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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Another Stupid Police Story

I guess I owe something of an apology to Huffington Post blogger Martha St. Jean who wrote yesterday about the arrest of Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr.:

I believe Gates did what anyone would do, he yelled at the officer, probably called him a few names and maybe told him he was not too smart.
I responded, in my post Everyone Yells At The Stupid Police, that "maybe in the world of Huffington Post bloggers everyone yells at the police, calls them names, and tells them they are stupid... and expects no reaction."

I was wrong. I should not have restricted my commentary to the world of Huffington Post bloggers. Barack Obama is not a Huffington Post blogger, but Obama also asserted that the Cambridge police acted stupidly even though Obama acknowledged that he was not familiar with the facts of Gates' conduct which led to the arrest:

"I don’t know – not having been there and not seeing all the facts – what role race played in that, but I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two that he Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home."
Gates wasn't arrested for being in his own home. He was arrested after police reacted -- maybe overreacted -- to Gates' verbal assault on the police. Obama's statement did not leave open the possibility that Gates caused the problem not by being in his home, but by overreacting to police officers investigating a complaint of a burglary in progress.

The Cambridge police officer defends his conduct, and will not give the apology Gates demanded:

"There are not many certainties in life, but it is for certain that Sgt. Crowley will not be apologizing," Sgt. James Crowley told NewsCenter 5....

Bill Carter, the man who snapped a photograph of Gates being led away in handcuffs, said police officers were calm and that Gates was "slightly out of control" and "agitated" when he was arrested.

"The officers around kind of calmed him down," Carter said. "I heard him yelling -- Mr. Gates yelling. I didn't hear anything that he was saying so I couldn't say that he was belligerent."

Cambridge police superior officers came to Crowley's defense after Gates accused the officer of lying and fabricating a police report that detailed Gates' arrest on disorderly conduct charges. The report described the incident as a tumultuous and frightening confrontation with police.

The Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association said it reviewed the arrest and
expressed its "full and unqualified support for the actions taken by Sgt. Crowley."

I stand by my other comment in response to Ms. St. Jean's post: "I think Ms. St. Jean has confused just who is 'not too smart.'"

Added: Take a look a Jules Crittenden's post Sensitivity Training Now -- this supposedly racist cop was the person who gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation in an unsuccessful attempt to revive basketball player Reggie Lewis.

And: Dan Riehl has the video clip of Obama's "I like to know what I'm talking about before I speak" comment as to a different controversy.

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  1. The police have a valid safety reason for demanding that people not insult and berate them.

    They must have respect from people in crowds and potentially dangerous situations. Their authority is part of their safety. They need to enforce that standard, of course without brutality.

    Even so, it would be nice if they could give a fine or ticket instead of arrest when the subject is disrespectful but not dangerous.


  2. I am incredulous to awake to this story. That our president is judging this police officer... with no knowledge of the case other than hearsay.

    Good for the Cambridge Police Superior Officers Association!

  3. Don't you think it is ironic that the only ones to use the 'race' card are the blacks?

  4. Professor, you still haven't addressed the core issue: After Gates eventually identified himself as the lawful resident of his home (a fact you botched in your initial post), what was left for the officer to do? Are you saying that it is justifiable for a police officer to not only arrest but also handcuff a man who is yelling in his own home? Gates may have been acting irrationally, but that officer had no right to do what he did. He should have walked away.

  5. I'm not a lawyer, and obviously you are, but you cannot tell me that you would not be incredibly pissed off if an officer invited himself into your home and then demanded that you prove that you live there. Having a brother who is a public defender, I know that you're obligations when dealing with a police officer begin and end with adequately identifying yourself. Now, I also know that the majority of police officers have big heads, egos the size of Texas and often times an authority complex that leads to a heated exchange when anyone steps up to the plate when they step over the line. Gates yelling at the officer does not substantiate a "verbal assault" case unless the words were threatening to the point that the officer feared for his safety. It's doubtful Gates was threatening the officer physical harm, but highly likely the officer wanted to "teach someone a lesson" by hauling them down to the station for a night. That's a very common abuse of power with police officers, and the police should be held accountable for their poor judgment.

