A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors


Showing Skip Gates who's boss

How "tumultuous" is an American citizen entitled to be in his or her own home? I always thought that the space for such behavior in your own home was supposed to be pretty large, as long as you didn't disturb the neighbors. But thanks to the Cambridge (Mass.) Police Department, I've been disabused of that notion.It sounds from the news stories I've read as if Henry Louis "Skip" Gates was not exactly a model of calm rationality in his encounter last week with the Cambridge police. Had he been less exhausted (after traveling from China), less irritated (after having had to force open a balky door to his house), he might have been more understanding of and accommodating to the officer sent to check a report of two black men (Gates and a cabbie) possibly breaking into a house.But Gates wasn't. He was exhausted and irritated and, some reports said, slightly under the weather. And the last thing he wanted was to be confronted by a cop asking why this black man was in this house--his house.Again, I am relying on news accounts, which may or may not be full and accurate. But it appears that Gates finally did show the police identification that demonstrated who he was and that the house was his own. So why does any extracurricular shouting and remonstrating matter. Why was his "tumultuous" behavior in his own home considered grounds for an arrest (never mind that the charge has now been dropped)?Why, indeed? Unless the purpose was to show an uppity black man who was boss?



Commenting Guidelines

  • All

A few months ago I bought some grass shears at Lowes. It was dark but even so I wanted to trim the lawn, so I did. A cruiser pulled up and the cop asked what I was doing and whether I lived at my house. If I had lost my temper, called him names, and demanded his badge number instead of answering his questions in a reasonable tone, I'm pretty sure the routine inquiry would have escalated. Given Gates' situation--travel, prestige, frustration of several kinds--I can imagine losing my temper in a situation like his. Still, losing one's temper at cops and making a scene, during a routine response to a plausibly legitimate call, is uncitizenlike.

Since when does your race, color or political/social affiliation(s) excuse the ignorant and abusive treatment of those who protect and serve? I live in Pittsburgh, and three officers recently lost their lives responding to a call; should Skip Gates be treated differently for his political affiliations and friendship with the president? Such a dangerous double standard. Before our commander-in-chief talks about how STUPIDLY those officers responded to Gate's abuse, ask yourselves (any of you, regardless of color) how you might respond to an angry, irrational man, if your life were on the line? I stand behind the officers, and believe that we shouldn't blame racism when stupidity is the REAL issue.

I thought Von at Obsidian Wings had some interesting thoughts on this topic. But this bit at the end sums up my reaction, for what it's worth: "Even if the cops are telling the truth -- and, candidly, I don't know why we should believe them over Gates -- the cops are still in the wrong."Bryce, I think you're missing a crucial fact in your analysis: Professor Gates was arrested for being IN HIS OWN HOME. After having shown ID. I don't know where you got the idea that the cop's "life was on the line," but if "the police should not enter people's homes and arrest them when they've committed no crimes" is a double standard, I'm all for it. And if being "citizenlike" requires being extra-obsequious to cops because they tend to overstep whenever their authority is questioned -- and they have a gun -- then we may need to reevaluate our expectations for citizens and cops.

Mollie's right. I think the importance of the fact that he was in his own home cannot be underestimated. He probably wanted nothing more than to be home--and the hassle with the police was the final straw.He was upset--I can imagine what that would be like--he probably just wanted to go home. ANd everything, everything went wrong?But was he seen as a tired, frustrated, member of the Cambridge community, or an interloper? Would they have behaved the same way to Alan Dershowitz or Mary Ann Glendon?And . . . don't police normally de-escalate situations involving tired, frustrated members of the community--aren't they trained to do so? (I remember being on the scene of an accident, and what the police basically did was calm everyone down enough to file insurance reports).Why not here?This isn't to say I don't respect the police. . . I really do -but what went wrong here?

