he wrote that piece for Salon.
posted by lord_wolf at 8:53 PM on July 23, 2009


Mr. "Phantom Negro" is a douchebag.
posted by delmoi at 9:15 PM on July 23, 2009


Shame on all of you that suggested there couldn't possibly be any explanation to this incident beyond a racist cop.

The points you raise get at part of the race issue here, but not nearly all of it. Posit that Crowley hasn't a consciously racist bone in his body. You still have him participating in a common police practice (bogus "respect my authoritah!" arrests) that is demonstrably racist insofar as it disproportionately impacts minorities. That's a perfect example of institutional racism right there.
posted by fatbird at 9:44 PM on July 23, 2009 [3 favorites]


"Phantom Negro" did manage to put something in perspective. As critical as I've been about some of the opinions in this thread, seeing such unsubstantiated speculative bullcrap published on a high-profile website really drives home how rational this community is compared to the rest of the world.

Even the biggest leaps of logic here are mere bunny hops compared to that.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:36 PM on July 23, 2009


To me, that initial conclusion by Gates--that the officer's presence was racially motivated, when one could reasonably assume it was just a police officer investigating a potential crime--is the watershed moment in the whole interaction.

That is it, too. You never hear of white people complaining that black police officers are racially profiling them, but a black subject and a white officer? Oh shit!

And before any of you go after me about that...yes, I am aware that SOME police officers do racially profile, and there are SOME racist cops out there. No more so than there are racist soldiers, racist doctors, racist politicians...

However, there is absolutely no sign of racism in this case. Mr. Gates could have avoided the whole thing by stepping outside the house when the officer asked, and identifying himself when asked. The officer would have been able to confirm Gates was the homeowner, and then he would have left.

Disorderly conduct is not a "catch all." It is a crime in many states. Not arresting a person just because he/she is well educated, well dressed, or whatever is not doing your job as a law enforcement officer.

To call this officer a racist or an asshole based on his actions in this case is unfair. A lot of peope will do it anyway, because there is a huge anti-police sentiment here on Metafilter and the rest of this country.
posted by C17H19NO3 at 12:34 AM on July 24, 2009


Disorderly conduct is not a "catch all." It is a crime in many states. Not arresting a person just because he/she is well educated, well dressed, or whatever is not doing your job as a law enforcement officer.

Disorderly conduct may be a crime, but cops arn't lawyers. And the "case" was so weak that the prosecutors dropped the chargers right away and the mayor has said the arrest was a mistake.

Whether or not the cop was motivated by racism or just an asshole, arresting Gates was improper. Also try to read the thread before posting nonsense, Gates wasn't committing any crime.

Not arresting a person just because he/she is well educated, well dressed, or whatever is not doing your job as a law enforcement officer.

Neither is arresting someone because you're pissed off, which is exactly what happened here.
posted by delmoi at 12:47 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Mr. Gates could have avoided the whole thing by stepping outside the house when the officer asked, and identifying himself when asked. The officer would have been able to confirm Gates was the homeowner, and then he would have left.

Hahahahahahahahaaaaaaaahaaaahahahahahaaaahahahahaaaa...hahahaaaa...ha...ahem. Uhhhmm...you were joking right?
posted by P.o.B. at 3:10 AM on July 24, 2009


The officer would have been able to confirm Gates was the homeowner, and then he would have left.

Did you read ANY of the material or comments in this thread?
posted by desuetude at 6:36 AM on July 24, 2009


Overall I guess I think people are confusing institutional racism with acute, personal racism. I don't think there is any evidence that has been uncovered to date that suggests Crowley is a racist or was acting racist.

What he was (at least in this case, and maybe is more generally) is a power-tripping, asshole cop. He didn't like Gates pulling societal rank on him so he arrested him on a bogus charge. Did the fact that Gates was a black guy pulling societal rank pour fuel on Crowley's emotional fire? Maybe. Maybe not. No way to really know. But none of Crowley's actions scream "racist." They scream "insecure douchebag."

In some of Gates' comments on the subject, he seems to recognize this. ("I clearly was arrested as a vindictive act, an act of spite. I think Sgt. Crowley was angry that I didn’t follow his initial orders—his demand—his order—to step outside my house"*) I'm not sure why in other comments he insists that it was racism.

On the other hand, I think it's pretty clear that some element of institutional racism certainly played a part. Did Crowley subconsciously--or because he's a police officer who maybe deals with lots of minority criminals--assume that Gates was in fact an intruder? Maybe. Did Gates--because he's "a black man in America," where we have a long and gruesome history of police-on-black racism--assume that Crowley assumed he was a criminal? Yes (see #1 and #2 below). That's institutional racism, or historical racism, and it was probably swirling around this whole interaction.

Beyond the facts of the story and the actual incident, I guess I have a problem with Gates (and whomever else) overtly calling (or insinuating that) Crowley a racist, when, from my view it is not even close to clear that he is.
How many black and brown men and poor white men are the victims of police officers who are carrying racist thoughts?
...
What I would not want is to be presumed to be guilty. That's what the deal was. It didn't matter how I was dressed. It didn't matter how I talked. It didn't matter how I comported myself. That man was convinced that I was guilty.1

Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me. [Or: There was a report of a black man breaking into this house. There is a black man in this house. Turns out he was the black man who broke and entered.]
...
He didn’t say, ‘Excuse me, sir, is there a disturbance here, is this your house?’—he demanded that I step out on the porch, and I don’t think he would have done that if I was a white person.
...
And he handcuffed me right there. It was outrageous. My hands were behind my back I said, ‘I’m handicapped. I walk with a cane. I can’t walk to the squad car like this.’ There was a huddle among the officers; there was a black man among them. They removed the cuffs from the back and put them around the front.2["There was a black man among them?" What is that about?]

But really it’s not about me—it’s that anybody black can be treated this way, just arbitrarily arrested out of spite. [Why anybody black? Why not just anybody?] And the man who arrested me did it out of spite, because he knew I was going to file a report because of his behavior. [Was it because you're black? Or out of spite?] He didn’t follow proper police procedure! You can’t just presume I’m guilty and arrest me. He’s supposed to ask me if I need help. He just presumed that I was guilty, and he presumed that I was guilty because I was black. There was no doubt about that.3[Or he presumed you're guilty because you WERE "guilty"--in the sense that you did in fact break and enter into the home, regardless of the fact that it was legal--of the ACTIONS reported by a 911 caller, maybe?]

I just don’t want to be arrested for being black at home!4
Gates' buzzword about the story seems to be that Crowley had a "broad imagination." I would say that, from the perspective of a disinterested third party, calling him a racist with the facts we know now is a bit of broad imagining on Gates' part. And I think that in today's day and age, that accusation is a badge of shame (rightfully so) that should not be applied so lightly.
posted by jckll at 6:54 AM on July 24, 2009


I watched an interview with Rev. Jesse Jackson on MSNBC this morning. His take on the incident: it was a "perfect storm" of two egos clashing. Gates is highly respected, as is Sgt. Crowley who is held in esteem by his colleagues (black and white) for his teaching on racial profiling, etc. Jackson thinks that Gates felt "humiliated;" Crowley, "disrespected...and that both have now "dug in their heels." If they can get over their current emotions and issues, the two of them could come together and use various outlets to engage the public in meaningful and productive conversations relating to race, etc. in America.

Rev. Jackson, I agree!
posted by ericb at 7:26 AM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Slate's "The Explainer" takes on "disorderly conduct" in the context of this case.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 8:26 AM on July 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Slate's "The Explainer" takes on "disorderly conduct" in the context of this case.

Durn Bronzefist -- thanks for that link. I suggest everybody read it. Answers a lot of pertinent questions raised above.
posted by ericb at 8:31 AM on July 24, 2009


I think Jackson got it about right. As I said earlier, neither party was an angel here. Oh, and good link Durn Bronzefist.
posted by caddis at 8:42 AM on July 24, 2009


Rev. Jesse Jackson on MSNBC this morning: video [07:21].
posted by ericb at 8:59 AM on July 24, 2009


And before any of you go after me about that...yes, I am aware that SOME police officers do racially profile, and there are SOME racist cops out there. No more so than there are racist soldiers, racist doctors, racist politicians...

yeah there are all those message boards out there where doctors and politicians and soldiers get together and say racist things you are a genius
posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:06 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


No more so than there are racist soldiers, racist doctors, racist politicians.

None of whom have the direct control over liberty granted to police officers.
posted by desuetude at 10:25 AM on July 24, 2009


I think what Jackson and (for all the weirdness of his overall position) "The Phantom Negro" and even Obama in his second bite at the issue are all tacitly acknowledging is that Gates is pretty well known for being, um, rather conscious of his position. I think Gates was probably in full-bore "do you know who you're dealing with" mode from the beginning of the encounter, and if there's one thing that's guaranteed to make a cop start looking for a reason to cite you, it's that.

C17H19NO3's claim that if Gates had just stepped outside when the officer first asked him to everything would have gone smoothly ignores a number of points (like, for example, the sad history of race relations in this country that would give a black man good reason to feel some anxiety in complying with such a request), but I do think it's broadly correct; that is, if Gates had responded in a "what seems to be the problem, officer" and "how can I help you, sir" kind of way, the whole thing would have been over in five minutes. To argue otherwise is to suggest that the officer went to the house bound and determined to arrest the unknown man inside no matter what happened--which seems patently absurd.

That is not to say "this is all Gates's fault." There are understandable reasons for a black man to get defensive and feel implicitly under accusation when a white cop comes to his house and asks him to step outside (I think it's hilariously revealing that the right-wing websites which usually feature non-stop fantasies about shooting cops who invade the sanctity of the home--a la Ruby Ridge--are now so busy decrying a man who refuses the "lawful commands" of a peace officer!). It is, though, to say that this whole situation could have been avoided by either the cop or Gates choosing to be "the grown up" in the situation. In the end, that still leaves the score Gates 1, Cop 0 when it comes to the arrest. Private citizens have every right to be unreasonable. A cop has a professional obligation not to be.
posted by yoink at 10:33 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


but I do think it's broadly correct; that is, if Gates had responded in a "what seems to be the problem, officer" and "how can I help you, sir" kind of way, the whole thing would have been over in five minutes. To argue otherwise is to suggest that the officer went to the house bound and determined to arrest the unknown man inside no matter what happened--which seems patently absurd.

You know what else is correct? Any number of other made up stories that could've taken place instead of what happened:
If the neighbor had simply taken a second look she would've noticed two older men in suits with luggage and that one of them leaves scene. "Oh, maybe that fella lives there? He isn't acting suspicious at all?"
If Crowley had found out who actually lives at the residence before entering. If Crowley had calmly ascertained that he was invading the space of the proper resident in front of him instead of escalating an argument. Perhaps even ignoring someone, likes normal people do all the time, would have made everything all right.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:52 AM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apparently Obama called Crowley. Can you imagine a more awkward conversation?
posted by smackfu at 11:56 AM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


I think Gatesshe was probably in full-bore "do you know whosee what a sexy woman you're dealing with" mode from the beginning of the encounter, and if there's one thing that's guaranteed to make a coprapist start looking for a reason to citerape you, it's that.
posted by Mental Wimp at 12:39 PM on July 24, 2009


If the neighbor had simply taken a second look she would've noticed two older men in suits with luggage and that one of them leaves scene. "Oh, maybe that fella lives there? He isn't acting suspicious at all?"

How, exactly? What part of someone forcing open the door is not "suspicious"? Remember, Gates himself has said that the woman was right to call the cops and he hopes she'd do it again in the same circumstances. It's just pointless dickishness to keep trying to paint her as some racist who saw a black guy walking into a nice house and thought "that can't be right!"

If Crowley had found out who actually lives at the residence before entering.

What difference would that have made? Are you suggesting he should have thought "Holy Fuck, this is Skip Gates's house! No one would ever DARE to break into that house--I should just go about my business!"? He still had to go up to the house and find out why it had been broken in to.

If Crowley had calmly ascertained that he was invading the space of the proper resident in front of him instead of escalating an argument.

Yes, exactly. That was my point. You get an A in "missing my point." Notice the bit where I said that it was Crowley whose mistakes really matter here?

Perhaps even ignoring someone, likes normal people do all the time, would have made everything all right.

I have no idea what you mean here, but I assume you're saying that Crowley should have ignored Gates's tirade. Yes, he should have. That is what I said.

I think Gatesshe was probably in full-bore "do you know whosee what a sexy woman you're dealing with" mode from the beginning of the encounter, and if there's one thing that's guaranteed to make a coprapist start looking for a reason to citerape you, it's that.

If you can't see how utterly inane that comparison is, MW, then your user name is, indeed, remarkably apt.
posted by yoink at 1:11 PM on July 24, 2009


If the neighbor had simply taken a second look she would've noticed two older men in suits with luggage and that one of them leaves scene. "Oh, maybe that fella lives there? He isn't acting suspicious at all?"

How, exactly? What part of someone forcing open the door is not "suspicious"? Remember, Gates himself has said that the woman was right to call the cops and he hopes she'd do it again in the same circumstances. It's just pointless dickishness to keep trying to paint her as some racist who saw a black guy walking into a nice house and thought "that can't be right!"


Ahem. P.o.B. didn't bring up race in this example, just dress, age, and demeanor.
posted by desuetude at 1:19 PM on July 24, 2009


yoink, I was merely pointing out the simple idea that there were quite a few ways it could've gone "right."
It's entirely fallacious to argue up oneside by saying "Gates should've just..."
posted by P.o.B. at 1:26 PM on July 24, 2009


Ahem. P.o.B. didn't bring up race in this example, just dress, age, and demeanor.

And? P.o.B's point is that normally the neighbor wouldn't be suspicious of people of Gates's "dress, age, and demeanor" so that something else must explain the fact that this woman called the cops. Gee...what do you think the implied "something" is, desuetude? Prejudice against people who wear glasses?

The woman (for the umpteenth time) saw people forcing open the front door of a residential house. I can't believe that there are people in this thread who are seriously suggesting that when you see someone physically break into a house the first question in your head should be "do they look like nice middle class people? and if the answer is "yes" then you should give them a pass.

One of the many unintentionally hilarious things about this thread is the way it exposes the intense unconscious classism of so many of those who so evidently want to paint themselves as more politically and socially righteous than the rest of us. "He dared to question a Harvard professor!!! The temerity!" I know this will rock your world, folks, but it is possible for well-dressed, middle aged people to break into buildings illegally. I know, I know--what IS the world coming to?
posted by yoink at 1:31 PM on July 24, 2009


It's entirely fallacious to argue up oneside by saying "Gates should've just..."

Yeah, if only I'd said something like "That is not to say "this is all Gates's fault." That would probably have helped even those who are reading-challenged figure out that I wasn't saying it was "all Gates's fault" wouldn't it?

