Monday, July 27, 2009

Racial profiling? Or just bad policing?

Unless you've been living under a rock for the last week or so, you've probably heard about the arrest of renowned Harvard scholar Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

On July 16th, Gates was returning from a trip to China. He rolled into his driveway in the back of a livery car and, after clambering out, found that his front door was jammed. He shouldered it open to gain entry to his house - at which point a neighbor of his called the police, reporting 'two men' forcing their way into the house.

Cambridge police officers James Crowley and Sgt. Leon Lashley rolled up a short while later and demanded that Gates step outside the house and show them some valid I.D.

Distraught, Gates accused the police of 'racial bias' and was promptly arrested for 'disorderly conduct,' despite providing his Harvard I.D. (which proved his identity and that he lived at that address.)

The backlash surrounding this arrest was deafening. Even President Obama made a comment, accusing the Cambridge police' of 'acting stupidly' in arresting a man for forcing entry into his own home.

Gates said that his arrest was proof that American police regularly screen suspects based on their race - the general assumption being that the officers were responding to a call because 'two black men' were forcing their way into the home.

Now that the dust has settled, the accusations of 'racial profiling' don't quite add up. Contrary to popular belief, the 911 call that sparked this incident made no reference to the suspects' race - and one of the arresting officers, Sgt. Leon Lashley, was himself black.

However, it still raises troubling issues about the police officer's lack of professionalism, courtesy and respect. The officers were right to investigate the reports of breaking-and-entering - but no matter how antagonistic Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was towards them, they had absolutely no right to arrest him.

He was in his own home and had provided I.D. and proof of residence. Clearly, no crime was committed. Although I have no doubt that Gates was angry, frustrated, antagonistic and rude - and very verbal about it - you can't arrest him for that!

Jon Shane, a17 year veteran of the Newark, New Jersey police department (and professor of criminal justice at John Jay College of Criminal Justice) identified Gates behavior as entirely understandable anger at being accosted in his own home. His only 'crime' was the much lauded farce known as 'contempt of cop.'

(Non-violent disrespect by citizens towards police officers is a protected First Amendment right and it is never a viable reason for arresting somebody.)

I think it's wrong to accuse officers Crowley and Lashley of racial profiling - the evidence is strong that race played no part in their initial decision to confront Gates (although it might have prompted them to arrest him later.)

However, they went totally beyond their mandate when they arrested the Harvard professor. That ill-considered decision is very troubling.

It reminds me that American policing is still a bit of a 'wild west' affair - and serves as a cool reminder that you should always treat police officers with reverence and respect (even if, like Gates, you don't think they deserve it.)

Editorial Bear adds: I think it's very wrong that Gates was arrested at all - but his confrontational attitude certainly didn't help the situation. While totally justified in his anger, if Gates had quietly and respectfully acquiesced the officer' s demands, instead of yelling and stomping his feet, it's unlikely he would have been arrested in the first place.

I think it's also very indicative of American society that the neighbor who reported the alleged 'breaking and entering' didn't even recognize her own neighbor - Gates has been living in Harvard for almost 18 years.

11 comments:

Coffee Bean said...

I imagine that protocol was followed otherwise the police department would not have come out in the officer's defense the way it did.

It is sad that the neighbor did not recognize him.

What is with Obama making a statement about it anyway? I think that is what is most ridiculous about this whole story. Isn't there more important things worthy of that kind of coverage?

Roland Hulme said...

I can understand Obama making a comment, as Gates was apparently his friend, but it was unfortunate he weighed in before getting all the facts. He mentioned the racial profiling and I think that was unfair. One of the cops was black and Crowley himself was an expert on racial profiling (he taught it at the academy.)

The fact that the Cambridge police didn't press charges pretty much convinces me that they made a bad call in arresting him. Gates was angry and verbal BECAUSE the police had accosted him in his own home. If they're the CAUSE of the antagonism, it's unprofessional to punish him for it.

But I still think Gates could have kept his mouth shut and avoided arrest altogether.

paul mitchell said...

Roland, Gates was a renter and the neighbor did not see him, they saw the driver that was helping him BREAK IN. The new meme from the crazy racists on the Left is that the neighbor is culpable and should definitely be sued.

Also, Gates refused to show ID until he was finally coerced outside. That was after this "distinguished Harvard professor" had told Crowley that he would "See yo' mama outside."

Gates is now trying to keep the video from being released after he found out that the police had taped the event. Wonder how that will go over, will Obama actually get the DoJ to suppress the video?

And Crowley is actually an Obama supporter, too. Wonder which color supporter gets precedence in this administration of lunatics?

There is only one party to blame for this whole dust up and it is the racist idiot Gates.

ck said...