Mr WycliffA few facts may be in order.First, yes, it was his house, but that was the whole point - the cops didn't know that when they got there and when they tried to establish it, instead of calmly showing him his ID and letting it go, Gates started shouting at him and accusing him of racism. This was not some plan to get the "uppity black man." They were responding to a legitimate call.Second, on the travel. Yes, he had traveled from overseas, but he had spent the night in the NY area and just taken a 1 hr afternoon flight to Boston. And if these kind of environmental concerns are legitimate - how about a cop who walks into a situation he knows nothing about - only that a witness saw someone breaking in the house - being immediately shouted at and called a racist. That might get your heart pumping too.Third, it was a limo driver, not a "cabbie." Not a big difference, but I know calling him a "cabbie" takes a little of the Ivy League elitism sting out of the story, so lets go for accuracy.Fourth, according to Professor Gates "he never raised his voice" at the officers. According to the officers AND two other eyewitnesses (and as seems apparent in a photograph of the incident) he is outright lying about that. And, by the way much of this was taking place not in his house, but ouside it. In fact, according to the police report the officers were leaving when Gates just had to take one more abusive shouting rant at them - that's when he was arrested.Did the cope do the smart thing? Probably not. But injecting race in this situation was wrong, and it was Gates who did it. Moreover, he was the one person who couild have avoided the problem at the begining. He was not without fault.

The fact that he was in his home is the key. Once that had been established there was, literally, no reason for the police to even be on his property. The fact that he was surly or nasty ON HIS OWN PROPERTY is not a crime. If a policeman walks by your house and you stand on your front porch exclaiming how much you hate the police, you have not committed a crime. There is no criminal code provision that requires you to "be nice" to police officers.

Since there were no witnesses to the goings on here and there is no particular reason to accept the account of either of the participants as perfectly true, it seems to me best simply to say this incident was unfortunate and regrettable, and then say no more. Further comment is likely to tell more about the commentator than the incident.

Here is the definitive account of why the police officer's actions were so outrageous: I support the police, of course, but having been treated abusively in the last few years for conduct that wasn't by any stretch disruptive I definitely think that it's important to call police out for improper conduct. And if you don't have time to read the whole thing, here are some key "facts" that Mr. Hannaway didn't refer to:"But for the sake of education, let's watch while Crowley makes it worse. Read on. He's staying put in Gates' home, having been asked to leave, and Gates is demanding his identification. What does Crowley do? He suggests that if Gates wants his name and badge number, he'll have to come outside to get it. What? Crowley may be forgiven for the initial approach and questioning, but surely he should understand that a citizen will be miffed at being questioned about his right to be in his own home. Perhaps Crowley could commit the following sentences to memory: "I'm sorry for disturbing you," and "I'm glad you're all right.""Spoiling for a fight, Crowley refuses to repeat his name and badge number. Most of us would hand over a business card or write the information on a scrap of paper. No, Crowley is upset and he's mad at Gates. He's been accused of racism. Nobody likes that, but if a cop can't take an insult without retaliating, he's in the wrong job. When a person is given a gun and a badge, we better make sure he's got a firm grasp on his temper. If Crowley had called Gates a name, I'd be disappointed in him, but Crowley did something much worse. He set Gates up for a criminal charge to punish Gates for his own embarrassment."By telling Gates to come outside, Crowley establishes that he has lost all semblance of professionalism. It has now become personal and he wants to create a violation of 272/53. He gets Gates out onto the porch because a crowd has gathered providing onlookers who could experience alarm. Note his careful recitation (tumultuous behavior outside the residence in view of the public). And please do not overlook Crowley's final act of provocation. He tells an angry citizen to calm down while producing handcuffs. The only plausible question for the chief to ask about that little detail is: "Are you stupid, or do you think I'm stupid?" Crowley produced those handcuffs to provoke Gates and then arrested him. The decision to arrest is telling. If Crowley believed the charge was valid, he could have issued a summons. An arrest under these circumstances shows his true intent: to humiliate Gates."

One of the few advantages of living in a village of under 2,000 souls is that the two cops here know everybody--white, black, hispanic and other. They don't do this by just driving around in their cruisers, but by walking around, visiting the schools, and, yes, having coffee and donuts at the local cafe.They know who you are, where you live, what kind of car you drive (and they'll help you break into it with their Slim Jim if you leave the keys in it when you go to the beauty shop, while a crowd of geezers gathers around giving advice and telling telling loud stories about stupid things their wives have done while you want to crawl inside your keyless purse). They also solve crimes! A good police force recruits and hires sufficient individuals individuals who have a good instincts about human relations, keep their heads in tense situations, know the territory, and get acquainted with the people they are assigned to serve and protect. Henry Louis Gates, whatever motivated him to mouth off, would have failed to get a rise out of a good cop.