Oh, wait.

Well, maybe if I'd said something like: "In the end, that still leaves the score Gates 1, Cop 0 when it comes to the arrest. Private citizens have every right to be unreasonable. A cop has a professional obligation not to be" then it would have been absolutely impossible not to realize that I am saying that the blame for this fiasco ultimately rests with Sgt. Crowley rather than with Gates.

Oh, wait.

No, it just seems that some people are so desperate to parade their righteousness that they don't actually care what you said.
posted by yoink at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2009


it is possible for well-dressed, middle aged people to break into buildings illegally

What?!!

*monocle pops out*
posted by found missing at 1:36 PM on July 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


If the neighbor had simply taken a second look she would've noticed two older men in suits with luggage and that one of them leaves scene. "Oh, maybe that fella lives there? He isn't acting suspicious at all?"

Gates let himself in the back door, and then went to the front again to try to get the door open. In which case, he may not have had his luggage.

Honestly, this person that called was trying to do the right thing. Why she is in any way responsible for a situation that got out of control due to a total lack of professionalism on the part of police is beyond me. Maybe she did think perhaps that guy lives there, but figured if he did, the cops would show up and figure it out and everything would be cool. That's not a failure on her part, that's a failure on the part of the cops. The reason it didn't "go right" is because the cop did the wrong thing.
posted by oneirodynia at 1:43 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


yoink, relax. You're wrong, I wasn't trying to imply racism at all.

Honestly, this person that called was trying to do the right thing. Why she is in any way responsible for a situation that got out of control due to a total lack of professionalism on the part of police is beyond me. Maybe she did think perhaps that guy lives there, but figured if he did, the cops would show up and figure it out and everything would be cool.

Okay, hold on a second here. She thought she saw a couple of black men with backpacks breaking into a house. Did she do the right thing based on that premise? Yes. Did she take a second and see they were wearing suits? No. Did she take a minute to see that one of them got in a car and drove away? No. Did she take another minute and see if there are any other possibilities than a couple of men trying to break into a house on a well populated suburban street in the middle of the day? I don't think so. And if she did think he lived there *rolls eye* she could've done a number of other things at that point, like ya'know when Crowley walked up to her "Hey officer, I think I was mistaken." Besides, my point was a rebuttal to the idea that there was one right way the situation could have gone "right".
posted by P.o.B. at 2:05 PM on July 24, 2009


So apparently Gates, Crowley and Obama Will all get together at the whitehouse for drinks. Heh.
posted by delmoi at 2:56 PM on July 24, 2009


Did she take a second and see they were wearing suits?

Yes, it is well known that nobody wearing gray slacks and a pink polo-shirt (not a suit) has ever committed a criminal act in the history of this nation. Only honest people are allowed to wear this garb. Dishonest people choose not to because...um...they want to give the police a sporting chance.

Did she take a minute to see that one of them got in a car and drove away? No.

Unless there's been an interview with her that I haven't seen, you're just speculating here. We don't know that she had the house under continuous observation. Maybe she saw the guys breaking in, went away to make the call, came back when she was told that a cop was on the way, and saw the car was no longer parked outside. Maybe she did see one of the two men drive off. So what? Is there some special "innocent driver" mode that only innocent people employ?

Did she take another minute and see if there are any other possibilities than a couple of men trying to break into a house on a well populated suburban street in the middle of the day?

Every single cop in the fricking world will tell you (and they will be right) that you should not attempt to investigate an active crimescene yourself. If you see someone breaking into a house that is sufficient reason to call the cops. You are under no obligation to hang around and see if it starts to look less suspicious (and how would it, exactly, from her point of view? Would the house start to show signs of comfort that indicated it was used to having this person inside it? Would it sigh contentedly that it's master was home?)

Besides, my point was a rebuttal to the idea that there was one right way the situation could have gone "right".

And who on god's good earth said that there was only one way the situation could have gone "right"?
posted by yoink at 3:13 PM on July 24, 2009


"Sorry what I said about your mother"

"Yeah, sorry I put you in cuffs"

"Sorry I called you 'stupid'"

"So, ok then. That went faster than I expected... I'm off the clock, who wants to get hammered in the Oval Office?"

*two hours later*

[slurred] "...I'm the President, and I say, if we want to do a midnight run for pizza, no one should stop us!"

"Tell him 'bama"

"Shut up Skip... I'm talking here"

"Hey, be nice to him, he'll start talking about your mamma"

"Quiet, I'm trying to think here..."

"We should order some pizzas"

"Yeah, ok secret service guy, here's what you are going to do. I want 200 pizzas sent to... what's Cheney's address? Yeah, send them there. Oh, and sign it "Rev. Jackson", he'll love that shit!"

"Not cool man"

"Shhh, we're solving the race problems of our country here."

"Sweet."
posted by quin at 3:13 PM on July 24, 2009 [8 favorites]


I can't believe Obama backed down on this. If he was going to do that, he shouldn't have said anything in the first place. Now the real issue, arrest for "contempt of cop", will sink beneath the waves, and Crowley will probably end up with a medal. Disgusting.
posted by Crabby Appleton at 3:18 PM on July 24, 2009


So apparently Gates, Crowley and Obama Will all get together at the whitehouse for drinks. Heh.

Yeah, it looks like Time is making that a bit more of a "plan" than it is. I hope he does do it, though--I was speculating yesterday with my S.O. about this and we were both hoping he'd do just this. It will only work, though, as a way of defusing the situation if they will both agree beforehand to come out of it saying something like "we agreed that we both could and should have handled the situation differently." If only Crowley apologizes people will think he was just bullied by the President, and if only Gates apologizes people on the left will claim that Obama is kowtowing to the Fox News crowd and being an Uncle Tom.

If they could meet and come out of it with Crowley managing to show some of the "defusing racial tension" skills he should have employed the other day (it would be huge to have Crowley talking sympathetically about the history of police mistreatment of minorities and how he should have thought more about why Gates would react the way he did in the light of that history) and Gates willing to at least give a couple of inches along the lines of "I blew up too quickly because I was tired and because I was startled to find myself being questioned about my right to be in my own home" then this could be a classic Obama-moment of turning a clusterfuck into a "teachable moment."

And speaking of Obama, I do think his third bite at this particular apple is really spot on:
My sense is you've got two good people in a circumstance in which neither of them were able to resolve the incident in the way that it should have been resolved, and the way they would have liked it to be resolved," Obama said. "The fact that it has garnered so much attention, I think, is a testimony to the fact that these are issues that are still very sensitive here in America, and -- you know, so to the extent that my choice of words didn't illuminate but rather contributed to more media frenzy, I think that was unfortunate. What I would like to do, then, is to make sure that everybody steps back for a moment, recognizes that these are two decent people.
posted by yoink at 3:21 PM on July 24, 2009


the real issue, arrest for "contempt of cop",

I agree entirely that that is the "real issue" in this scene, in the sense that that is the actual "bad thing that happened that should not have happened." It's clearly not, however, the issue that has made this front page news. I'll bet several hundred people were arrested for contempt of cop today and several hundred more will be tomorrow and we won't hear about a single one of them. If a white Harvard professor had been arrested for contempt of cop at, say, a protest march, we might have heard about it here on the blue, but no one would have asked Obama's opinion on it.

No, the issue is race and whether or not a middle-class black man was treated as a suspected criminal in his own home solely because of his race. I think if Obama can do a little to smooth those waters and to elevate the debate around the issue, he'll be doing a great deal. I really don't think that this incident provides him with any useful political handle with which to address the "contempt of cop" issue.

The contempt of cop debate could only be usefully driven by a case involving video. If you had a nice, clear video showing a cop being politely asked for his badge number and then blowing his stack and arresting somebody who is being perfectly calm for "resisting arrest" or "disturbing the peace" then that's something you could make hay with. This incident is a "he said-he said" one; if you try to make this your poster-case for bogus arrest all you're doing is saying "I'm choosing to view the police as liars, based on nothing but my gut feeling and the word of my friend." That's a political loser, right there.
posted by yoink at 3:38 PM on July 24, 2009


I can't believe Obama backed down on this. If he was going to do that, he shouldn't have said anything in the first place. Now the real issue, arrest for "contempt of cop", will sink beneath the waves, and Crowley will probably end up with a medal. Disgusting.

He's not "Backing Down" he's letting everyone safe face. I agree with this article on TPM. Both were "wrong" but one was "wronger". Gates lept to a conclusion that the cop was racist, but that's not illegal. He never should have been arrested.

Also check out this letter to Andrew Sullivan's blog where a white writer complains about the "indignities" that black people put white people through when they get too uppity. And how it bothered him to see the president defend someone who was "acting like a teenager" Despite the fact, that, you know acting like a teenager in your own house isn't illegal.
posted by delmoi at 3:38 PM on July 24, 2009


The contempt of cop debate could only be usefully driven by a case involving video. If you had a nice, clear video showing a cop being politely asked for his badge number and then blowing his stack and arresting somebody who is being perfectly calm for "resisting arrest" or "disturbing the peace" then that's something you could make hay with.

We see videos like all the time, other then getting talked about on metafilter they certainly don't seem to have much effect. Remember the guy who got tased in Utah for refusing, quite politely, to sign a traffic ticket?
posted by delmoi at 3:41 PM on July 24, 2009


Yes, it is well known that nobody wearing gray slacks and a pink polo-shirt (not a suit)

Wrong. She said dark clothing.

Unless there's been an interview with her that I haven't seen, you're just speculating here. We don't know that she had the house under continuous observation. Maybe she saw the guys breaking in, went away to make the call, came back when she was told that a cop was on the way, and saw the car was no longer parked outside. Maybe she did see one of the two men drive off. So what? Is there some special "innocent driver" mode that only innocent people employ?

You're right, she reported all that...oh, she didn't? Then my 'speculation' isn't too far off is it?

Every single cop in the fricking world will tell you (and they will be right) that you should not attempt to investigate an active crimescene yourself.

Yeah, because I said she should dress up as Sherlock Holmes and investigate.

If you see someone breaking into a house that is sufficient reason to call the cops.

What if I see someone trying to unjam a door?

You are under no obligation to hang around and see if it starts to look less suspicious (and how would it, exactly, from her point of view? Would the house start to show signs of comfort that indicated it was used to having this person inside it? Would it sigh contentedly that it's master was home?

LOL! Good one!

Please, go on. I'm curious to find out the truth from you.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:45 PM on July 24, 2009


We see videos like all the time, other then getting talked about on metafilter they certainly don't seem to have much effect. Remember the guy who got tased in Utah for refusing, quite politely, to sign a traffic ticket?

I know. I've never seen a President try to make a point about police misconduct behind one of them, however. My point is that were a President to attempt to do so, that is the kind of one s/he should choose. A "he-said/he-said" case, is not. Fair enough?
posted by yoink at 3:59 PM on July 24, 2009


Wrong. She said dark clothing.

So, you're saying that Gates changed his clothes before the arrest? There is a photograph of him being arrested, you know. And even if he had been wearing a suit, what the fuck is your point? Are you still, in all seriousness, trying to insist that people in suits are incapable of committing illegal acts?

You're right, she reported all that...oh, she didn't? Then my 'speculation' isn't too far off is it?

Reported all what? I'm saying we don't know what she saw and what she reported. WTF are you even talking about at this point?

Yeah, because I said she should dress up as Sherlock Holmes and investigate.

Yes, you did. Not the Sherlock Holmes costume part, of course. But then I didn't mention that either.

What if I see someone trying to unjam a door?

So just as you think there is some way that innocent people drive that guilty people can't imitate, and just as you think a house that has been entered by its legitimate tenant somehow looks different from a house that has been entered illegally, you think lawful forcing of entry looks different from unlawful forcing of entry. You really should explain to us how to spot these differeces, P.o.B--it would save a lot of trouble in future.
posted by yoink at 4:08 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm assuming that people unlawfully forcing entry into a house cackle maniacly and twirl their moustaches while they do so. Is that correct P.o.B? Or is it that they wear sweaters with horizontal black and white stripes?
posted by yoink at 4:10 PM on July 24, 2009


So, you're saying that Gates changed his clothes before the arrest?

Oh, I don't know...maybe he took his jacket off??? I don't know how many people you know who lounge around their homes in two piece suits, but it's fairly common. Plus you seem to be mixing up the ideas between what she reported and what he had on.

Reported all what?

What? what?

Yes, you did.

No, I didn't. Get real. Standing and watching is not investigating a crime scene.

What the fuck are you going on about, yoink? You can't even keep what I said straight in your head.

Like I said relax.
posted by P.o.B. at 4:27 PM on July 24, 2009


Oh, I don't know...maybe he took his jacket off???

So, if he's wearing the jacket, he cannot possibly be breaking the law. Is that your point? People with jackets, good citizens. People without jackets, criminals. O.K.--I'm glad to see that you have really thought this through.

Standing and watching is not investigating a crime scene.

You said that she should "see if there are any other possibilities than a couple of men trying to break into a house on a well populated suburban street in the middle of the day?"

So, explain how these "other possibilities" were going to reveal themselves to her by simply "standing and watching." We'll all be fascinated. What, exactly, was going to happen to the house that would reveal the "legality" or otherwise of that forced entry? Just how long are you supposed to wait, as a concerned citizen, before this epiphany is supposed to dawn on you?
posted by yoink at 4:34 PM on July 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


You win, yoink. My supposed situations never could've happened. Touche. Your logic is solid!
posted by P.o.B. at 4:40 PM on July 24, 2009


Are you still, in all seriousness, trying to insist that people in suits are incapable of committing illegal acts?

No, no, of course they are. But there's also demeanor, body language, a thousand other things, and yes, class issues that can get someone's hackles up to signify "wrongness" when noticing a potentially suspicious activity.

People who commit crimes while wearing clothes indicative of a white-collar existence are not generally battering down doors to steal stuff. Yeah, this is a generalization.

But the common-sense line does get drawn somewhere. Otherwise the neighbors who don't know me, upon seeing me use a key to enter my house, could think "HOW DO WE KNOW IT'S HER KEY SHE COULD HAVE STOLEN IT" and call the cops, who could then compel me to prove my legal residence. And what if I only can find junk mail with my partner's name, and we don't have the same last name, and oh my god we can't prove anything without checking real estate records and my birth certificate!

Which brings me to thte second point: some people get the benefit of the doubt more than other people. Professor Gates ostensibly possesses the superficial qualifications for benefit of the doubt in spades. Much, much more so than many people, including myself. But I can jimmy open my front window to climb in and get not a raised eyebrow.
posted by desuetude at 8:24 PM on July 24, 2009


Or to be more succinct: This is what happens to black men in America.