  6. The irony of this story is that white police officers are probably slower to act in situations like this, for fear of the kind of accusations being made in this situation. And, since idiots like Gates - who have a perpetual racial chip on their shoulders - know this and exploit this, the police are in a no-win situation, plus they are more in danger of a mini-riot situation. Suppose the crowd that gathered to watch his tantrum had decided to intervene? It's happened in not-so-nice neighborhoods before, and then we have the potential for serious injury or death...all because these race card players seek to reduce every single situation to a KKK lynching.

    And when the idiot president plays along, we should all realize that anyone who thought this "historic election" would heal race relations was living in dreamland...Barry is going to ratchet up the divide as high as possible to not only further divide the nation but to also help insulate himself from criticism. The next 3.5 years are going to be very depressing on many fronts.

  7. @Jonathan and Noah -- Actually, I did have a similar situation many years ago. I accidentally set off some sort of silent alarm feature on our alarm system, and the police arrived at the house late at night. I identified myself, answered their questions as to who I was, but they firmly asked to walk through the house anyway, both to confirm and to make sure I wasn't just saying that everything was fine because someone was in the house holding my family hostage. I said that was fine, they walked through the house, I thanked them for their diligence, and that was the end of it. I could have started screaming at them, and who knows where it would have led.

    Now Mr. Gates could have reacted the way I did, welcoming the diligence of police responding to a call of a burglary in progress. But he didn't, and that is Gates' fault, plain and simple.

  8. Now Mr. Gates could have reacted the way I did, welcoming the diligence of police responding to a call of a burglary in progress. But he didn't, and that is Gates' fault, plain and simple.

    Yes or no, professor: Were the officer's actions justifiable under the law? If yes, then you're advocating for a police state, one in which a man can be seized from his home, handcuffed and jailed, even though he was a lawful resident inside his own home who just happened to be yelling.

  9. @ William - there was an incident I had with the police here in the Bay Area that was related to my business. Even after explaining myself in a calm, collected, and matter of fact way, I literally could NOT get these police officers to leave me alone. It was like they were piranhas looking for a meal. I had not broken the law. There were 5 of them at my residence, and they even called the police sergeant to assist. It seemed like the role of the sergeant was 'head screamer' and he had a shouting match with me for what seemed like forever while standing in my living room. Now, they yelled and screamed at me while I just stood there nodding my head and listening to what they were saying... all while standing my ground that there were no legal violations that took place within my business. They insisted that everything I was doing was illegal, and I believe after they figured they had sufficiently intimidated me, they left. They didn't arrest me, but honestly I can understand what Gates's experience may have consisted of. He may have merely questioned them, and that's it. In my experience with dealing with the police, it seems that they literally prey on people. They are fueled by the incentive to charge people with crimes they may not necessarily have committed because it makes it look like they're "doing their jobs". Frankly I think that's a pretty clear cut conflict of interest, but that's another discussion all together. The bottom line is they prey on those who aren't fortunate enough to understand they need to keep their mouths shut. Police are typically are NOT nice people to deal with, and they don't have the right to abuse people in the name of law enforcement.

  10. Jonathan,

    The officer did leave, considered the incident over, closed it out with his dispatcher. Gates followed him out and was yelling at him in front of the house. That's when the situation became a violation of Massachusetts law.

  11. From the best collection of facts that I can gather, Prof. Gates made a racial issue out of this from the work GO. When the officer, who was merely looking out for Prof. Gates' property, asked for his ID, his response was that it was only because he was black. Prof. Gates, I ask you, could it have been to make sure your house was not being robbed.

    Secondly, it is my understanding that after the officer verified that Prof. Gates lived there and was leaving, Prof. Gates proceeded out of his home after the officer shouting explatives at him. The office was acting in a manner protecting his safety, as they do not know if an individual has a medical or psychiatric condition that would prone them to violent physical acts. If Prof. Gates would have acted in a professional manner as would be expected of someone of his stature, this would not have occurred.

    And lastly, I am quite sure incidents like this happen all over the country everyday. Even if the police officer was acting out of mere ego; The ONLY reason this made the new is because he is a prominent black man that has the ear of someone influential. If this has been one of President Obama's white or hispanic friends, they would have been told they needed to act more appropriately toward the police.

  12. "If yes, then you're advocating for a police state, one in which a man can be seized from his home, handcuffed and jailed, even though he was a lawful resident inside his own home who just happened to be yelling."

