The Shotgun Blog
Friday, July 24, 2009
Over the last week I have been following with some interest the story, which has gotten little coverage in Canada, of the arrest of Henry Louis Gates. Professor Gates is among the leading public intellectuals in the United States, focusing on African-American history and culture. While I don't generally agree with his ideas, he is nevertheless a highly regarded academic with a prestigious perch at Harvard. Last week Gates was returning from a trip to China to his home in Cambridge. Finding the front door stuck he and his driver forced it open. Noticed by a neighbour, she called the police reporting a possible break and enter. An officer soon arrived, what happened next is in dispute.
The police report has the officer, a Sgt Crowley, being confronted by an arrogant, shouting and insulting Gates, who in due course was arrested for disorderly conduct. Gates' version has the officer entering the house without permission, treating him rudely and refusing to provide a badge number and name (which an officer is required to do under state law). There is no dispute that Gates, before he was arrested, provided proof he was the lawful occupant of the house. The charge was disorderly conduct.
Because of Professor Gates' race, he is a light skinned black, the charge of racism was immediately leveled at the officer. Indeed, according to the police report Gates accused the officer of being racist from early on in the incident. No one can know what was passing through the mind of the officer when he placed Gates under arrest. What we can make a fair judgment on is the absurdity of arresting a 58 year old man, who walks with a cane, for disorderly conduct on property which he has a legal right to occupy (the home is owned by Harvard University). Whatever the racial politics involved, and I don't discount them entirely, this seems like another case of an officer who expected something more than compliance with the law, he expected submission. Gates may not have been smart to talk back to a police officer, but he was perfectly within his legal and moral rights to object to what he perceived was unfair treatment. If a cop can't take being talked back to, perhaps he should find another line of work.
The below piece from Slate is the most fair minded description and analysis of the incident I was able to find:
I know Gates and find it very hard to imagine him engaged in "disorderly conduct." But many police officers demand more than orderly conduct; they demand submission and deference. Given the difficult and dangerous jobs they do, they usually deserve it. But it would be naive to imagine that there are no power-hungry bigots wearing the uniform. Anyone, particularly a black person, needs only to encounter one such rogue officer to find himself in serious jeopardy—at that point a few hours in custody is about the best one can hope for. Maybe Gates, who is well-acquainted with the history of American racism, raised his voice in anger or fear. Maybe he even unfairly berated Crowley. But there's no way that the slight, 58-year-old Harvard scholar, with his cane, posed a threat to public order that justified his arrest.
Posted by Richard Anderson on July 24, 2009 | Permalink
Is there a separate "resisting an officer" statute in Massachusetts? If not, that might explain the charge of disorderly conduct. Allegedly Gates refused to provide identification upon request. Moreover, you can be charged with disorderly conduct even on your own property; how else would cops break up loud parties? And this property did not belong to Gates; he was merely a tenant.
Being middle-aged and/or handicapped does not mean you can ignore the law, or constitute grounds for leniency in sentencing, should this go that far. In any case, if and until more facts come to light, any judgement is premature.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 8:47:46 AM
The questions of age is plausibility. Disorderly conduct is a vague charge. How disorderly can a man of Gates' age and condition have been? There is no dispute that Gates did show proof of lawful occupation, before the arrest.
No doubt you can be charged with disorderly conduct, but this wasn't a loud party. Had Gates been standing in the middle of the street, blocking traffic or bothering those walking past, the charge would have been plausible. Even based on the police reports, he was at best talking back to an officer in a loud voice (again how loud could he have shouted?).
Posted by: Publius | 2009-07-24 9:30:12 AM
//Disorderly conduct is a vague charge.//
Yep, it's the default charge for "someone didn't obey us".
You are not required to provide I.D. except for a drivers license while driving a vehicle.
Posted by: Scott Carnegie | 2009-07-24 9:44:28 AM
"You are not required to provide I.D. except for a drivers license while driving a vehicle."
Is that the law in Massachusetts, or Canada? And keep in mind in the States you also have county and municipal laws to contend with.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 10:33:44 AM
True for New hampshire, likely true for Mass.
Posted by: Scott Carnegie | 2009-07-24 10:40:42 AM
"The questions of age is plausibility. Disorderly conduct is a vague charge. How disorderly can a man of Gates' age and condition have been?"
Apparently his mouth is in fine working order. A non-violent person can be charged with disorderly conduct for screaming in the street. Anything that disturbs the peace can be considered disorderly conduct.
"There is no dispute that Gates did show proof of lawful occupation, before the arrest."
By "no dispute," you mean that the officer acknowledged that Gates provided proof of residence? How could he do that if he did not show I.D.? What proof did he present in its stead? In any case, the charge is not related to his status as a lawful occupant.