Like, all the time.
posted by desuetude at 8:25 PM on July 24, 2009


I don't know if this has already been posted above, but here's the full 22 minute interview that was released today between local Boston station WHDH and Officer Crowley:

Direct Windows Media link
or find it in their flash video collection web page thingie

Accompanying text article including a PDF of the police report
posted by XMLicious at 9:06 PM on July 24, 2009


Gates Says "Yes" To Beer With Sergeant Crowley.
posted by ericb at 9:22 AM on July 25, 2009


Gates Says "Yes" To Beer With Sergeant Crowley.
posted by ericb at 5:22 PM on July 25


Make sure you don't drive home after that beer, Professor. You never know when the boys in blue might be quite coincidentally nearby with a deliberately inaccurate breathalyzer ...
posted by kaemaril at 3:13 PM on July 25, 2009


911 caller in Gates' arrest says she never referred to race
"The woman who made the 911 call that led to the arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. never referred to race when she contacted authorities for what she thought was a potential break-in, her attorney told CNN on Monday.

Attorney Wendy Murphy also categorically rejected part of the police report that said her client, Lucia Whalen, talked with Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, at the scene.

'Let me be clear: She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene,' Murphy said. 'And she never said to any police officer or to anybody "two black men." She never used the word "black." Period.'

She added, 'I'm not sure what the police explanation will be. Frankly, I don't care. Her only goal is to make it clear she never described them as black. She never saw their race. ... All she reported was behavior, not skin color.'

Calls to the Cambridge Police Department about the issue have not been returned. In the police report, filed by Crowley, he says he spoke with Whalen outside the home before he approached Gates' house.

'She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of Ware Street,' the report says. 'She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry.'

Murphy's comments add yet another layer of intrigue to the July 16 arrest that has prompted heated discussion across the nation on race relations in America."
Also:
"The commissioner acknowledged that in the police report the caller is said to have observed 'what appeared to be two black males' on the porch, but he said the report was a summary and not necessarily based on the initial call."
Is it possible Crowley lied in his report? Ya' think?
posted by ericb at 10:54 AM on July 27, 2009


Listen to a portion of the 911 call.
posted by ericb at 10:57 AM on July 27, 2009


Listening to the portions of the tapes, Whalen sounds calm, collected...does not mention backpacks or race, but mentions that she sees suitcases...surmises that they may be having trouble with the key and that they might live there, etc. I expect we'll hear more of the radio transmissions (and also have transcripts available online soon).

Cambridge releases Gates arrest 911 tapes
"The long-awaited 911 tape and audio of the controversial July 16 arrest of Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. have been made public today where the arresting officer tells the dispatcher to 'keep the cars coming' - he’s dealing with an 'uncooperative gentleman.'

Gates can be heard on the tapes talking in the background, but his exact words cannot be made out. It is difficult to say if the professor is screaming or not."
posted by ericb at 11:04 AM on July 27, 2009


More complete version of the 911 call.
posted by ericb at 11:17 AM on July 27, 2009


More complete version ...
posted by ericb at 11:23 AM on July 27, 2009


"One thing the tapes didn't show: any obvious background sound that indicated Gates was shouting during the incident. An officer can be heard at one point describing the person in the house as 'uncooperative' and a second person can be heard saying something unintelligible in the background as the officer transmits.

Crowley said in the report he filed after the incident that Gates became disruptive during their encounter. Gates has denied that he was disorderly."*
posted by ericb at 11:27 AM on July 27, 2009


Is it possible Crowley lied in his report? Ya' think?

It's clear that this was an error, but why would it be a lie? Surely it would be in Crowley's interest to point out that he didn't approach the house assuming that it had been broken into by "two black men." After all, a very large part of the hostility to both Crowley and Whalen in this thread is based on the assumption that Whalen wouldn't have bothered to call this in if it hadn't been "two black men" and that Crowley came to the door with a particular script in his mind based on the assumption that the house had been broken in to by "two black men." It seems to me to support Crowley's version of events rather more than it does Gates's to know that as he walked up to the door he had no preconceptions at all about the race of the possible intruders.
posted by yoink at 11:28 AM on July 27, 2009


From the Gawker link that ericb provides above (the "complete 911 call"):
One thing is clear: We owe Whalen an apology. Relying on Crowley's report, we called her a racist for dialing 911 just because she saw two black men struggling to open a front door. It's obvious from the call that she didn't know that they were black, that she was calling out of an excess of caution, and that she expected that if it was their home, then a police officer would simply check their ID and be on his way. Which is what should have happened.
Yeah. I think there are quite a few people in this thread who owe her an apology as well.
posted by yoink at 11:31 AM on July 27, 2009


It's clear that this was an error, but why would it be a lie?

Whalen's attorney: "She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene. And she never said to any police officer or to anybody 'two black men.'

"In the police report, filed by Crowley, he says he spoke with Whalen outside the home before he approached Gates' house.

'She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of Ware Street,' the report says. 'She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."
posted by ericb at 11:33 AM on July 27, 2009


A lot of "he said, he said" in this affair. Now we've got "he said, she said."
posted by ericb at 11:36 AM on July 27, 2009


Again, ericb, "it's clear that this was an ERROR, but why would it be a lie?"

You are saying it was a deliberate error (i.e., a lie); I'm asking what possible calculation on Sgt. Crowley's part would make him think that this error was a helpful one for his case?
posted by yoink at 11:38 AM on July 27, 2009


He lied. He said he met with her ... that she identified them as black and having backpacks. Error? Hardly. A lie.
posted by ericb at 11:45 AM on July 27, 2009


What other "errors" are in Crowley's report? Perhaps that Gates was shouting?
posted by ericb at 11:46 AM on July 27, 2009


Looks like someone has a little bit of cognitive dissonance about making spurious assumptions.
posted by P.o.B. at 11:48 AM on July 27, 2009


He lied. He said he met with her ... that she identified them as black and having backpacks. Error? Hardly. A lie.

So his aim was to discredit himself by implying that he might have had some racial animus motivating him as he approached the house when, in fact, he did not?

What, in your view, was the point of this "lie"?
posted by yoink at 11:49 AM on July 27, 2009


Looks like someone has a little bit of cognitive dissonance about making spurious assumptions.

You mean the "assumption" that she reported them as wearing backpacks, P.o.B.?

Or do you mean the "assumption" that she saw Gates wearing a suit (and reported that fact?)?

Or do you mean the "assumption" that she flew to the conclusion that these two were burglars because they were two black men? Do, please, P.o.B., keep telling me about how rigorously you eschew assumptions.
posted by yoink at 11:53 AM on July 27, 2009


yoink, did you listen to the tape? Whalen never says anything about backpacks nor does she mention anything about anyone wearing a suit.
posted by ericb at 11:59 AM on July 27, 2009


By the way, ericb, I think you've misunderstood the way I'm using the word "error." I'm not using it as something that excludes the possibility of lying. In saying that what he wrote is "clearly an error" I'm not saying "and therefore clearly not a lie"; what I mean is that it's clearly "incorrect" but that it is not clear whether or not it is a deliberate error (i.e., a lie), or simply a misrecollection.

In this case, I'd be a lot happier saying that it is "clearly a lie" (as you seem to think) if I could see any reason at all why Crowley would want us to believe that this is what he'd been told. As it is, I can't.

I can see why he would lie, for example, about the extent of Gates's "shouting." I already indicated (upthread) that I thought his claim that he had to leave the kitchen in order to be able to hear his radio was bogus. It's clear that I don't believe that Crowley is in some way incapable of telling an untruth. I just don't see why he would tell lies that undermined his case.
posted by yoink at 12:01 PM on July 27, 2009


yoink, did you listen to the tape? Whalen never says anything about backpacks nor does she mention anything about anyone wearing a suit.

Quite.
posted by yoink at 12:01 PM on July 27, 2009


I just don't see why he would tell lies that undermined his case.

In writing his report I suspect he was crafting it to justify why he arrested Gates when he knew there was no basis for the arrest. And, yes, I used the term "crafting."
posted by ericb at 12:03 PM on July 27, 2009


Or to expand on that, seeing as there's no reason for you to remember the earlier argument between me and P.o.B.: P.o.B. was arguing that Whalen ought not to have called the cops because Gates's suit made it obvious that he was a nice middle class man who shouldn't be suspected of burglary. P.o.B. was also saying that we knew that Whalen was an unreliable witness because she identified the two men as wearing backpacks when they weren't.

I was claiming that we had no idea what Whalen had actually said and that there were myriad perfectly plausible scenarios in which she had done nothing wrong. Somehow P.o.B. seems to think that the appearance of the tape proves me wrong.
posted by yoink at 12:04 PM on July 27, 2009


In writing his report I suspect he was crafting it to justify why he arrested Gates when he knew there was no basis for the arrest. And, yes, I used the term "crafting."

Of course he would. What policeman wouldn't? But, again, how would this detail help justify the arrest? Isn't it just giving a defense attorney a chance to point out that the cop went into the situation with certain preconceptions?
posted by yoink at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2009


P.o.B. was arguing that Whalen ought not to have called the cops because Gates's suit made it obvious that he was a nice middle class man who shouldn't be suspected of burglary. P.o.B. was also saying that we knew that Whalen was an unreliable witness because she identified the two men as wearing backpacks when they weren't.

No, I didn't make those arguments. *CoughassumptionsCough*
posted by P.o.B. at 12:06 PM on July 27, 2009


No, I didn't make those arguments.

The thread's still here, P.o.B.--and that's the very last ever comment I will make in response to you. You are simply not interested in an honest argument.
posted by yoink at 12:16 PM on July 27, 2009


Actually, this is the one you want. You arguments were skewing farther and farther off the path of what my original statement intended, and I wasn't in the mood to appease your agitated hand waving.
Honest argument? Wow...just wow.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:25 PM on July 27, 2009


I'm sure you still don't believe that, but this is where I restated the intent of my argument for clarity.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2009


So having listened to the 911 call and the radio transmissions, I'm a little stunned by how the police misrepresented Whalen. She was extremely uncertain about what she saw and directly communicated that at all times to the 911 operator. She only brought up race when prompted (and was wrong, but admitted uncertainty on the point) and seems to be pretty much beyond reproach in all of this. I said above that she was wrong in her assessment of the situation, and while she was, she certainly acknowledged that possibility. Indeed, I'm sure she'd agree with my assessment of her credibility and I bet she is appalled by what happened. I tried hard not to say she was racist and I'm glad I withheld judgment on that point - this is similar to a call I would make, if I felt it necessary.

That uncertainty was probably not rebroadcast to Crowley, which made him enter the situation without realizing how unclear things were. Such is the nature of purple monkey dishwasher. If he did talk to her at the scene, I hope she continued to convey that, but who knows. I'm not sure if Crowley intentionally threw her under the bus in his report to make his actions seem more justified - an arrest for public disorder based on that 911 call is pretty incredible and it would make more sense if he had gotten a more urgent prompting - but he didn't receive the 911 call so he didn't get the full extent of Whalen's uncertainty.

But it doesn't matter. The radio transmission makes it clear that whatever was happening between Crowley and Gates did not rise to the level of a riot, that anything Gates was saying was constitutionally protected speech, and that Crowley was not in danger.

Gates probably would have been wise to be more obsequious, especially if he thought the cop was in fact a racist. It's a mistake to equate the two, especially when one is a public servant. All that matters is that nothing Gates did rose to the level of an arrestable offense. Which is what was clear from the start.

The fact that Crowley got upset in the manner that he did and decided that arresting Gates was a smart idea in those circumstances is where any critical focus should be. I don't think we can avoid questions about race in a situation like this, especially with the message it sends to the Black community (which knew damn well about things like this, but it doesn't make it easier to take).
posted by allen.spaulding at 12:31 PM on July 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yes, just popped back in after hearing the 911 call. A dramatic misrepresentation by the cop of the call, and I owe Ms. Whelan an apology for believing his report before hearing her actual call.

See here.
posted by foxy_hedgehog at 12:35 PM on July 27, 2009


Based on these new facts, I was also wrong in projecting bias onto the caller in the absence of information. It should have occurred to me to doubt the police on those reported facts just as I did on the others.

The tapes do not help the officer's cause.
posted by Miko at 1:11 PM on July 27, 2009


well well well
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:23 PM on July 27, 2009


You know, allen.spaulding, it's true that you refrained from calling Whalen racist. You did, however, call her a "total fucking idiot", and assert with great confidence that her story "wasn't credible", indeed that it was "ludicrous".

Now, of course, you and others who were so completely certain that you knew exactly what she had and hadn't seen and exactly what she had and hadn't said, remain equally confident that you know exactly what Sgt. Crowley was and wasn't told by the police dispatchers. Maybe it's time to admit that those of us who were saying "look, we don't know all the facts, it's too early to make these judgments" had a point?

You also all seem confident that there's some sinister motive behind Crowley saying that he had been informed that "two black men" had forced open the door, when in fact Whalen only reported "two men" with one "possibly hispanic." I'm still struggling to understand why this is the great "aha, gotcha!" moment you all seem to think. Why would Crowley actively lie so as to provide fodder to those who want to call him racist? Unless you're suggesting that he is a complete moron, he has to realize as he's writing the report that this incident is a racially charged one. He also has to realize that the less he portrays himself as potentially biased before even encountering Gates, the better his case is. I think an honest misrecollection (based on the fact that he now knew the two men were black so simply assumed that the call had specified two black males rather than two males of unknown race) or a possible confusion in the report he received on the radio (which we don't appear to have before us) is a far more plausible explanation of this apparent error than the idea of Crowley deliberately going out of his way to provide fodder to his collar's lawyer.
posted by yoink at 2:01 PM on July 27, 2009


...remain equally confident that you know exactly what Sgt. Crowley was and wasn't told by the police dispatchers.

I am confident that I know exactly what Sgt. Crowley was and wasn't told by the police dispatchers.

You can listen to what the dispatcher told him here.
posted by ericb at 2:06 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


ericb, you continue to impress. Stay classy!
posted by ocherdraco at 2:25 PM on July 27, 2009


Why would Crowley actively lie...

yoink -- According to Whalen's attorney, she never spoke with Crowley. It appears he lied in his report and made a scenario up. How much credibility do we give him for the other very specific details he cites in his report? Yo' mama!

If such is true, how do you justify Crowley's statement in his police report?
"When I arrived at 17 Ware Street I radioed ECC and asked that they have the caller meet me at the front door to this residence. I was told that the caller was already outside. As I was getting this information, I climbed the porch stairs toward the front door. As I reached the door, a female voice called out to me. I looked in the direction of the voice and observed a white female, later identified as Lucia Whalen. Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand arid told me that it was she who called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of 17 Ware Street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry. Since I was the only police officer on location and had my back to the front door as I spoke with her, I asked that she wait for other responding officers while I investigated further."
posted by ericb at 2:26 PM on July 27, 2009


So, Crowley "erred" in recounting hearing a female voice behind him? That she conveyed to him that the men were black and had backpacks, etc.? Error my ass.
posted by ericb at 2:29 PM on July 27, 2009


You can listen to what the dispatcher told him here.

