Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Henry Louis Gates and the CPD

Look, I realize that post-9/11 we are all supposed to publicly assert that all cops are heroes and be done with it. But more of us than are willing to admit it have had enough experiences with cops to know that too many of them are self-important bullying dickheads.

That less-than-favorable image (and not the quite obvious racial implications) was the first thing that came to mind when I read about Henry Louis Gates, Jr. being arrested at his own home after someone called in a possible robbery. Gates might have said or done some stupid things, but he did so in the process of being falsely accused of breaking into his home and he did so while inside of that home or on that property. The idea that people who have done nothing wrong must defer to police inside their homes is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete fucking bullshit. It may not make one a gracious host, but in one's home you can say just about whatever you want to whomever you want. Once the police saw Gates' identification and realized that he was fully within his rights to be where he was, they should have slinked right the fuck off and accepted whatever verbal abuse a wronged Gates threw at them.

In a just world Gates wins a massive lawsuit against the Cambridge police who sure as hell should have had better things to do. And Gates, unlike most of us without the ability to get our story into the news, has the resources to push a case. I would imagine we'll see word of a settlement in which Gates will have to keep quiet to spare the CPD more richly deserved embarrassment.

UPDATE: This Lawrence Bobo piece on the Gates case is brilliant. Oh, and all charges have been dropped. Ooops.


Jim said...

I suspect that there is more to this story than is honestly being reported. It does sound as if the cop handled the incident poorly (and it appears that race may have played a role), but it also sounds that Gates went out of his way to verbally attack and argue with this guy, who I think was trying to do his job. . . investigating the report of a break-in. Did not the neighbors recognize Gates? Did or did not Gates initially refuse to present identification, and then, why did he have to go back to the kitchen to get his wallet (does that not see odd?). Would a black police officer have insisted on identification and sought verification, or handled this incident differently? No doubt Gates was tired from travel, irritated as hell that he couldn't get into his house, and probably miffed that his home had possibly been broken into. Cops are supposed to be trained to handle hostile (or irritated) individuals and back off if there is no visible threat; I can't imagine what was said to the officer that he would decide to arrest Gates for disorderly conduct (unless, again, something was being said or happened that hasn't been completely revealed). If the officer was out of line (and it appears he may have been), he definitely should be reprimanded and punished. There seem to have been other officers there, so it will be interesting to see what, if anything, they say (of course, there may be some CYA). I don't quite like some of the articles which seem to imply that because Gates is an important scholar, he should have been recognized immediately and treated with deference. The fact that it occurred in the middle of the day, though, would make you think a wiser head would have prevailed. Having many law officers in my family, I do know that they don't like being verbally abused in the middle of a confrontation; it sometimes seems as if they are "trained" to be aggresive in response to these situations (or maybe it is just something that occurs over time; I saw my Dad's behavior change over the time he served as a deputy).

dcat said...

Jim --
I'm just not certain what your point is. The charges were dropped. Who cares if the neighbors recognized him? Who cares if you find it odd that his wallet was in the kitchen -- the room he had passed through when he went into the house through his back door? You are inclined to give cops the benefit of the doubt. I am afraid I am not. And the fact that Gates is a professor and famous is relevant because if a cop can abuse his power with a Harvard Professor, who can't he abuse his power with? At this rodeo that the cop decided to enter, he picked the wrong bull. Too bad for him. But he brought it upon himself.


Jim said...

Cops have a right to protect themselves. He was called there to do his job. . .to check out an alleged burglary. They must assess and control a situation to the best of their ability. Gates seems to have been immediately angry that the cop was assertive and insisted on identification (which he had a right to do). They are trained to do so. Had I been a cop and [and I don't know that any of this happened] someone went off on me because I asked for identification, and then refused to comply, and then screamed at me and accused me of being racist, and then threatened me (I'll have your job, do you know who I am!), then finally said they have to get their wallet (usually in one's back pocket) out of the kitchen, I think I would have been a bit sceptical and probably getting a little hot under the collar myself. Does that make it right to get angry, no, since as an officer you are held to a higher standard. I only worked in law enforcement (for a short while, in corrections), but you get to the point very quickly where you take almost every statement a person makes with a healthy grain of salt. My dad, brother, and sis in law have said the same thing.

Who knows why the charges were dropped so quickly . . .the department didn't want the heat, they thought they overreacted, important persons in the community made phone calls. . .many reasons possible. Does it mean they judged their own officer guilty. . .maybe, but not necessarily so (I am sure they will have a board assess his actions). I saw many righteous reports overturned for the weirdest of reasons.

AS for the neighbors. . .I know my neighbors. If I saw them banging on their front door, I am not going to call it in as a burglary. It just seemed odd to me that in broad daylight someone would not recognize their own neighbor. . .especially such a high profile one (just a jab there :) ).

Does that mean I think police forces are free of "racial profiling"? Heck no. And profiling goes well beyond race. And it is not "taught," but often something learned on the job. I saw it in friends and family, as they entered the field. . .often subtle shifts in attitude, that in some cases became hardened. That is why they usually have sensitivity and diversity training classes (I am sure they had it in thei Cambridge department). I knew liberal easy-going individuals when they joined law enforcement, who I hardly recognized a few years later.

On the other hand I have seen individuals of wealth and standing flat out lie in court or to police, for actions I personally witnessed, and because of their "standing" in the community their word was taken over those of lesser means.

Basically, I don't know what happened. I don't want to jump to a conclusion. I can only go on what I read. I was saying that something sounded fishy to me in some of the reports, that is all. Some of the story didn't seem to hang together correctly. Once the facts come out, I hope appropriate measures are taken.

Anonymous said...

Nice post...In addition, I'm sure Professor Gates can push a point with this incident. On another note, I simply think that he is having a DuBoian experience. For someone who has written extensively about race in America, I believe Prof. Gates will have a different perspective from this point forward. I'm anxious to see what he will write about next. Hmmmm...on a sarcastic note, what will Michael Eric Dyson say about this experience, lol.

dcat said...

Jim --
But we do have a pretty clear picture of what happened, and the clearer the picture the more obvious it is that the arrest was absurd. And the idea that he felt threatened by Gates is absurd on its face. The arrest happened not only well into the conflict, but well after Gates proved that he was in his own home.

Tramaine -
There will be lots and lots (and lots) of writing about this from many vantage points. Too many, probably.


Jim said...

The arrest did seem to me to be too much; I suspect that the officer got fed up and didn't think clearly. There is a decent op-ed at Slate that I saw this morning; http://www.slate.com/id/2223472/