    Read the police report - he was arrested outside of the residence, as Gates was following the officers as they were leaving, AND he was warned to calm down. "Just happened to be yelling" is a blatantly false representation of what happened, but go ahead and keep your ignorance on full display.

  13. Ted... for them to be worried about him yelling, or "verbally assaulting" them, there needs to something to suggest the potential for violence is real. Meaning is there any way they could reasonably expect to be harmed by him, and does he have the capability. Not just words being throw about. Yelling in and of itself, or even following an officer out to his own porch (on his own property, no less) isn't a compelling reason to arrest anyone.

  14. I've noticed ever since this story broke that many of the people expressing opinions about it haven't bothered to acquaint themselves with the facts of what happened, or at least the competing versions

    There seem to be an abundance of jailhouse lawyers spouting off stuff they learned watching Matlock or Boston Legal. It's not just that they are ignorant, it's that they are badly misinformed. I think they learned about police procedure from Reno 911.

    My favorite is the people who insist the cop needed a warrant. Oh sure, lets have cops stop and get warrants whenever a home or business has been broken into. And if the burglar sees the cops all he has to do is shout "I live here" and the police are powerless to do anything.

    BTW - people often get thrown out of their homes by evictions or domestic violence restraining orders and then break in to steal or vandalize the place. That's one reason why the cop might ask a couple extra questions and radio the person's name in to dispatch so they can see if they have any TRO's on file.

    They do warrant checks too.

    Gates claims he kept asking for the cop's name and badge number but the cop refused to divulge it. But the photo taken of the arrest shows that the cops were in uniform with badges and name tags clearly visible.

    BTW - When someone asks a cop "Do you know who I am? the answer really shouldn't matter. Cops are supposed to treat everyone the same.

    PS: Just for the record, I think the cops were wrong when they arrested Gates. When did standing on your porch being loud and obnoxious become a crime?

  15. Let me tell you a little story:

    A friend of mine was involved in a very similar situation (he's white). The cop did not like his attitude before and after seeing his ID. Cop arrested friend on trumped up charge. The cop didn't know my friend's uncle was police commissioner (or captain I don't remember). Cop got fired for misconduct and only then offered to apologize to friend. My friend laughed at him and said 'sometimes you need to learn a lesson the hard way'.Some people don't learn the consequences of their actions until it's too late.

  16. Professor, you still haven't answered, yes or no: Were the officer's actions justifiable under the law? Would this case survive one nanosecond in court? Do you believe we should live in a country where the police have the right to arrest, cuff and seize a man on his own property for yelling?

    You realize that no one would be talking about any of this had the officer simply left and drove off, which is what he should have done. But, as Noah noted, he wanted to be the one with the big stick. He wanted to show who was in charge. He should apologize.

    For the record: I don't really think this has to do with race, I think it has to do with a police officer who couldn't take getting his authority questioned.

    PS. For those wanting an 'explainer' on the laws, Slate has a nice roundup . Essentially, under the law, Gates was not required to leave his house or identify himself when the officer appeared. The officer was required to carry ID and identify himself (it is clear that Gates was asking to see ID, and the officer was likely only saying his name). And Gates's disorderly conduct arrest was bogus. But other than that, the officer acted properly.

  17. Also, I think OBAMA would be pretty knowledgeable about this considering he knows constitutional law!! (Probably got higher grades than you, too, judging by the amount of job offers he had straight out of college).

  18. I am unimpressed with a police officer who enters my home uninvited and then won't give me his name and badge number. That's unprofessional.

  19. Matt:

    Would you keep asking him if his name and badge number are right in front of you on his uniform?

    BTW - a police officer investigating a report of a possible burglary doesn't need an invitation (or a warrant) to enter the home and check things out.

    All the officer needs is reasonable suspicion that a burglary was committed or is in progress. The witness' statement that she saw two men forcing open the door seems like a reason to be suspicious to me.

    If I had just broke into my own home and a cop showed up and said someone reported a possible burglary I don't think I would accuse him of racism because he asked me to show ID

  20. The officer says he did identify himself.

    Regarding the Slate article that says you don't have to identify yourself, of course that is true -- you always have the right to remain silent -- but then under these circumstances, the officer has reasonable suspicion to detain you while your identiy is ascertained.