Thanks ericb, I missed that. So, that leaves my best guess as being that he simply misremembered what he'd been told at the time he wrote the report.

Would you (or anyone) who thinks that he would deliberately lie about this care to explain what you think his motive would be? How is his case stronger if the dispatcher told him "two black men" rather than "two men of unknown race, one possibly hispanic"?
posted by yoink at 2:30 PM on July 27, 2009


You know, allen.spaulding, it's true that you refrained from calling Whalen racist. You did, however, call her a "total fucking idiot", and assert with great confidence that her story "wasn't credible", indeed that it was "ludicrous".

She was not credible. Listening to her call, she made that very clear. I'm really surprised that the police went out of their way to misrepresent what she had said to them - that was a curveball. Furthermore, it sounds like she's just re-reporting what an elderly woman had told her; that part is still a little unclear.

And look, I never said she was an idiot. I said that cops should have come to that conclusion, once they realized her report was ridiculous. But her report wasn't ridiculous. She got it right and reported it accurately; the police then slandered her. That's pretty shocking to me.

Anyway, I admitted I didn't see this coming and that I was wrong about her. If anything, I just think this makes Officer Crowley look even worse, although understandably so in some aspects.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:32 PM on July 27, 2009


Gates 9-11 Call reveals Multiple Lies by Sgt Crowley on Police Report.
posted by ericb at 2:34 PM on July 27, 2009


ericb, you seem to persist in the idea that I'm claiming that what Crowley wrote was not incorrect. That is not what I'm saying. I'm saying that the mistakes in the report seem to be unlikely ones for him to add into the report in order to make it more useful for him in securing a conviction.

I'm not, let me be clear, saying that I find it hard to believe that Crowley would lie in his report. I think police are trained to write those reports with prosecution in mind and to make the best possible case for their actions that they can. I have, in fact, already said that I find parts of the report deeply implausible.

I just don't see A) why he would tell lies that hurt his case and B) that it is all that unlikely that somebody would misrember the exact words of the dispatcher. The dispatcher says "two men, one possibly hispanic" and mentions "suitcases." He has his whole encounter with Gates, learns that there were two black men involved and afterwards remembers the call as being about "two black men" and transmutes the "suitcases" into "backpacks."

I'm betting that every single person arguing with me could cite me chapter and verse on how crappy eyewitness accounts are and how unreliable our memories are. But when it's a cop who makes a mistake in his testimony (a mistake which, in this case, does nothing to help his case) it suddenly has to be deliberate?
posted by yoink at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2009


my best guess as being that he simply misremembered what he'd been told at the time he wrote the report....How is his case stronger if the dispatcher told him "two black men" rather than "two men of unknown race, one possibly hispanic"?

I think you might be right about the first mistake, but Crowley doesn't just state this in the report, he and the department have repeated it a number of times in interviews and press statements.

The motive seems clear. If you listen to call, and hear the radio conversations, it's clear that there was absolutely no urgency whatsoever. Whalen said she was unsure and Gates is far from being the monster he's portrayed in the police report. Furthermore, it really undercuts any argument Crowley has that his suspicions about Gates were justified. Of course, there's the purple monkey dishwasher problem that I mentioned, but that's not necessarily how he thinks the public would see it, so insisting that he had a strong tip makes his actions seem more reasonable. By overstating the 911 report, it makes it seem like he acted diligently instead of overreacting to a pretty level-headed call that did not provide much of a suspicion of wrongdoing - especially given the additional facts he quickly learned.

Like I said from the beginning, the charges made in the police's own statements did not support the outcome. What we're finding out now is that the police overstated the strength of their suspicion while exaggerating the behaviors displayed by Gates.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:37 PM on July 27, 2009


I just don't see A) why he would tell lies that hurt his case

He knew there was 0% likelihood of this going to trial. He just arrested a Harvard professor in his own home on trumped up charges. This was about CYA, not building a case. He'd been accused of acting with a racial motivation so he needed to make it seem like someone else was to blame and that he acted responsibly.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:39 PM on July 27, 2009


What's also mindboggling to me is how much this strengthens any snop snitchin ideas that people have. I mean, given that call and given this outcome, I can see why someone would think twice about ever calling the police when there's a racial minority group involved.

And to be clear, I hate the idea. I think the real victims are minority women who are discouraged from pressing charges against abusive boyfriends and husbands because they are supposed to subordinate their rights to the community's. But man, I get it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2009


wow. That's stop snitchin'. That's some mighty fine spelling there, Lou.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2009


She was not credible. Listening to her call, she made that very clear.

She was entirely credible. Name one thing she said that was untrue or has been proven untrue subsequently.

And look, I never said she was an idiot. I said that cops should have come to that conclusion

So you're saying, in all seriousness, that you were arguing that the cops "should" have come to a conclusion you believed to be erroneous?
posted by yoink at 2:41 PM on July 27, 2009


He has his whole encounter with Gates, learns that there were two black men involved...

Minor point, but I'm curious as to how Crowley learned that the driver (who had departed the scene before his arrival) was black.
posted by ericb at 2:43 PM on July 27, 2009


She was entirely credible. Name one thing she said that was untrue or has been proven untrue subsequently.

She hedges throughout the call and makes it clear she's unsure of what she's seeing. She did the right thing and accurately described her perceptions, but she makes it clear that she does not really know what's going on. She didn't lie, I never said she did. But to take her call and walk away thinking "we have a report of a B&E from a credible witness" is bizarre at best.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2009


purple monkey dishwasher

Ya' learn something new every day! I had never heard the term ... and am now enlightened!
posted by ericb at 2:45 PM on July 27, 2009


Unless you're suggesting that he is a complete moron...

He just might be ... or, a bad liar.
posted by ericb at 2:49 PM on July 27, 2009


By overstating the 911 report, it makes it seem like he acted diligently instead of overreacting to a pretty level-headed call that did not provide much of a suspicion of wrongdoing - especially given the additional facts he quickly learned.

What on earth are you smoking? How would his actions have differed based on a "two men" vs. "two black men" call, a.s.? Are you really suggesting that moving into CYA mode because of having arrested a black Harvard professor he thought to himself "well, everyone will forgive anything I did as long as I make it clear that the suspects were black!"

For christ's sake. If he's in "CYA Mode" the first thing he needs to do is make it clear that race played no part in his decisions. Despite the fact that Whalen didn't mention race, her report of two men forcing the door open still needed to be checked out. The dispatcher was calling all available cars in the area to the scene--and quite rightly so. There was absolutely nothing in Crowley's behavior up until the moment that he and Gates start talking that is remotely impeachable by anyone's account of the incident.

Now, once they start talking and everything goes to shit, the exact details of the original call don't matter a damn. Crowley's whole case falls apart as soon as there's any suspicion that he arrested Gates because he suspected him of being a burglar, or simply because he was a "black man in America." His entire case is that he went to have a quite, reasonable discussion with someone he very quickly concluded was the legitimate occupant, and that that person went crazy at him with no provocation.

There's good reason to suspect CYA in Crowley's claim that Gates started to berate him with no provoction whatsoever; there's good reason to suspect CYA in Crowley's claim that he gave Gates his name and badge number; there's good reason to suspect CYA in Crowley's claim that Gates was shouting so loud he couldn't use his radio. But there's just no reason at all to suspect that in his account of the "two black men" radio call and the "backpacks." No single part of Crowley's case (in court or out of it) hinged on proving that he was full of "OMG black people on the loose" panic as he walked up to Gates's door. In fact it would be self-evidently incriminating for him to try to convey that impression.
posted by yoink at 2:53 PM on July 27, 2009


She hedges throughout the call and makes it clear she's unsure of what she's seeing.

I think you need to check the definition of "credible," a.s.--it doesn't, as it happens, mean "certain."
posted by yoink at 2:57 PM on July 27, 2009


How would his actions have differed based on a "two men" vs. "two black men" call, a.s.?

It's not just that, he also claims he spoke to her in person, which she denies. That's a pretty big leap. He's trying to include facts that would make his suspicion reasonable. I re-listened to the phone call and she pretty much goes as far as she can to say "don't go overboard with this, I have no idea what's happening, I'm partially reporting what some other lady told me, these people might actually live there." He portrayed it as far more certain.

I think the racial component was a fear of being called a racist after-the-fact, which makes sense given that Gates accused him of a racial motivation during the arrest (which seem unconverted at this point). He's just passing the buck. They got a call about black men, it was someone else who brought race into this, not him.
posted by allen.spaulding at 2:59 PM on July 27, 2009


Minor point, but I'm curious as to how Crowley learned that the driver (who had departed the scene before his arrival) was black.

Do we even know if he was black? I'm not actually sure. I'm assuming that Gates would have said something to give Crowley that impression (e.g. "two black men push a door open and suddenly the cops get called"). Perhaps nobody ever said anything at all about the race of the driver and Crowley simply assumed it. In any case, I take it you're simply never going to say why you think it would be to Crowley's advantage to tell this "lie."
posted by yoink at 3:00 PM on July 27, 2009


It's not just that, he also claims he spoke to her in person, which she denies. That's a pretty big leap. He's trying to include facts that would make his suspicion reasonable.

His suspicion that Gates was being disorderly hinges in what way, precisely, on the race of the people who were reported to be breaking into the house? Again, are you seriously suggesting that Crowley thought he had to defend walking up to the house at all?

They got a call about black men, it was someone else who brought race into this, not him.

Good lord. When people are just desperate to see someone as being in the wrong no matter what they say the most bizarre things. You seem to think that Crowley would have believed that we would think that Gates only became a black man if the dispatcher described him as such.

Whatever went wrong between Gates and Crowley went wrong after they started talking. Crowley had no need to justify the mere fact of him initiating a conversation with Gates. To the extent that the race of the reported suspects would change anybody's opinions of Crowley's guilt or innocence in his exchange with Gates at all (which is slight) it would help Crowley's case that race wasn't a part of it if he could establish (as, in fact, he can) that he did not approach the house with an assumption that it was the scene where "black people were committing a crime."
posted by yoink at 3:07 PM on July 27, 2009


yoink - I think you're assuming a level of hyperationality and confusing what Crowley's concerns may have been. He knows he just arrested a man on pretty flimsy charges that won't stick, that the man is a Harvard professor, and that not only is the arrestee Black, but he has directly called him a racist.

So in response he spins things to say "look, I was reacting to a serious claim and I didn't bring race into this." It seems to fit well, I don't see you offering an alternative for why he'd lie about talking to a witness.

And credibility in the context of witness testimony means competency in addition to trustworthiness. She basically came forward and said during the conversation "I really don't know what's going on here." To call her noncredible is not to call her a liar, but is to say that she was not sure of what was going on - something she willingly admitted.
posted by allen.spaulding at 3:13 PM on July 27, 2009


"look, I was reacting to a serious claim and I didn't bring race into this."

So you're saying "two black men forcing the door of a house" is a "serious claim" that requires him to walk up to the house, but "two men, one possibly hispanic forcing the door of a house" is a "nonserious claim" to which the appropriate response would have been--what?--to drive by the house slowly?

Your claim would make perfect sense if he'd arrested Gates as a burglar. Then he'd want to establish that he had reason to think that the "black man on the premises" was the "suspect." It makes no sense at all after the arrest for disturbing the peace.

This isn't "hyperrationality"--it's not like "aHA! if you do a literature review of 1000 previous cases you'll find that in 75% of them...blah blah blah." It's common sense. I mean, it's possible that Crowley is an actual moron and was unable to see that it would help him claim that he was not racially motivated if he established that he approached the house with no assumptions about the race of either the occupant or the possible burglars--but nothing I've seen of Crowley's interviews so far has suggested severe mental deficits of that kind.

The fewer preconceptions Crowley can show that he carried into the encounter the better, because the issue is "how did he treat Gates" (i.e., did he provoke him or was Gates responding unreasonably). Crowley needs to keep the "burglary investigation" story as distinct as possible from the "disorderly conduct" story, and needs to make that "disorderly conduct" appear as unmotivated as possible.

I mean, seriously, just look at the first 9/10s of this thread. Everybody is talking about how Whalen simply assumed that "two black guys" must be up to no good and that Crowley, similarly, must have gone in on the assumption that "two black guys" were criminals etc. etc. etc. Nobody--but nobody--was saying "hey, he says he got a call about two black men...you can't really blame him for arresting Gates, then, can you?"
posted by yoink at 3:33 PM on July 27, 2009


Minor point, but I'm curious as to how Crowley learned that the driver (who had departed the scene before his arrival) was black.

Do we even know if he was black? I'm not actually sure.


"Gates and his car service driver, a large black man, are trying to force open Gates' jammed front door."*

"Gates, who is black, had returned from a business trip and was trying to force open the front door of his house – which was jammed – with his limo driver, whom Gates has described as Moroccan."*
posted by ericb at 3:46 PM on July 27, 2009


And credibility in the context of witness testimony means competency in addition to trustworthiness. She basically came forward and said during the conversation "I really don't know what's going on here." To call her noncredible is not to call her a liar, but is to say that she was not sure of what was going on - something she willingly admitted.

a.s., your definition of "credible witness" is unknown both to ordinary English and to law. By your implied definition a "credible witness" would have to be one who is not only willing and able to report what they have seen, but one who in fact knows everything that there is to know about what they have seen.

Law courts are full, every day, of "credible witnesses" who can testify credibly to what they have seen without offering any opinion as to the legal propriety of what they witnessed or as to it's full import. The idea that Whalen is not a "credible" witness because she truthfully says that she is not sure if the people forcing the door open were legal residents or not is just laughable.

If someone sees somebody jimmying a second story window and reports it to the cops exactly as the see it are they a "credible witness"? If it turns out that the person actually owns the house, does that witness suddenly cease to be "credible"? What if the person slugs one of the cops, unprovokedly, and the witness testifies truthfully to that? Does s/he become "credible" again?

A credible witness is one who reports honestly upon what they have seen without distortion and without substituting speculation for what they actually saw. By any standard you care to name, Whalen was a "credible witness."
posted by yoink at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2009


Christian Science Monitor: Even after 911 Tape Released in Gates Case, Questions Linger -- "The woman who placed the call never said anything about black men breaking into Professor Gates's house. So how did it get into Sergeant Crowley's report?"
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on July 27, 2009


Gates has described as Moroccan

So, that would explain Whalen saying "possibly hispanic" I guess. I don't think most Moroccans would code as "black" to most Americans.
posted by yoink at 3:50 PM on July 27, 2009


Gates 911 call: Witness not sure she sees crime
"The 911 caller who reported two men possibly breaking into the home of black Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. did not describe their race, acknowledged they might just be having a hard time with the door and said she saw two suitcases on the porch.