I would love to go back to the days of the beat cop. Although I imagine that wasn't always Mayberry, either.But what I would really like to see is an eminently cultured, highly respected professor, who could certainly be expected to draw on his own extensive communications skills to diffuse a situation, take responsibility for losing his temper.

This was a 'good' outcome from a police minority encounter; all involved should have dinner together and give thanks. Four police and the perp were shot to death in Oakland this year in a similar encounter. It's a who cares , news story. if it was Poduck community college.

Barbara, thanks.

This is certainly a Rorschach test. I guess neither Gates nor the cop was on his best behavior, but it sounds very much like the arrest was -- as the title of the thread says -- a case of the cop showing Gates who was boss. He abused his authority. As I watched Obama commenting, the thought came into my mind that in New York City, when an unarmed civilian is accidentally shot and killed by the police, it's always a black male. Nobody keeps statistics about how many unarmed, innocent black males are mistreated by the police, and it is probably very rare that anybody but a Harvard professor has a chance to get anywhere if he wants a complaint to be taken seriously.It is very easy for white people, who will never be pulled over for "driving while black," to give the benefit of the doubt to the police.

Although I imagine that wasnt always Mayberry, either.Here is my idea for a new television series: CSI: Mayberry.

Mayberry jokes aside, was it Gates' responsibility to "diffuse the situation"? That is, is it any citizen's responsibility to calm down a hopped up cop during a misunderstanding? I don't think so. Hope that clears everything up, cuz I gotta go ask Aunt Bea about a pie crust recipe now.

I think a nostalgia show might be more accurately titled Mayberry, KKK.David, I've been stopped for crazy reasons. Isn't everybody? My friend and I were pulled over because she was driving her little Mazda too slow in the fast lane. Yes, it's a hazard, but it's a funny thing to stop teenagers for. One time I was saying my prayers in the Poor Clares parking lot and a cop pulled in and asked me what I was up to. He took a while to shake off, actually.Should I have immediately become so enraged that my first instinct was to prove to the cop how unfair he was, and to report him?

There's consensus here that police can get very 'hoped up" when their discretion is questioned.Racial profiling is a problem well recognized in the enforcement community.How a citizen reacts may be conditioned on the circumstances in a given matter, but ...the clear expectation should be that police should respond professionally and be especially sensitive in matters of race.

Kathy, read this: much of how we react rests on preconceived notions or expectations regarding how we are likely to be treated. To ignore the rather overwhelming evidence that black men are not treated as well by the police as young white girls is to ignore reality.

Young white girls (which I'm not, by the way) who lose their tempers during basic police inquiries are almost certainly not treated well.It's an incident, not a "narrative." It's basic police work and basic citizenry, not an outrage. I read the blog post, Barbara. Perhaps you could elaborate on why you pointed to it? I agree that injustice and profiling exist. But it's a category error to read them into every situation. I don't see it here at all.

Besides profiling, and connected to it, here is another aspect of the justice system that I do believe need a serious overhaul, and that is the procedure of indictments.I sat on a Grand Jury in DC. My jury focused on in-and-out drug cases. Cops were readily believed, suspects were almost always indicted. Identifications in some cases seemed very tenuous. What is an indicted kid going to do, even if innocent? He's probably going to plead out. I habitually questioned the police witnesses very closely. My fellow jurors, most of whom were Afro-American, reproached me. One man said, "Just wait until drugs come into your neighborhood."But my sense was that there was a real opportunity for injustice. Once indicted, it's often advantageous to take a plea bargain--and it's very easy to get indicted, mistaken identity or not.

The police officer refused to identify himself to a man who was inside his own home after it had been definitively established that it was, indeed his own home, and then demanded that said man "come outside" if he wanted to know his identity. And yet, you seem able to focus solely on Gates' conduct. Why is that?