  21. I’m not sure if anyone of you have ever been to Cambridge MA, but until you’ve been harassed by those officers you have no idea what you’re talking about. Mr. Jacobson, I would like for you to tell me where it states yelling at police officer is referred to as "verbal assault"
    A witness by the name of Bill said police officers were calm and that Gates was "slightly out of control" and "agitated" when he was arrested? What the hell did you expect? How you expect him to react? Calm and collected like the officers who arrested him? If you were being dragged out of your own home in handcuffs, would you have been calm and collected?
    Linda, whoever the hell you are, “Don't you think it is ironic that the only ones to use the 'race' card are the blacks?” The blacks? The blacks? How dare you? The blacks and you wonder why black people think the way they think? Have you ever been dragged out of your home in handcuffs Linda? Have a police officer ever stopped you just because you’re driving a nice car or because you’re driving in a mostly white neighborhood? Have the store clerks ever followed you around the store just because of the color of your skin? Have anything like that ever happen to you? Until you can answer yes to these things Linda, I guess you would think that it’s that the only ones to use the ‘race’ cards are the blacks. I’m sure you chocked up when you realized that Barack was elected president. If you people hate blacks to such, why don’t you try and do something about it. This is not the old days when you can come and drag us and have us be kept in a cave to ship us to be your slaves. This is not the old days where you can tell us that we belong in the back of the bus. And for Ted who referred to Barack as an idiot, all I can say to you is to kiss his beautiful BLACK ass!!!!!!!!!!!!

  22. Gates wasn't dragged ou of his home, he pursued the officer onto his front porch shouting at him. I don't care who the hell you are, and who Gates thinks he is. He followed the cop out of his house into the public view shouting at him and making a public nuisance of himself. That qualifies as disorderly conduct if the officer wants to push it, will it stick? Probably not even in a normal instance, but I have experienced the same thing while working homeland security missions. When people refused to cooperate with us or became hostile about it, and tried the badge number crap we gave it to them and if they still kept pushing then we detained them and turned them over to local law enforcement for creating a public disturbance.

    It doesn't matter who you are, either show the people around you respect or be an a** about it. When the officer arrived though he was dealing with a potential crime scene, and therefore a warrant is not needed if I remember my training correctly? Professor Jacobson can probably clarify that one, since I have been off the job for a long time now.

    @Sayouc, as far as the slave thing goes do some research and you will see that the Europeans found tribes such as the Ingbo ready to sell their fellow Africans into slavery so put some of the blame where it belongs. As for Barack, he is not a leader he is a socialist pretender that is doing more to divide this country than to lead it just by the statements he made in this conference. The only beautiful thing is he will be gone in 2012.

  23. I'm sorry but to me all of you sound like a bunch of ignorant people- the ones defending the police action and those against it. Race should not even be an issue here and for some reason it. For one, the media makes the situation far worst then what it is because thats how they make money-police are bad and racists!!!-that's what sells news. But as a police officer myself and also a family man... i can tell you that race was not an issue on how the police acted in the whole situation. Safety of property and residents is our main concern regardless of the race of the person in question. If that was your home that could have potentially been burglarized, wouldnt you hope that the police would question the person who was said to be breaking in to determine that they really weren't a danger to you, your family and your home. What if they were armed? and they broke into your home and had you tied up in a closet and when the police came, the suspect tells them oh i live here and you dont need to see my identification. are we supposed to take their word for it? and if we are when we leave and your family is harmed or murdered, will our actionc be criticized as well? would you say we did not do our jobs properly? Do you people see that we as police are human beings as well, we all have families and friends, breathe the same air and drink the same water, we are not super beings, yet we are held to higher standards, and what ever we do we are always wrong! One cannot defend every officer in this country for there are always bad seeds but the majority of us attempt to keep society safe and you the average citizens do not see what we deal with to do so. And quite frankly,I think it was very unprofessional for president obama to comment on a situation he has no knowledge of and making the situation worst as well as playing into the media nonsense. so tell me if police are so bad, what would the world be like without us? what if one day we give the people what they cry for and stop policing? Do you think this will be a better and safer world, I can tell you that if it ever came to that day I and my family will no longer live in this country because it is an evil world out there...and it amazes me that even with my own experiences that those people who so franticly dial 911 asking us to save them from burglars, robbers, and violent aggressors, are the ones who hate the police!!!