Cambridge police on Monday released the 911 recording and radio transmissions from the scene in an effort to show they had nothing to hide, but the tapes raised new questions about how and why the situation escalated."
posted by ericb at 3:51 PM on July 27, 2009


So, that would explain Whalen saying "possibly hispanic" I guess. I don't think most Moroccans would code as "black" to most Americans.

I wonder if Whalen may have been describing Gates -- who with a lighter complexion -- has stated that he is biracial.
"I don't walk around calling white people racist. Hell, first of all I’m half white myself. I'm 56% white in my DNA. My father is 75% white. My wife of 25 years is white, and my children are half white. Give me a break. Nobody knows me as some lunatic black nationalist who's walking around beating up on white people.”*
posted by ericb at 4:11 PM on July 27, 2009


I mean, seriously, just look at the first 9/10s of this thread. Everybody is talking about how Whalen simply assumed that "two black guys" must be up to no good and that Crowley, similarly, must have gone in on the assumption that "two black guys" were criminals etc. etc. etc. Nobody--but nobody--was saying "hey, he says he got a call about two black men...you can't really blame him for arresting Gates, then, can you?"

I think you're confusing audiences. Crowley wasn't thinking about public opinion, he was worried about Gates going over his head and calling the police chief - something he even writes up in the report. The only reason I can think of for him to cover-his-ass like this, is to dodge any heat from the brass. He writes it up to say "look, she told me there were two black guys breaking in, what was I to do?" I can't imagine he had any idea it would explode like this - if he had, he certainly wouldn't have arrested Gates. Do you have an alternative explanation other than CYA?

And I'm not going to take lessons on the law from you, especially when you've not established anything close to credibility on the issue. Zing. I never called her a liar, I always insisted she must have had the facts wrong. She did have the facts wrong - what I didn't see coming is that she explicitly disclaimed her own credibility as a witness to the police and did not report with any degree of certainty. She explicitly says "I don't know what's happening," and that she's repeating the testimony of another person. I mean, I wonder about this other party - it may be the Crowley spoke to her and thought she was Whalen (although he claims she identified herself in conversation).

If Whalen had witnessed two people speaking in American Sign Language, and did not speak it herself, she would not be a credible witness when it came to the contents of their conversation. That was always the limitation here - there was just no way she could have known whose house it was, and at most could testify that force was used. In other circumstances, that wouldn't be a problem, but that was the main question here, especially once Gates identified himself as the resident and provided ID. See, that's why her credibility mattered: the only material question at hand was something she explicitly disclaimed knowledge of (a crucial point left out of the report and all subsequent discussions).

The police effectively misstated her claims, to justify an overreaction, as though they said "a witness reported a conversation between two men in sign language where they planned a terrorist attack" when all the witness said was "Two men were talking in ASL, but I have no idea what they said."

But retaining Wendy Murphy and the statement released makes me think she might be the only one who goes forward with a claim. The statements made by the police certainly put her in a false light, especially if she never talked with Crowley and never used the word "black." If I were her, I'd be outraged by the police's mischaracterization.

It's quite a twist, and I wonder for those who said "wait for the facts" really were thinking this. I don't think it changes anything vis-a-vis Gates and Crowley, but boy does it make Crowley look a lot more suspicious.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:15 PM on July 27, 2009


Whether or not racial profiling was involved (heck, forget whether or not Crowley knew beforehand that "black men" were involved; he saw with his own eyes an African-American man through the front door when he ascended the porch), the "net-net" for me is that Crowley fucked up in handling the situation (i.e. failed as a professional in deescalating a likely emotional encounter) and had no reason to arrest Gates. IMHO -- he "trumped up" a charge of disorderly ("tumultuous") conduct, later knew such was spurious and "crafted" a police report to try and justify his actions after the fact.

As I stated above, "I am 'on the fence' as to whether "racial profiling" was involved in this unfortunate affair."
posted by ericb at 4:25 PM on July 27, 2009


I wonder if Whalen may have been describing Gates -- who with a lighter complexion -- has stated that he is biracial.

I thought it had been established--though I can't quite recall where at this point--that she never properly saw Gates. Didn't she say that she'd seen two people and one of them had gone into the house and she didn't really see him properly?

Anyway, you're right--it's conceivable that someone could take Gates (at a distance) as "possibly Hispanic." A typical Moroccan could be described as "white" or "arab" or "Mediterranean" or, conceivably, "Hispanic." So...in any event, it appears unlikely that Whalen would have said "two black men" to Crowley at any point in their conversation. I think Crowley must have made an assumption.

These tapes, by the way, are another reason I find it implausible that Crowley would lie about this. He must have known that these recordings would all be part of the public record. Why tell a pointless lie that could only harm your case even if it did get believed? Any lies he may have told about what went on in the house make sense--that's just his word against Gates's. But to deliberately lie about what the dispatcher told him? That's just undermining your own credibility for nothing.
posted by yoink at 4:32 PM on July 27, 2009


Transcript of police radio transmissions
Female dispatcher: Respond to 17 Ware Street for a possible B and E in progress. Two SPs (suspicious persons) barged their way into the home, they have suitcases. R-P 5 - SP. Stand by, trying to get further.

Officer 52 (Crowley): 52. Ware Street right now, 17?

Dispatcher: 17 Ware Street ... both SPs are still in the house, unknown on race. One may be a Hispanic male, not sure.

Officer 52: Is there an apartment number there?

Dispatcher: Negative on the apartment. Single family yellow house.

Officer 52: Stand by. Can you have the caller come to the front door?

Dispatcher: I’m sorry, repeat?

Officer 52: Can you have the caller come to the front door?

Dispatcher: It’s not her house, she doesn’t live there. She’s a witness in this.

Officer 13: C-13 to patrol im on broadway (inaudible)

Dispatcher: Received

Officer 52: 52

Male patrol: Answering 52-

Officer 52: I’m up with a gentleman who says he resides here (background voice) but uncooperative. But uh, keep the cars coming.

Male patrol 1: Copy.

Officer 52: Can you also send the Harvard university police this way?

Male patrol 1: We can send ‘em in.

Officer 17: 17 to 5-2, when you get a chance I need to talk to you.

(14-second pause)

Officer 52: 52 to patrol

Male patrol 1: Answering.

Officer 52: He gave me the ID of a Henry Louis Gates. ...

Male patrol 2: Answering 52.

Officer 52: He gave me the name of the resident of Henry Louis Gates Jr. (background voice) on Harvard property.

Male patrol 2: Sir can you repeat?

(14-second pause)

Male patrol 2: Patrol to 52.

Two simultaneous voices: Try calling him again— (inaudible) to 52.

Male patrol 2: Patrol to 52.

Male patrol 2: Patrol to car 52.

(inaudible)

Male patrol 2: 52 go back to channel 2.

Officer 1-R: 1’s on.

Male patrol 3: Let’s see 12-52.

Officer 18: 18’s on 2.

Male patrol 2: 18 I didn’t copy 52’s last uhh, when he came on 2.

Officer 18: Right, stand by.

Male patrol 3: Patrol to 1-R.

Officer 1-R: (background voice) I’m off on Ware Street with 52.

Male patrol 3: Alright received.

Officer 2: (inaudible) to patrol. Do we have a wagon coming through to the location?

Male patrol 3: Patrol to wagon.

Wagon: Wagon.

Male patrol 3: 17 Ware Street.

Wagon: Copy.
posted by ericb at 4:33 PM on July 27, 2009


"net-net" for me is that Crowley fucked up in handling the situation (i.e. failed as a professional in deescalating a likely emotional encounter) and had no reason to arrest Gates. IMHO -- he "trumped up" a charge of disorderly ("tumultuous") conduct, later knew such was spurious and "crafted" a police report to try and justify his actions after the fact.

Well here, at least, we're in total agreement.

By the way, if the account of speaking to the witness outside the house is false (the witness's lawyer says it's false, but I'd like to hear from the witness herself; it seems to me that the lawyer may have misunderstood the claim that "I didn't ever tell him they were two black men" for the claim that "I never spoke to him at all") I do have a plausible explanation for that falsehood. Crowley would want to show himself as much as possible as the cool, collected, professional officer (not "omg, omg, two black people are on a rampage, I must rush in and save the white wimmins!!")--therefore it sounds good if he says he contacted the witness and went over her statement before approaching the house. It speaks to a cool and collected frame of mind, unlikely to be saying anything rash that might justly provoke Gates.

I don't know if it's a lie or not, but I can at least see why someone would tell that lie (and it's not automatic that he'll be found out, either--unlike with testimony that contradicts the dispatcher's call).
posted by yoink at 4:37 PM on July 27, 2009


These tapes, by the way, are another reason I find it implausible that Crowley would lie about this. He must have known that these recordings would all be part of the public record.

Or, he was thinking that the CPD would cover his ass and never release the tapes.

After all, he has had the backing of the police unions and his department.

Oh, let's not forget that the police department had originally tried to supress his report in the first place.
"....The incident itself set off a series of other troubling incidents.

For starters, police used an investigatory exemption in the public records law to bar the public’s right to view Gates’ police report. Even after the charges against Gates were dropped, police were unwilling to release the report and, mysteriously, a leaked copy that appeared on Boston.com’s Web site was replaced the next day with a less complete version. Globe editors declined to explain to the Chronicle why the documents were swapped, while the department said it was conducting an internal investigation to find out who leaked the arrest report."
posted by ericb at 4:40 PM on July 27, 2009


yoink - I think we agree too.

And I think there is a possible explanation to this question:

These tapes, by the way, are another reason I find it implausible that Crowley would lie about this. He must have known that these recordings would all be part of the public record. Why tell a pointless lie that could only harm your case even if it did get believed? Any lies he may have told about what went on in the house make sense--that's just his word against Gates's. But to deliberately lie about what the dispatcher told him? That's just undermining your own credibility for nothing.


I don't think he believed this would be scrutinized by the public, let alone the President. I think he was writing for the police brass, to fend off a claim by Harvard or Gates to the chief of police. As long as he crafted a plausible cover story, they wouldn't bother going to the tapes or interviewing witnesses. I'm sure this is done all the time. I really doubt Gates thought this would blow up like this - he probably just dreaded having Harvard go over his head to his boss.
posted by allen.spaulding at 4:41 PM on July 27, 2009


I really doubt Gates...

I think you meant "Crowley" there.
posted by ericb at 4:49 PM on July 27, 2009


Crowley wasn't thinking about public opinion, he was worried about Gates going over his head and calling the police chief - something he even writes up in the report. The only reason I can think of for him to cover-his-ass like this, is to dodge any heat from the brass. He writes it up to say "look, she told me there were two black guys breaking in, what was I to do?"

Again, how does this cover his ass with the chief? You're just spinning in circles here. The issues as far as the chief is concerned are the same as they are for the general public: "does this bring the police department into disrepute"? Mentioning the "two black men forcing the door" helps his case if and only if he arrested Gates on suspicion of burglary. As he did not, it only hurts his case. He has no motive whatsoever to tell a lie that makes him out to have a racially charged take on the situation even before he begins to talk with Gates.

And I'm not going to take lessons on the law from you, especially when you've not established anything close to credibility on the issue. Zing.

I've never claimed to have any special knowledge of the law. I repeatedly asked, in this very thread, if people who did would provide illumination on certain matters of law. Someone claimed that you were a lawyer and you didn't see fit to correct them. I am confident, however, that you are simply wrong as to the legal defintion of a "credible witness."

If I'm wrong, find a broadly accepted non-specialist legal definition of "credible witness" that hinges upon the idea that a "credible witness" must actually know the underlying motivations of the actions that he or she is witnessing rather than simply reporting truthfully on those actions as he or she sees them. I'll leave this thread and never disagree with anything you say ever again in any thread if you can.

I never called her a liar, I always insisted she must have had the facts wrong. She did have the facts wrong - what I didn't see coming is that she explicitly disclaimed her own credibility as a witness to the police and did not report with any degree of certainty.

What fact did she have wrong? Please don't say "that there was a burglary in process" because she didn't say that there was. So...what did she assert to be a fact that proved not to be?
posted by yoink at 4:49 PM on July 27, 2009


I think you meant "Crowley" there.

Whew--I was sure it would be me who'd done that. I can't count the number of times I've had to backspace-backspace-backspace my way through one name or the other. You write them often enough and they start to blend into each other: Gowly and Crates.
posted by yoink at 4:52 PM on July 27, 2009


Again, how does this cover his ass with the chief?

He's putting the racial context into other people's actions, specifically to buttress a claim that this was racial profiling. I'm not sure this has to make sense to anyone but Crowley, but as far as I can tell, this makes sense to him. He's basically saying, look, everyone but me was talking about race: I was just doing my job.

The man teaches a course on racial profiling. He didn't want it to seem like he was picking on the one black guy in the neighborhood. So he's saying to his bosses: She's the one who pointed out the black guys, not me. And they're cops too, so there's reason to believe they'd get it.

As far as the credibility thing, I don't want to argue for the sake of arguing, but I think the ASL analogy got the point across as best as I can. A witness can be credible on one issue but not on another. This seems to be both commonsensical and reflective of the law (MA law of evidence isn't even codified, so I'm not going to even bother going to various rulings on this one, but it's true both here and federally).

The only major point in contention was whether or not Gates was the lawful resident of the house. On this point, Whalen was not credible, although a neighbor might have been. She was credible when it came to what she witnessed. What's amazing is she just came out and said this, point blank. She basically was throwing up warning flags saying "I don't know the whole story," and that was either not communicated to Crowley or he ignored it.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:05 PM on July 27, 2009


He's putting the racial context into other people's actions, specifically to buttress a claim that this was racial profiling.

You know, I completely agree that this evidence serves to "buttress a claim that this was racial profiling." Why you think Crowley would want to buttress such a claim I cannot for the life of me imagine.

The only major point in contention was whether or not Gates was the lawful resident of the house. On this point, Whalen was not credible, although a neighbor might have been.

Balls. She offered no testimony at all as to whether or not Gates was the lawful resident. She could neither be "credible" nor otherwise on that point because she offered no testimony one way or the other. I see your desperate search for some actual "fact" on which she erred came up dry. Jesus a.s.--you are just constitutionally incapable of saying "I was wrong" aren't you? You were wrong to say that Whalen made an error of fact. You were wrong to say that she was not a "credible witness." You were wrong to say that there is some special technical "legal" sense of the term "credible witness" which would make that statement correct. Just admit it and move on.
posted by yoink at 5:14 PM on July 27, 2009


You were wrong to say that she was not a "credible witness."