Roland,
Let me be blunt here...

The fact that you support anybody but the officer here, makes me think less of you.

Berating a police officer is disorderly conduct. They dropped the charges because it wasn't worth the hassle, the point has been made.

Gates is an ignorant fool who should have just showed his ID, thanked them for checking on his house and gone to bed.

Roland Hulme said...

Gates should have been civil to the officers - police officers deserve that much.

However, Gates did nothing wrong, was in his own home and has, under the first amendment, the right to yell, scream and kick his feet as much as he wants - as long as he isn't threatening the officers.

The be arrested for 'causing a scene' on your OWN property, as a result of the police visiting YOUR property, is just wrong.

That's why the police dropped the charges, even before the media and Obama weighed in on the issue.

We'll see exactly what the 911 tapes and police recordings reveal - Gates certainly seems to have acted the arse here - but I stand by what i said. Disrespecting a police officer is an intensely stupid thing to do, but is not a criminal offence.

ck said...

OK, lets look at the law... I know facts drive a liberal nuts. I will bold those points which apply.

2C:33-2. Disorderly conduct

a. Improper behavior. A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense, if with purpose to cause public inconvenience, annoyance or alarm, or recklessly creating a risk thereof he

(1) Engages in fighting or threatening, or in violent or tumultuous behavior; or

(2) Creates a hazardous or physically dangerous condition by any act which serves no legitimate purpose of the actor.

b. Offensive language. A person is guilty of a petty disorderly persons offense if, in a public place, and with purpose to offend the sensibilities of a hearer or in reckless disregard of the probability of so doing, he addresses unreasonably loud and offensively coarse or abusive language, given the circumstances of the person present and the setting of the utterance, to any person present.

"Public" means affecting or likely to affect persons in a place to which the public or a substantial group has access; among the places included are highways, transport facilities, schools, prisons, apartment houses, places of business or amusement, or any neighborhood.

When you read the accounts there was a crowd gathering outside due to this. It may have been in his house, but it was a neighborhood event. Haven't you ever heard your neighbors get a bit to loud for you?

Roland Hulme said...

I think the crowd was probably due to a prominent Harvard scholar being arrested, not because he was too loud!

But in my research, it pretty much agrees with you that the law CAN be interpreted to justify Gate's arrest - I don't argue that he should have been civil to the officers.

But most people agree it was out of order. Of that particular law:

"It's probably the most abused statute in America," says Eugene O'Donnell, a professor of law and police studies at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.


According to Jon Shane, that officer who spent 17 years in Newark, N.J., had he been the cop called to Gates' house, he would have left Gates and his huffy comments alone once he was sure Gates was the homeowner.
"In contempt of court, you get loud and abusive in a courtroom, and it's against the law," says Shane, now a professor of criminal justice at John Jay who specializes in police policy and practice. "With contempt of cop, you get loud and nasty and show scorn for a law-enforcement officer, but a police officer can't go out and lock you up for disorderly conduct because you were disrespectful toward them." The First Amendment allows you to say pretty much anything to the police. "You could tell them to go f___ themselves," says Shane, "and that's fine."

paul mitchell said...

I have gotten a flashlight beatdown for much less. Just saying.

ck said...

The facts are that this law has a precedent for arresting people who behave like Gates. Nothing to do with his race, just his attitude.

He only proved his ownership of the house at the very last moment.

I mean come on... his front door was broken because it has been broken into previously, so assuming the worst was not out of the question apparently.

ALSO... remember the neighbors didn't know who he was, much less a 'scholar'... so that had NOTHING to do with the crowd.

The truth is, no 3 year old temper tantrum... no news.

Roland Hulme said...

I think it's SAD that his neighbours didn't even know who he was. A real indictment of society...

Well, I'll admit this - every argument seems to boil down to the fact that Gates wouldn't have been arrested if he hadn't have flipped his lid... I still say he shouldn't have been arrested, but perhaps it would take somebody with Mother Teresa's patience not to do what Crowley did given his ranting and raving.

In saying that Crowley shouldn't have arrested him, am I expecting him to maintain unrealistic standards?

Coffee Bean said...

I wonder what the statistics are for people that are arrested in that type of situation that actually end up having charges filed. It seems to me that the arrest serves as a means to tell the person that how they are behaving is serious... a way to get them to stop. It seems to me that the arrest accomplished that goal. How much are police officers supposed to take before they can follow protocol without being judged for it?

Personally, if I were in the same situation I would have been grateful that the police were checking my house to make sure everything was okay and would have cooperated fully from the beginning. I don't get why he had to get beligerant in the first place. And friend or not, I don't think Obama showed wisdom in remarking on it and think it is lame that he's invited the guys to the White House for a beer.