"Had Gates been standing in the middle of the street, blocking traffic or bothering those walking past, the charge would have been plausible. Even based on the police reports, he was at best talking back to an officer in a loud voice (again how loud could he have shouted?)"
As to how loud he could have shouted, you tell me; I know nothing about the man. But people can scream pretty damn loud, and apparently the acoustics in the kitchen were making it worse. I know from experience when my wife bathes our two boys in a tiled bathroom just how effectively walls can focus sound.
In any case, if Gates had been a white cane-carrying man of the same age, I doubt there would have been a peep about this in the local media, much less the national media.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 10:48:18 AM
So we have a black police officer and Gates, another black man, and Gates trots out the "race" card. If he were the least bit intelligent, he would have co-operated and thanked the police for responding so promptly (actually rare) to a reported break-in of his house. And this is a professor, go figure...
Posted by: Alain | 2009-07-24 10:53:53 AM
Haven't you heard? All cops are heroes. That's what we've been told, every day, since 9/11.
It's getting to the point, where you can't even voice your opinion to a cop, especially if you're under 30.
I go out of my way to let them know I don't take orders from some kid in a uniform, and I know I'll pay for it, some day. That's why God gave us lawyers.
Posted by: dp | 2009-07-24 10:53:54 AM
A man in New Hampshire refusing to show ID to the police, and walks away.
Posted by: Scott Carnegie | 2009-07-24 11:13:23 AM
I just read your ferengie comment. You do realize the ferengie are an unrealistic caricature created by a bunch of socialists right? Do you also think vulcans are real?
Posted by: Charles | 2009-07-24 11:54:18 AM
Ghastly race hustling tripe - from the leftist MSM "Slate" outlet, at that - does not belong at a blog which aspires to be about liberty.
You simply cannot be politically correct and for liberty, it's impossible, so stop trying.
"I know Gates and find it very hard to imagine him engaged in "disorderly conduct."
Here is a picture of Gates yelling at the cops, not that even photographic evidence will sway the politically correct:
Gates was 100% out of line and at fault here and it's disappointing but unsurprising that the PC crypto-leftists here are defending him.
The arresting officer was hand picked by a black police chief to give training on racial profiling and had done so for 5 years. By Gates' own admission he was aggressive with the officer who was merely doing his job.
You couldn't pick a worse cop to accuse of racism if you tried. This incident, and Obama's reaction to it, may have been a bridge too far and cause many, perhaps millions, of white Americans to more aggressively defend their interests in the face of a hostile coalition of minorities and PC chilled leftists.
Posted by: Disgusted | 2009-07-24 12:08:50 PM
The police didn't go ahead with the charges. That says a lot about who was wrong in this case, I should think
Posted by: Peter Loewen | 2009-07-24 1:03:36 PM
"A man in New Hampshire refusing to show ID to the police, and walks away."
When last I checked, New Hampshire was not in Massachusetts. Each state has its own laws. Each county has its own laws. And many municipalities have their own laws.
I've seen this from you before, Scott. When you start making sound bites, it means your best-before date on a thread has passed.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 1:15:04 PM
It's "Ferengi," not "ferengie," Charles. And fictional or not, they are a recognizable type of person, distinguished by a ruthless, relentless approach to commercialism as an end unto itself and not much else. For a one-note man like Scott, it fits perfectly.
"I am a one-note man; I play it all I can."
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 1:17:10 PM
The cop should have hand-cuffed the man, then searched the house for intruders who may have intimidated the owner. This clearly was a procedural situation created by the possibility of unlawful entry brought about by a call to the police. The police must investigate. The owner was wrong in the totality. Pure black on white racism before your eyes.
Posted by: Agha Ali Arkhan | 2009-07-24 7:25:11 PM
The question isn't whether Gates behaved like a paranoid idiot, he probably did, but whether the cop overreacted. Yes the smart thing is to be polite, the cop was just doing his job, but contempt of cop should not be a criminal offense. The fact that the charge was dropped so quickly wasn't simply due to media interest - though that certainly helped - but that it was a weak charge that wouldn't survive a trial.
Does Gates have a huge chip on his shoulder? Yeap. Being an arrogant jerk should not be a crime.
Posted by: Publius | 2009-07-24 7:53:31 PM
Publius, why is one party in the exchange permitted to overreact without repercussion, but not the other? Libertarians ideals stress personal responsibility. The point is we still don't have all the facts, and until we do, any judgement is premature.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-24 9:25:16 PM
Because one party is a private citizen and the other is an officer of the state. The worst Gates did was behave like an jerk and an idiot, the officer deprived Gates of his freedom, even if only temporarily. An officer's duty of care is higher than that of a civilian. As for having the facts, it's unlikely a week later - with the charges dropped and no trial - that we're likely to get any new relevant facts. What Gates was reallly charged with was "contempt of cop." It's a petty abuse of authority. Making a very minor fuss on the porch of your home should not lead to being arrested.