Look at what I originally said:

See, this is another part of the problem. Whalen had no credibility at all, but the police seemed to believe her over Gates, even after Gates identified himself as the lawful resident and a Harvard Professor. She didn't know who lived there. She wasn't from there herself. She wasn't even sure what she saw.

I overstated when I said "at all," but for what it's worth, she told the police pretty much the exact same thing. From the report itself, it seems like she was speaking with an authority about the situation she never actually claimed. And I still don't think you understand that being a credible witness is not a binary thing, there are some matters in which people can testify and others where their testimony is not credible.

If Crowley had gotten Gates' ID and turned to Whalen and said "ma'am, says here that it's his house," she most likely would have responded "my bad, sorry!" But Crowley acted as though there was uncertainty about whether or not Gates lived there. Which would have made sense had a neighbor called and said "I know the person who lives there, someone else just broke in."

There was no credible reason to believe Gates did not live there. I was wrong to impute that to Whalen - although I believe the police have repeatedly tried to link the two.
posted by allen.spaulding at 5:29 PM on July 27, 2009


There was no credible reason to believe Gates did not live there.

And nobody at any point in this entire saga need ever have "believed" any such thing. Whalen made it expressly clear that she did not know. Therefore she obviously never "believed" Gates did not live there. She merely thought it unusual to see a door being forced open and thought it reasonable for the police to sort out the reasons for this unusual action.

Crowley may have "believed" that Gates did not live there at some point, but you have absolutely zero evidence in support of that claim. He walked up to a house which a credible witness had seen having it's front door forced open in order to ascertain why this unusual action was undertaken. On seeing someone in the house he asked them for identification so as to establish their right to be in the house. He need have "believed" nothing at all in order to ask that question and would have been entirely derelict in his duty had he not asked it. According to his own account (and nothing even in Gates's account contradicts this) he "believed" Gates to be the lawful occupant of the house as soon as he had seen the ID.

That everything went to crap after that moment (asking to see the ID) has absolutely no bearing on or connection to what lead up to it. Neither Whalen nor Sgt Crowley by anybody's account of these events did a single incorrect or inappropriate thing up until (and including) that point. It's not clear to me from the available evidence that Crowley, in fact, did anything wrong until he threatened Gates with arrest. I think that was the point where he indisputably screwed the pooch. But at that time and before that time, no accusation of burglary or of unlawful occupancy was ever leveled at anybody. The question of Whalen's credibility as to the legality of Gates's presence in the house is utterly irrelevant because she made no claims of any kind about it, and Sgt. Crowley's actions in no way depended upon an erroneous "belief" that "Gates did not live there."
posted by yoink at 5:44 PM on July 27, 2009


And nobody at any point in this entire saga need ever have "believed" any such thing. Whalen made it expressly clear that she did not know. Therefore she obviously never "believed" Gates did not live there. She merely thought it unusual to see a door being forced open and thought it reasonable for the police to sort out the reasons for this unusual action.

Look, we agree. And I've said in this thread is that what really mattered was residency, something about which she knew nothing (and explicitly claimed nothing). Indeed, I kept harping on this, saying the thing spoke for itself because there was no way the police could have reasonably thought that Gates was committing a B&E - they had limited information going to the scene and it was immediately addressed, thereby negating any possibility of a continuing crime.

And a part of the debate in this thread was whether or not Crowley should have left once he received positive ID from Gates. The fact that the initial caller explicitly said that it might have been Gates' home, well, I think that just strengthens the argument that he should have. Some seemed to think that once the police receive a report that someone was having a hard time opening a door, they can stick around until they're 100% satisfied that the person lives there. I think the 911 call probably would change their minds.

Look at my comment above, that I've referred to twice. I raised the idea of me phoning in a report in DC, without any knowledge as to the resident. The blame was always on the police, not Whalen. I put myself in her shoes in that example - I'm not trying to attack her, but the police on not recognizing the limited value of her statement.

To me, the 911 call makes things seem worse for the police, because she explicitly told them she did not know who lived there and that Gates may have been the rightful owner. I have no idea what was communicated to officer Crowley, but it seems like there was barely any reason to be suspicious - especially when an old man with a cane is at the door. At some point Officer Crowley decided to arrest Gates anyway, which was pretty clearly facially ludicrous from the start. What's even more disgusting is that he also seems to have slandered a 3rd party to cover his ass, even if it doesn't make sense.
posted by allen.spaulding at 6:11 PM on July 27, 2009


USA Today: Witness' account of Gates incident differs from police's.
posted by ericb at 7:12 PM on July 27, 2009


"Gates has said he was immediately taken aback by Crowley's tone.

'It was clear that I was in danger,' Gates has said, describing his reaction to Crowley coming to his door and asking that he step outside. Gates refused to leave his home and instead walked to his kitchen to get his identification.

'I weigh 150 pounds and I'm 5-7. I'm going to give flak to a big white guy with a gun? I might woof later, but I won't woof then,' Gates said in describing his approach to the encounter.

Crowley described Gates's reaction to his request as belligerent, and the officer is heard on radio transmissions saying, 'I'm up with a gentleman who says he resides here but is uncooperative.'

Crowley never mentions Gates's race on the radio calls and the professor's voice is not audible, though the officer described Gates as 'loud and tumultuous' in his police report."*
posted by ericb at 7:18 PM on July 27, 2009


Transcript of Whalen's 911 call:
Dispatcher: 911. The line's recorded. What's the exact location of your emergency?

Caller: Hi, I'm actually on, um, Ware Street in Cambridge. The house number is 17. Ware Street.

Dispatcher: 17. OK, ma'am. Your cell phone cut out. What's the address again?

Caller: Sorry. It says 7 Ware, that's W-A-R-E Street.

Dispatcher: The emergency's at 7 Ware Street, right?

Caller: Well, no. It's 17. I'm sorry. Some other woman is talking next to me. But it's 17, 1-7 Ware Street.

Dispatcher: What's the phone number you're calling me from?

Caller: I'm calling you from my cell phone number.

Dispatcher: All right, what's the problem? Tell me exactly what happened.

Caller: Um, I don't know what's happening. I'm just having, uh, an elder woman standing here and she had noticed two gentlemen trying to get in a house at that number, 17 Ware Street, and they kind of had to barge in and they broke the screen door and they finally got in. And when I had looked, I went further, closer to the house a little bit, after the gentlemen were already in the house, I noticed two suitcases. So I'm not sure if these are two individuals who actually work there, I mean, who live there.

Dispatcher: Do you think they might have been breaking in?

Caller: I don't know, 'cause I have no idea. I just noticed.

Dispatcher: Do you think the possibility might have been there ... What do you mean barged in? Did they kick the door in, or?

Caller: No, they were pushing the door in like, um, like a screen part of the front door was kind of like cut.

Dispatcher: How did they open the door itself, with the lock?

Caller: I didn't see a key or anything 'cause I was a little bit away from the door. But I did notice that they pushed their...

Dispatcher: And what do these suitcases have to do with anything?

Caller: I don't know. I'm just saying that's what I saw. I just...

Dispatcher: Do you know what apartment they, uh, broke into?

Caller: No, it's just the first floor. I don't even think that it's an apartment. It's 17 Ware Street. It's a house. It's a yellow house. Number 17. I don't know if they live there and they just had a hard time with their key. But I did notice they kind of used their, a shoulder to try to barge in and they got in. I don't know if they had a key or not cause I couldn't see from my angle. But you know, when I looked a little closely, that's when I saw.

Dispatcher: White, black or Hispanic?

Caller: Um.

Dispatcher: Are they still in the house?

Caller: They're still in the house, I believe, yeah.

Dispatcher: Are they white, black or Hispanic?

Caller: Um, well there were two larger men. One looked kind of Hispanic, but I'm not really sure. And the other one entered and I didn't see what he looked like at all. I just saw it from a distance and this older woman was worried, thinking, 'Someone's been breaking in someone's house. They've been barging in.' And I, she interrupted me, and that's when I had noticed. Otherwise, I probably wouldn't have noticed it at all, to be honest with you. So I was just calling 'cause she was a concerned neighbor, I guess.

Dispatcher: OK, are you standing outside?

Caller: I'm standing outside, yes.

Dispatcher: All right, well, police are on the way. You can meet them when they get there. What's your name?

Caller: Yeah, my name is (deleted).

Dispatcher: All right, we're on the way.

Caller: OK, all right, I guess I'll wait. Thanks.

Dispatcher: All right, bye.
posted by ericb at 7:51 PM on July 27, 2009


I know Obama won't want to wade back into this one, but it'd be classy if he reached out to Whalen and thanked her for doing what was right for the neighborhood and expresses some sadness that she's been unfairly portrayed by the Police and the media as a racist.
posted by allen.spaulding at 7:52 PM on July 27, 2009


Yoink: Whalen is not credible by her own admission (in terms of what she witnessed on that day). I'm glad Whalen spoke - it really shifts the narrative and shifts the focus to the actual wrongdoers. Whalen did the right thing, and I don't think there is any doubt about that now.

What I don't get is how the hell Crowley came up with "two black men with backpacks." Seriously?

It seems to me that he made a jump in logic thusly: from "2 men, one possibly hispanic, with suitcases" as stated by the dispatcher -- cognitive dissonance potentially shaded by subconscious racial stereotypes or ingrained racial profiling -- to "2 black men with backpacks."

That's what Crowley did wrong. He went in there transforming 2 men with suitcases to 2 black men with backpacks. Why? Why was that relevant enough to put into his police report? Why couldn't he just say "2 men with backpacks"?

If you don't see how that leap in logic makes Crowley's account suspect and tinged by racism, then please provide another reasonable explanation.

The other thing Crowley did wrong is arresting Gates for calling Crowley racist. I think Crowley had every right to be as much of a loudmouth asshole as he wanted to in his own home. Crowley has every right to be as irascible and accusatory (even if incorrect) as he chooses to be in his own home, to anybody he wants to (excepting statutory protections against domestic, child and elder abuse), including a police officer.

As noted above, accusing authoritative figures of acting in a racist fashion in public is actually protected political speech under the First Amendment.

Was Gates's alleged response to Crowley wise? Probably not. Good thing it's not criminal to be unwise.

Was Crowley's actual response - an arrest for disorderly conduct - wise? Well, that's irrelevant, because what he did was likely illegal and actionable under the Constitution. I've seen cops lose in 1983 actions on less. He's lucky Gates isn't suing.
posted by jabberjaw at 8:58 PM on July 27, 2009


Whalen is not credible by her own admission (in terms of what she witnessed on that day).

Sigh. Again: name one false thing she said. One. Name one thing she said which later turned out not to be true.

O.K., when you've realized you can't do that and you're wondering why I asked you to, go to a dictionary and look up the word "credible." Then come back to this thread and apologize to Ms. Whalen.

Thank you.

That's what Crowley did wrong. He went in there transforming 2 men with suitcases to 2 black men with backpacks.

You think he wrote the police report as he walked up to the house, do you?

The police report is evidence of what he remembered after the event. It is no evidence, at all, of his state of mind going in.

It is hilarious, however, that you confirm my claim that having such a state of mind would be incriminating (it would, indeed, have been bad for him to walk up to the house in such a state of mind). And then you say that he deliberately lied in order to create that impression in us. It's ridiculous.

As to whether Crowley should have arrested Gates. I've said over and over and over again that he should not have done so, regardless of what Gates was or wasn't saying to him.
posted by yoink at 9:51 PM on July 27, 2009


O.K., when you've realized you can't do that and you're wondering why I asked you to, go to a dictionary and look up the word "credible." Then come back to this thread and apologize to Ms. Whalen.

Dude, you two (or three) have spent the last 200 lines of this page hashing out recriminations of previous comments of minor details from the past. See if you can't just flip the script to where the recordings are released and drop all the "hah, gotcha. I WAS TOTALLY RIGHT, JERKO" business, OK? I know this thread is probably pretty moldy for several of you, but I just discovered it and there's a lot of tedium here that is unnecessary in light of recent information.

To wit:
Sigh. Again: name one false thing she said. One. Name one thing she said which later turned out not to be true.

You two are using different senses of "credible." One is applying her credibility as to the facts of the event, on which we now know she was explicitly hazy; the other one of you is asserting her credibility as to what she said, which we now know comports fairly well with Gates' version of the story. You're both right.

He went in there transforming 2 men with suitcases to 2 black men with backpacks. Why? Why was that relevant enough to put into his police report? Why couldn't he just say "2 men with backpacks"?

We don't know what was said in the kitchen, since Crowley's report leaves out the entire segment between him entering the house to his being shown Gates' ID at the kitchen table. There may have been some racy stuff said in there, probably subject to nuance, that we don't know about yet. At any rate, and I'm not saying this as fact, it would serve Crowley's interest in deflecting any charges of racism if he said he was told there were black people involved. It would avoid the whole, possibly-messy, discussion about why Gates thought the arrest was racially motivated. "Don't look at me, Whalen is the one who said it was black people." Short-sighted if that's how it went down, but it seems apparent that Crowley in fact did not know who he was messing with.

Of course, there's still the issue of Crowley not identifying himself as required by Massachussetts state law.
posted by rhizome at 10:42 PM on July 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Digby: "One more incident along a long road of creeping authoritarianism."
posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 11:12 PM on July 27, 2009


Dude, you two (or three) have spent the last 200 lines of this page hashing out recriminations of previous comments of minor details from the past. See if you can't just flip the script to where the recordings are released and drop all the "hah, gotcha. I WAS TOTALLY RIGHT, JERKO" business, OK? I know this thread is probably pretty moldy for several of you, but I just discovered it and there's a lot of tedium here that is unnecessary in light of recent information.

Quoted for oh my god thank you.
posted by desuetude at 7:30 AM on July 28, 2009


He's lucky Gates isn't suing.

Why Henry Louis Gates Should Sue.
posted by ericb at 7:48 AM on July 28, 2009


ericb: "Why Henry Louis Gates Should Sue."

Starts off with a pretty big if: "assuming he has legal grounds to do so." Be interesting to know if he has grounds to sue. Cops arrest people and then prosecutors let them go all the time yet the courts aren't loaded with false arrests cases so I'm guess there is an intent component that needs to be proved for false arrest cases to be successful.
posted by Mitheral at 8:10 AM on July 28, 2009


You two are using different senses of "credible." One is applying her credibility as to the facts of the event, on which we now know she was explicitly hazy; the other one of you is asserting her credibility as to what she said, which we now know comports fairly well with Gates' version of the story. You're both right.

I had no idea that "credible" was such an obscure and little understood word. "Haziness" has absolutely nothing to do with "credibility." If I truthfully say "I am unsure on that point" and you have no reason to doubt the sincerity of my claim, then my statement about my uncertainty is "credible."

I'm afraid you're simply wrong. The fact that she made it clear that she did not know all the facts enhances her credibility, in every possible sense (ordinary and legal) of the word.
posted by yoink at 9:24 AM on July 28, 2009


At any rate, and I'm not saying this as fact, it would serve Crowley's interest in deflecting any charges of racism if he said he was told there were black people involved. It would avoid the whole, possibly-messy, discussion about why Gates thought the arrest was racially motivated. "Don't look at me, Whalen is the one who said it was black people."

That is absurd. It is just completely and utterly and laughably absurd. Gates is black. A white cop arrested a black man regardless of whatever he heard over the radio or from the witness. How does it "avoid the whole, possibly-messy, discussion about why Gates thought the arrest was racially motivated" for Crowley to say "oh, and I went in there expecting to find a black burglar"? Are you suggesting that Crowley was going to say "hey, I never even noticed that the man I was talking to face-to-face was black--the whole "someone involved in this is black" thing came as a total shock to me at the time I remembered the witness's statement to that effect"? By what bizarre and twisted logic does it help Crowley look like a fair and impartial actor to frame the police report so that it suggests that he walked into the scene with a racially charged scenario in his head?

You people are so utterly desperate to construe every single thing Crowley did as "evil" that you're willing to say things that are ridiculous on their face. Crowley was relying on the 911 tapes being spirited away; he was writing just for the Police Chief (so, er, the Police Chief wasn't going to be allowed to hear the 911 tapes?); he was hoping that by shuffling the 'accusation' of blackness off onto Whalen his actual arresting of a black man would somehow be drained of potential racial controversy.

It's like arguing with Birthers.
posted by yoink at 9:36 AM on July 28, 2009


What's even more disgusting is that he also seems to have slandered a 3rd party to cover his ass, even if it doesn't make sense.

How, exactly, does Crowley's report "slander" Whalen? Are you suggesting that it is a racist act merely to notice someones race? If so, every single contributor to this thread has been indulging in the most vicious racism.

Or are you suggesting that saying that someone is wearing a backpack is some kind of insidious slur on their character?

The police report clearly erred in what it attributed to Whalen. I fail to see, however, that anything in the police report reflected badly upon Whalen. I do realize, though, that some people desperately want an excuse for having said so many bad things about Whalen with no justification.
posted by yoink at 9:40 AM on July 28, 2009


I think the problem here is that some posters think that racism should never be alleged unless it can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt and others base the allegation solely on the long history of racism and the police interactions with minorities. Neither can convince the other of their position and so the argument continues. The insidiousness of racism is that as it became unacceptable to present the shibboleths of racists in public, it has assumed a less obvious exterior and we are left with only indirect indications that, such as in specific instances such as this, can not be used as irrefutable evidence for particulars and only are useful in aggregates to indicate that minorities may be more frequently victims of instances with such indications.

If one approaches this instance with the mindset that it must be proven irrefutably that Crowley is a racist to raise that allegation, one is not going to be convinced by the available evidence, because no police officer is going to shout "ni**er" or any such epithet to a black man, at least not in public earshot. It is a waste of time for those who feel that the preponderance of evidence is all that is necessary to continue to try to convince the former folk of their position. Likewise, the former cannot convince the latter by a lack of evidence of the variety they need, since it is not the standard being held by the latter.

IANAL, but in my dim understanding, there is reason to believe race played a role in the police arresting Prof. Gates, but way too little evidence to hold up in a criminal case. Whether it would pass muster in a civil suit, I am not able to discern, but were I sitting on a civil jury and using a preponderance rule, I would have to say it did. Reasonable people may differ, however.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:57 AM on July 28, 2009


More tedium about "credibility" - please feel free to move on to the next comment.

Yoink - we're probably operating under different definitions of "credible" as rhizome pointed out above. I am not asserting that Whalen is a liar, or is insincere, or is dishonest. I see that you are picking and choosing your battle in this long discussion to find one that you think you can win; and perhaps you can. This issue of credibility is incredibly lame, and purely a matter of semantics and practicality when you look at it from a legal standpoint.

What I am asserting is that her testimony is limited in its credibility. She herself said that she was unclear as to what was going on. The crux of the matter is this: A person who is admittedly unclear as to what she saw is not going to be able to provide credible testimony about what she saw. Here is how the testimony will go:

Direct Examination By Crowley's Attorney
Attorney 1: What did you see prior to making the 911 call?
Whalen: I'm really unclear as to what I saw.
Attorney 1: Well, what do you think you saw?
Attorney 2: Objection, calls for speculation.
Judge: Sustained.
Attorney 1: Well, Ms. Whalen, what are you sure you saw?
Whalen: I saw two men at the front door of Gates's house with suitcases.
Attorney 1: Could you tell what they were doing?
Whalen: It looked like they were trying to get into the house.
Attorney 2: Objection, speculative, move to strike.
Judge: Sustained. The jury will disregard the witness's last response.
Attorney 1: Ms. Whalen, you said they saw them at the front door, correct? What did you see them doing at the front door?
Whalen: They looked like they were trying to force the door open.
Attorney 2: Objection. Speculative, move to strike.
Judge: Overruled. I'll allow it. You can address it on cross-examination, counsel.
Attorney 1: Did you do anything after you witnessed the two men at the front door?
Whalen: I called 911.
Attorney 1: Did the later police arrive?
Whalen: Yes.
Attorney 1: And did you speak to the police before they went to the house?
Whalen: Yes.
Attorney 1: That's all. Thank you.

Cross-Examination By Gates's Attorney
Attorney 2: You said you saw what appeared to be two men trying to force the door open, correct?
Whalen: Yes.
Attorney 2: What did you see them actually doing?
Whalen: Well, they looked like they were trying to push the door open, with their shoulders.
Attorney 2: Both of them? Or one of them?
Whalen: Just one of them.
Attorney 2: What was the other one doing there?
Whalen: Just standing there.
Attorney 2: Did either of them look like they were trying to hide what they were doing?
Whalen: I don't know.
Attorney 2: How long did you watch them?
Whalen: I don't know. Maybe 5 or 10 seconds?
Attorney 2: So you didn't watch them for very long.
Whalen: No.
Attorney 2: You didn't ask them what they were doing?
Whalen: No.
Attorney 2: You just assumed they were breaking into the house?
Whalen: No. I really didn't know what they were doing - I couldn't tell. That's what I told the 911 operator. I figured that the police would be able to sort it out.
Attorney 2: So, you're really not sure at all what you saw prior to making the 911 call?
Whalen: No, I was not very sure. Just that there were two men with suitcases.
Attorney 2: Did you speak with the police when they arrived?
Whalen: Yes.
Attorney 2: Who arrived?
Whalen: Officer Crowley.
Attorney 2: Did you have any conversation with him?
Whalen: Just that I was the one that made the call.
Attorney 2: Did you say anything else to him?
Whalen: No.
Attorney 2: Did you tell Officer Crowley that you saw two black men with backpacks trying to enter the premises?
Whalen: No.
Attorney 2: That's all Ms. Whalen. Thanks for your time.

She comes off as absolutely sincere and honest. But I think a jury will look at her and think that she really has no idea what she's talking about when it comes to what happened at the front door of Gates's house. That's what I mean by credibility. I misunderstood what you were defining credibility as - which is that she is insincere, dishonest or lying, and that's not the case. Credibility by legal standards is very broad, and lots of things go to a witness's credibility. "Haziness" is one of them.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:15 AM on July 28, 2009


I agree with you on the difficulty of "proving" racism, Mental Wimp, but I am sad to point out that it is not particularly uncommon for police to use such racial epithets in the course of an investigation, in the presence of the targeted minority individuals and others. (They don't put it in their report, of course.)

Speaking of. Why on earth would the racially-sensitive, avoiding-racial-profiling expert Crowley get the details so very wrong? I don't it's odd at all that Crowley would report Gates's race himself, but it's just so very odd that he went to the trouble of portraying Whalen's report of "two large men, one possibly Hispanic," "with suitcases," into two black men with backpacks.
posted by desuetude at 10:26 AM on July 28, 2009


do realize, though, that some people desperately want an excuse for having said so many bad things about Whalen with no justification.

Maybe, I guess. I admit that I haven't read the entire thread here simply because I had been following it elsewhere, but I'm inherently suspect of the divining unstated intentions of other people. That's just me. But, and it's likely this is a function of the sites I've been paying attention to, but the worst thing I've heard/seen said about her was that she may have been kind of dumb if she didn't know who Gates was after having worked at Harvard Magazine for 15 years, just a couple of blocks away from his house. Sure, she worked on the money side, but as a fund raiser she would certainly have had occasion to discuss articles that included Mr. Gates. At least, that's how the speculation goes, but I haven't seen any serious aspersion cast against her, and certainly not enough to hang an entire point on.

That is absurd. It is just completely and utterly and laughably absurd

Sure, fine. I'm just trying to tease out the reason for the discrepancy, to find meaning in a confusing set of elements with my imagination. It's certainly speculative, as is much of the froth in this issue, but that's what we're doing here.

And I get your point. There's a lot we don't know here, but at the same time this isn't a court of law, it's a social space. There's no need to wet-blanket this, since it's starting to feel like I'm at a bar and someone interjects to say, "HEY! Sure Johnny likes the Mets and has for most of his life--we know that--but we have no evidence, NONE, that he has ever had sex with his mother or anybody else's. OK? Are we clear on that?" I mean really.

What we do (now) know is that Crowley did not just say Whalen told him they were black in his police report. No, he actually repeated it when giving a phone interview (don't bother with the transcript, it's nearly useless) to a sports-radio show last Thursday. I'll quote:

"She was right there and she told me what she saw."

From the tapes, we now know that both of these are not true. Now I realize that a judge and jury has not returned a verdict of "he lied" yet, but WTF do you think is going on in his brain to repeat these things? THAT is interesting to me and, I think, a few others of us here. We can't arrive at The Truth based on what we have, but we can have a conversation, no? What would be the use or purpose of changing "suitcase" to "backpack?"

It's just too weird. Or too obvious.

To reiterate: the point is not that Crowley would not have known Gates was black. That's not the issue. The issue is that Crowley said multiple times that someone else told him there were black people breaking into the house, when no such thing occurred. Why would he need/want to do that?
posted by rhizome at 10:45 AM on July 28, 2009


Put the race talk aside: the issue here is abuse of police power, and misplaced deference to authority
posted by homunculus at 12:52 PM on July 28, 2009 [1 favorite]


homunculus: Absolutely. Even more on point is the fact that there are several Massachussetts cases that speak to the level of behavior required to sustain a disorderly charge. The MA SJC (their state supreme court) has consistently refused to carry disorderly charges in any case where there was no threat of riot, crowd incitement, etc. A Sergeant who does training for topics that are on point in the Gates fiasco would likely (note to yoink: I am not stating this as fact) know the vagaries of the applicability of disorderly conduct charges in the state in which he has been an officer for over 10 years.
posted by rhizome at 1:34 PM on July 28, 2009


desuetude, I'm right with you. I'm just trying to understand the hard insistence that no one should be able to allege racism on the part of Crowley and examined that question from the perspective of someone who regards each incident as distinct and doesn't want to borrow prior probabilities from earlier patterns of events. I think that analysis holds up to the evidence presented in the various discussions woven through this thread.

But, yeah, Crowley seems like a bit of a closet case to me, and perhaps his acting to train cops in diversity indicates he recognizes his own incompletely eradicated racism.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:51 PM on July 28, 2009


Put the race talk aside: the issue here is abuse of police power, and misplaced deference to authority

Bill Maher:
"I'm not even sure this is a racial situation because I don't know if this cop is racist. But I have to say it seems to me more like a police situation. I think Henry Louis Gates was arrested for the crime of not kissing the behind of the police officer."
posted by ericb at 2:11 PM on July 28, 2009


Lucia Whalen, 911 caller in gates case, to speak publicly at 12:00 noon (Eastern) press conference today.
posted by ericb at 8:24 AM on July 29, 2009


Harvard Professor Gates Is Half-Irish, Related to Cop Who Arrested Him.
posted by ericb at 9:51 AM on July 29, 2009


ericb: "Harvard Professor Gates Is Half-Irish, Related to Cop Who Arrested Him."

Well that explains it. Irish families are always fighting. Maybe having them "get together for a beer" isn't such a great idea after all.
posted by Riki tiki at 10:45 AM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's like arguing with Birthers.

Sometimes I wonder what it feels like to always be the smartest person in the room.
posted by P.o.B. at 3:15 PM on July 29, 2009


Justin Barrett, Boston Police Officer, Suspended For Calling Gates A "Jungle Monkey" In Email.
posted by ericb at 3:25 PM on July 29, 2009


Fox News legal analyst sides with Professor Gates.
posted by ericb at 3:47 PM on July 29, 2009


Here's a copy of the e-mail sent by Justin Barrett.
posted by madamjujujive at 6:06 PM on July 29, 2009


Here's a copy of the e-mail sent by Justin Barrett

Tap-dancing christ on a pogo stick. If that's what the Boston PD is turning out of the academy (and a former English teacher ax-ing, no less!) and that attitude is seen as acceptable until the media finds out, then the charges of racism become a lot less unlikely.

What a fuckin tool.
posted by goo at 6:52 PM on July 29, 2009


Wow. That email is incredible. I assumed that the email would be one or two lines, just complaining to a friend or something, but hoo boy that is one incensed policeman. He says "jungle monkey" five times by my count, in an email that's approximately 715 words long. And what is all that business about crullers and coffee?
posted by ocherdraco at 7:47 PM on July 29, 2009


What makes Barrett's email extra frustrating is that, if he had simply omitted the obvious slurs, it would've been almost indistinguishable from conservative talking points.

One-sided liberal media persecution complex? Check.
Using military service as blanket fiat power in an argument? Check.
Disdain for high-level academia? Check.
Actually arguing that the authorities didn't act harshly enough, such that the actual incident seems like a calm and rational response by comparison? Check.

But add in some "HURF DURF JUNGLE MONKEYS" and now we have a problem with it. Which I understand, sure. Before that it's just stupid, afterward it's stupid and racist.

I'm just saying I wish we drew the line before stupid.
posted by Riki tiki at 8:00 PM on July 29, 2009 [1 favorite]


I tell you, one of the very worst things about getting older, is how unsurprised one becomes. Nothing ever seems to go contrary to expectations - too much experience accumulated. Seen it all. Fucking depressing. And so with this email writer: why am I not surprised to find a racist cop is a conservative right-winger? So fucking expected. A walking/writing cliche. Every conservative talking point checked off - even "God" makes an appearance in this racist rant, how lovely. And boy, he rags on and on about his "income taxes" - he'd love for them to be lowered.