Shane, if I called you a racist idiot in public, you couldn't arrest me. Why should cops be an exception?
Posted by: Publius | 2009-07-25 9:56:25 AM
I stand corrected on the new evidence bit. Just found this article. I suspect when the tapes are released they'll show Gates shouting quite loudly and the cop behaving professionally, that wouldn't justify the arrest but it will embarass the hell out of Gates. Which he does deserve.
Posted by: Publius | 2009-07-25 10:51:28 AM
"The worst Gates did was behave like an jerk and an idiot,"
He falsely accused the officer of racism, he referred to the officer's mother, he yelled and continued yelling for no reason, he told the officer "you don't know who you are messing with".
He was treated better than a white man - who can't go running to the NAACP or any other of dozens of black lobby groups - would have been under the circumstances, and doubly so in Canada.
"As for having the facts, it's unlikely a week later - with the charges dropped and no trial - that we're likely to get any new relevant facts. "
The police taped the confrontation and will likely release it. The facts aren't seriously in dispute here, Gates corroborates that he acted aggressively. There is photographic evidence of him yelling at the cops.
"What Gates was reallly charged with was "contempt of cop." It's a petty abuse of authority."
He was treated the same as any other person would be and probably better, given his class and race. Whether cops should let citizens yell at them uncontrollably is a separate issue for debate in another time and place - you're defending Gates' conduct and criticizing the cop, and you are wrong to do so. You're moving the goalposts in a disingenuous attempt to defend the indefensible.
Just admit the obvious: you're too PC chilled to criticize a (half) black man, Pub. We'll all respect you more for admitting it rather than watching you perform rhetorical gymnastics to avoid being politically incorrect.
"Making a very minor fuss "
It was more than a very minor fuss.
"Shane, if I called you a racist idiot in public, you couldn't arrest me. Why should cops be an exception?"
Why do libertarians ask so many goddamned stupid questions when debating? Socratic method? You're no Socrates. It's a deplorable tactic to use in debate and an admission that you are lacking in wisdom. There are many good reasons to criticize the police and this isn't one of them; if you had a few posts to your name criticizing the RCMP for their awful conduct you might have some credibility here.
Now, is this place a cheering section or a comment section? Comment section? Good, then don't delete this comment.
Posted by: Disgusted | 2009-07-25 10:57:48 AM
"Because one party is a private citizen and the other is an officer of the state...An officer's duty of care is higher than that of a civilian."
That is irrelevant. Double standards are forbidden, as is taking advantage of one. Ours is government of the people, by the people, for the people. Those who expect their leaders to be magically free of the petty vices that distinguish those who put them there are living in a dream world. If you do want to pursue that avenue, though, the duty of care of the President of the United States is even higher, and even he now admits he spoke too hastily.
"The worst Gates did was behave like an jerk and an idiot, the officer deprived Gates of his freedom, even if only temporarily."
Acting like a jerk or an idiot can net you a disorderly conduct charge if it's loud enough, no matter if you are on your own land.
"As for having the facts, it's unlikely a week later - with the charges dropped and no trial - that we're likely to get any new relevant facts."
Wow! Whole week, huh? That's practically a lifetime. As per your follow-up post, it looks like we may have new proof after all.
"What Gates was reallly charged with was 'contempt of cop.' It's a petty abuse of authority."
And Gates calling his buddy the Prez to sic them on the local police department isn't?
"Making a very minor fuss on the porch of your home should not lead to being arrested."
I'll be the judge of what's "very minor" and what isn't; I have not ceded that judgement to you.
"Shane, if I called you a racist idiot in public, you couldn't arrest me."
For the words, no (although I could sue you for them). If you were creating a disturbance at the time you said it, however, I could. It's more likely I'd simply invite you to get up close and personal with your mother's douchebag, or something equally gross.
"Why should cops be an exception?"
Um...because it's their job to arrest people who break the law, or who are suspected of doing so? This is the dumbest question I've ever heard you ask, Publius. Gates acted deplorably both before and after the arrest. For the President to act on behalf of a personal friend against the police is CORRUPTION. Strictly speaking, they should both be under investigation by the FBI right now.
Posted by: Shane Matthews | 2009-07-25 11:52:48 AM
So...do you think the police have a right to arrest someone who yells "I hate president Obama"?
How about someone who yells "I hate the Police"
Well, that actually happened the other day
Posted by: Norris Hall | 2009-08-03 9:42:26 AM
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