Here's what I don't get. He fucking lives off of taxes. He's a cop. His entire "income" is derived from taxes. Yet, he wants to lower income taxes. Hmm - doesn't that mean, that if there is less money collected, there will be less money to distribute to people such as him? Lower taxes = lower income for all government workers, including cops. So how is he winning again? Or is it: lower taxes, but keep paying me the same amount - in other words, like so many "entitled" boobs out there, he demands the services of government, but refuses to pay for them... maybe "God" can make up the difference, what with those magical miracles and stuff. Now, by contrast, the "jungle monkey" Gates, is paid by private enterprise money - so if you lowered income taxes, he'd get to keep more. So is mister Racist Cop advocating a pay cut for himself and a raise for the "jungle monkey"? Seems so. Of course, mister Racist Cop doesn't dwell on the fact that it is the "jungle monkey's" taxes that pay the cops salary. Nor, of course, does he dwell on the fact that this salary he's collecting - paid for by the jungle monkey's taxes, and godless people's taxes - is supposed to pay for the protection of all citizens... yes, even the "jungle monkey" and the godless. But hey, what do we expect - after all, this is a guy who excoriates the journalist for being a poor writer, and also brags about how he teaches English, yet his email is full of run on sentences and even misspellings. Who says a conservative has to be consistent or logical or even make the slightest sense. Par for the course, I say. How very, very unsurprising.
posted by VikingSword at 10:01 PM on July 29, 2009


Wow. I think this was my favorite line:
"You are a hot little bird with minimal experiences in a harsh field. You are a fool. An infidel."
Whoa! An infidel! Good grief. Did he think this e-mail was anonymous?
posted by desuetude at 6:57 AM on July 30, 2009


White Cops Are Always Right
posted by homunculus at 9:12 AM on July 30, 2009


DC Lawyer Arrested After Talking About Gates Arrest, Criticizing Police.
posted by ericb at 9:15 AM on July 30, 2009


Just to clear things up, Barrett isn't racist - it says so right there in his email.
posted by jabberjaw at 10:27 AM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


This Is What Happens to a Deaf, Mentally Disabled Man in America
posted by homunculus at 12:39 PM on July 30, 2009


This Is What Happens to a Deaf, Mentally Disabled Man in America
posted by homunculus


if that link isn't "become a police officer" i will be very surprised
posted by Optimus Chyme at 1:59 PM on July 30, 2009


Photo of the 'beer summit.'
posted by ericb at 3:32 PM on July 30, 2009


man to be a fly on the wall, there.
posted by empath at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2009


Sure, it starts out with "Listen, you ofay motherfucker," but eight beers from now, they'll be re-enacting the scar show-and-tell scene from Jaws.
posted by FelliniBlank at 3:56 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


What I Hope a Fly on the Wall in the White House Would Hear.
posted by ericb at 3:57 PM on July 30, 2009 [2 favorites]


I second that link, ericb.
posted by darkstar at 4:36 PM on July 30, 2009


Notice how the media coverage differs:

WSJ: "Gates, Crowley Join Obama for Hotly-Anticipated Happy Hour"

CBS News: "Four Regular Guys Having A Beer"

CNN: "Obama, professor, officer sit down over brews"

MSNBC: "Cambridge cop, professor have beers at White House"

HuffPo: "CHEERS! WATCH: The "Beer Summit"... Obama: "Friendly, Thoughtful Conversation""

Politico: "'Beer summit' letdown"

Fox News: "Obama Takes a Swig With Black Scholar, White Cop"
posted by jabberjaw at 4:41 PM on July 30, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fox News: "Obama Takes a Swig With Black Scholar, White Cop"

Oh, Fox News, is there anything you can't turn into gay porn?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 8:04 PM on July 30, 2009


Those media titles are just awesome. Each stance is very different. CBS attempts neutrality, WSJ goes for alliterative sensationalism, Politico comments on expectation, HuffPo is gregarious and ahem...cheerful, CNN tries to upscale beer, and Fox is divisive as usual.

Also,
only one mention of Biden (obliquely, by CBS),
2 mentions of Beer Summit, both with event/non-serious punctuation,
2 mentions of participants in equal terms (WSJ: last name + last name + last name; CBS: Four regular guys),
3 mentions of participants in unequal terms (CNN: last name + title + title; MSNBC: [City] colloquial title + [ ø ] title + metonymy (Institution for Inhabitants); Fox: last name + [Ethnicity] ameliorative title + [Ethnicity] colloquial title).
posted by iamkimiam at 8:41 PM on July 30, 2009


Wow, yoink, wtf is wrong with you? Making up an entire conversation with someone isn't an "error" Gates obviously lied in his police report. Yeah, it represented his state of mind, the state of mind of a LIAR.

And by the way, you don't need to think of a good 'reason' for someone to lie in order to prove they are lying. Why does Sarah Palin lie all the time? It may not be possible to figure out a motive for every single lie, but that's beside the point. (And, obviously it's possible that he thought putting that lie in the police report would give him a better excuse for what happened, and assumed that it would never be contradicted)
posted by delmoi at 12:34 AM on July 31, 2009


So, delmoi, you obviously have an explanation for why he'd tell a lie that would hurt his case, right?

Or are you siding with DAs and cops the world over who claim that inconsistencies in people's testimony are always proof of dishonesty? You're saying that decades of research into the faultiness of human memory (the kind of faultiness that would easily transform "suitcases" into "backpacks," for example; or would easily change an after-the-fact understanding of the case ["two black men"] into a before-the-fact report) is wrong?

Given that these errors serve only to weaken Crowley's case (as witness this entire thread before it became known that these were errors; do you see anybody saying "hey, you can't blame Crowley, it was the witness who said there were two black men"? Just think about it: would you feel any less inclined to blame Crowley for his actions if his police report had turned out to be true?), I find it far easier to ascribe them to simple erroneous recollection than to deliberate falsehood. Why would he tell lies that hurt his case?

As for other errors in the police report, there are plenty that I can see a reason for him to deliberately make and I'm quite happy to say (as I have on multiple occasions upthread) that those probably are lies. The "talking to the witness before going in" one, of course, turns out not to be a lie but an error on the part of Whalen's lawyer. Whalen herself says that she did talk to Crowley when he arrived, but only to say that she was the 911 caller. I said above that I can see why Crowley would lie about the extent of that conversation: he wants to present himself as the cool professional, doing everything by the book, not acting rashly or precipitately. But I cannot see, and nobody so far in this thread has been able to suggest, what possible good Crowley would think it would do for his case to "lie" about whether Whalen identified the race of the people she saw forcing the door to the house and whether they had suitcases or backpacks.

A white officer arrests a black man for disorderly conduct. The black man is influential, has suggested to the officer that he will talk to the Chief of Police and that he will make a complaint alleging racial bias. The officer writes his report on the incident knowing it will be examined closely by his superiors (at least). He wants (obviously) to present his case in the best possible light. Remember, he did not arrest Gates on suspicion of burglary. He arrested him for disturbing the peace. So he needs to do everything he can to suggest that he, Crowley, behaved entirely properly, that he was unprovocative, that he was calm and professional in his manner and that Gates, by contrast, was hostile, irrational and that any claims he will make about racial profiling or racial animus were completely unfounded.

O.K.--so tell me the thought process that has Crowley say "hmmmm...shall I put down the fact--which is recorded on the dispatcher's message anyway, so the Police Chief will get to know it regardless--that when I arrived I had no particular suspicions as to the race of either the owner of the house or the people who had forced entry to it? Or shall I instead lie so as to suggest that as I approached the house I was on the lookout specifically for black men that I suspected of being criminals? Yes, clearly the lie is the way to go; there's no possible way that that could support Gates's claim that he was being treated as a criminal in his own home from the outset!"
posted by yoink at 9:16 AM on July 31, 2009


"...the faultiness of human memory ..."

The faultiness isn't random and links to conscious and subconscious motivations. Hence, this "choose(lie, trick of memory)" is evidence for his racism.
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:56 AM on July 31, 2009


So, delmoi, you obviously have an explanation for why he'd tell a lie that would hurt his case, right?

No, why would I? What does having an explanation for a lie have to do with it being a lie? No one makes an "error" about having an entire conversation with someone, complete with imaginary details like that they said they saw two black men with backpacks.

Your standard of proof for something being a "lie" seems to be 1) to prove that it was false and 2) to come up with a perfectly rational explanation for why they thought it would be a good idea to tell.

That standard is absurd. Now, I could say that It seems like he might have thought incorrectly that it would make his actions seem more reasonable and he thought that the case would never go to trial (after all, we're talking about like a $100 ticket or something, not something most people would hire a lawyer for).

But even then, I shouldn't even have to explain why he might have done it. It's not true, and it's not the kind of thing you would make an "error" about. It's a deliberate falsehood. A lie.

Anyway, you seem to want to pick nits about which parts of the lie were more lie-y. Like he said he had a whole conversation but actually she just said she was the caller, why would he lie about her saying black in the middle of his other lies, etc. It's complete nonsense. Here is what he said:
"Whalen, who was standing on the sidewalk in front of the residence, held a wireless telephone in her hand arid told me that it was she who called. She went on to tell me that she observed what appeared to be two black males with backpacks on the porch of 17 Ware Street. She told me that her suspicions were aroused when she observed one of the men wedging his shoulder into the door as if he was trying to force entry."
The two sentences which I have bolded parts of are lies. Whether it was a good idea to tell them is totally irrelevant.

The fact that this was a lie indicates that other parts of the police report are also lies, like about how he made the comment about his momma (it can't be heard on the recording of the incident). It indicates that he's not an honest person, etc.
posted by delmoi at 2:07 PM on July 31, 2009


What I Saw at the Beer Summit -- "Elizabeth Gates joined her father, Skip, Sgt. Crowley, and the president to raise a beer and bury the hatchet. An inside report from the peace talks."
posted by ericb at 2:31 PM on July 31, 2009 [2 favorites]


Thanks, ericb. There is hope in the world. From the article:
“I read an article where they called my father, ‘sexy cop.’ It was embarrassing,” [Crowley's] daughter said as we sat down for cookies and Coke. “Yeah,” [Elizabeth Gates] replied. He’s pretty cute.”
...
Gates said, “... You know, Crowley’s not a bad guy. He’s not a Joe the Plumber who wants to represent the Right. He would be horrified to be considered a racist.”
posted by jabberjaw at 3:48 PM on July 31, 2009


Interesting article ericb, thanks!

On the whole, I thought this piece was a great, well-written fun read, but this sentence really, really bothered me:
"As our family rounded the corner to the White House library and I first caught sight of Sgt. Crowley’s lovely daughter; she was wearing an appropriately heavy and charmingly untrained amount of green eyeliner on her lower lashes, and I saw my former self in her."
What the hell was the point of this posturing and stance? Why pass judgment/call-out her makeup application? Just what is she getting at here, and why? What's the deal with 'lovely', 'charmingly untrained', 'my former self'? Why draw attention to her own (the writer's) assumed lead on maturity? Why index this publicly?*

Maybe I'm reading into things as usual, but I swear I cringed when I read that line. And I imagined Crowley and his daughter reading it and cringing too. I'm going to just assume the best here, that it was a badly written line, obscuring a truly honest attempt to relate to someone else (as 'a reminder of one's self'). Which is most likely the truth, given the overall positive, honest message of the piece. But that one part, ick, shudder...

*I realize I am participating in the same activity that I am railing against, but I don't think it matters here because I have no personal stake in this and nobody gives a rat's ass about my opinion, thank God.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:19 PM on July 31, 2009


No one makes an "error" about having an entire conversation with someone, complete with imaginary details like that they said they saw two black men with backpacks.

You obviously failed to read my comment. I said that I am perfectly ready to accept that the "imaginary conversation" is a lie. What I don't accept is that the "backpack" part of it makes sense if we imagine it to be a deliberate untruth. As to your later claim that if he lied about the converation then everything in the conversation must be a lie too, that's simply silly. You know, for example, that Whalen had, in fact, said that she saw the door being shouldered open. There's a 'part of the conversation' which you know to be 'true' even though it isn't true that the conversation ever occurred. All I'm saying is that Crowley transferred to this falsified conversation what he remembered about the report Whalen had made from the dispatcher's initial call. I think the reason for him telling the story this way is clear enough: he wants to show that he had every reason to approach the house and start making inquiries. He wants to show that he double checked what he'd heard from the dispatcher with the witness, so that there's no question at all about whether he should have accosted Gates in the first place. But that doesn't remotely explain his need to actually falsify what he'd heard in that original call.

Your standard of proof for something being a "lie" seems to be 1) to prove that it was false and 2) to come up with a perfectly rational explanation for why they thought it would be a good idea to tell.

In general, if someone says something that is factually incorrect, we have to ask ourselves "is this simply an innocent error or is it a deliberate falsehood"? If it is obvious that the error is very much in that person's interest, that's suggestive (though not conclusive) that they were lying: it provides a motive for the action. If what they say is inherently absurd, impossible, or flagrantly out of keeping with what we know the truth to be, then that, too, would suggest a deliberate lie. None of those obtain in this case, however.

Your standard for proof appears to be "if I don't like the person, then every thing they say that isn't factually correct is a deliberate lie."

It's not true, and it's not the kind of thing you would make an "error" about.

I don't know what you mean by "it" here. If you mean "having a long conversation with Whalen" then I've already said that I agree with you. I think he lied about that. If you mean displacing his current belief (at time of writing) that the incident involved "two black men" back onto the original dispatcher's call or turning "suitcases" into "backpacks" then of course those are the sorts of things people make "errors" about. Those are, in fact, textbook examples of the sorts of things people make errors about in their recollection all the time. This is a fact that you know perfectly well, and will happily trot out the next time there is a thread about some poor shmuck who is being railroaded in the courts on the basis of faulty eyewitness testimony.

about how he made the comment about his momma (it can't be heard on the recording of the incident).

Oh for the love of God. This is strictly Birther-level. The "recording of the incident" consists of about 6 seconds or so of noncontinuous audio from the two or three occasions that Crowley is speaking into his own police radio. There is, in other words, no such thing as "a recording of the incident"--there are fragmentary recordings of a few short moments from the incident. We don't know how close Gates was to Crowley at the times Crowley used his radio; we don't know how well the radio picks up ambient sound (microphones can be designed to be either sensitive to ambient sound or not--I would imagine that police radios would be best designed if the person recieving their messages didn't usually find the speaker's voice drowned out by whatever was going on around them, but I don't know). In any event, whatever Gates did or did not say to Crowley, the fact that none of it appears on "the recording of the incident" is of no moment whatsoever. By that standard, every single thing Gates has said about the incident is also a "lie" because the "recording of the incident" suggests that he resolutely refused to speak the entire time.