Barbara, why is that? Isn't it obvious? I'm a racist.Haha. No, the reason is that, when sorting out incidents, I like to go step by step. Step 10 or so is the cop's overreaction. Gates' was first.Step 1: Gates did an unusual thing. He broke into his own house, which was a good action, but might look bad to neighbors or passersby. Whether a white girl or black man breaks into a house, questions may well arise. That's part of the good and bad of having neighbors.Step 1 is blame-neutral.Step 2: Neighbor calls police to report break-in. Is this call racially motivated? Perhaps. Would the call have been made if two white men broke into the house? Perhaps, but maybe not necessarily. Should the caller have known and recognized Gates? Would she have if he were white?Step 2 is possibly blameworthy.Step 3: Officer responds, to protect property-- Gates' property, in fact. It would be disrepectful of Gates' rights if he did not respond. In order to investigate he had to talk to the person who broke in. That person was Gates. Step 3 is blameless, in fact a positive action.And yet Step 3 offended Gates.Step 4: Gates refuses, to some degree at least, to cooperate with police.I'd be perfectly happy to move on to the officer's actions if we can all agree that Gates made the first unreasonable move, that "context" doesn't warrant such behavior, and that we're better off having police investigating break-ins.I'd be even happier if we could agree that using the existence of real injustice to justify an unwarranted bout of rage is a disgrace to the memory of truly heroic actions and to victims of this country's egregious history of racist policies and attacks.

For what it's worth, here's a link to a interview with Gates in today's edition of The Root, an online publication that he founded and edits and which is owned by the Washington Post: I can't vouch for Gates' rendition of the facts, but assuming it's anywhere close to true, it inspires some thoughts:1. There's a world of difference between having a police officer knock on your door and say, "Good afternoon, sir. We received a report of a possible break-in here. May I speak with you for a moment?" and, "Would you step outside onto the porch?" Remember, you're looking at a man who is wearing a sport coat and slacks and holding a telephone.2. The wisdom of defying a person with a badge and a gun aside, how many of us would feel comfortable being ordered, without explanation, to leave our house and present ourselves outside for questioning by the police? That doesn't sound like America to me.3. Here's a bit of perspective from another city: Wycliff

Joseph Gannon wrote:Since there were no witnesses to the goings on here and there is no particular reason to accept the account of either of the participants as perfectly true, it seems to me best simply to say this incident was unfortunate and regrettable, and then say no more. Further comment is likely to tell more about the commentator than the incident.--I've read quite a bit on this incident, and I am afraid that Joseph Cannon is right. Myself, this incident reminded me of the old Jewish joke about the rabbi listening to two disputatious women. "You're right," he said after listening to the first woman. "You're right," he said after listening to the second woman, who gave a different version. "How," asked the rabbi's wife, "is it possible that both of them are right?" The rabbi thought for a few moments and said, "You're right too."Not sure if this is relevant or not to the Gates incident, but according to the wikipedia entry on Gates:Sgt. James Crowley, the arresting officer, says that he is not racist, pointing to his actions trying to resuscitate Reggie Lewis while working as a campus police officer at Brandeis University in 1993. Crowley stated that has no "ill feelings toward the professor" but that he has nothing to apologize for.[20]

Both Gates and the police have acknowledged the incident was unfortunate and regrettable, or something to that effect. But it is ignited again by comments from POTUS yesterday. statement was a bit of political jujitsu that acknowledged the intense security that surrounds any president while letting sink in the image of what would happen to a black man who might seem to be breaking into the White House.Mr. Obamas response immediately lit up the blogosphere, where a debate developed over whether he had gone too far...

Concerning the law in this situation (which the good sergeant had to know long before becoming a police sergeant), Slate has an Explainer segment that summarizes it well:

Gates repeatedly requested the arresting officer's name and badge number. Gates says the officer provided neither, although the officer claims that he did, in fact, state his name. Was the officer required to provide this information?Yes. Massachusetts law requires police officers to carry identification cards and present them upon request. Officers are also required to wear a "badge, tag, or label" with their name and/or identifying number. The law is aimed at precisely the situation in questionsuspects who feel their rights are being violated. Few other states impose this requirement on their officers as a matter of law, but many individual police departments, such as the New York Police Department, have adopted it (PDF) as a matter of policy.Gates initially refused to emerge from his home and provide identification. Was he required to?No. There's nothing to stop an officer from requesting your presence on the front porch or asking you questions, but he cannot force you to identify yourself or come out of your house without probable cause. (The rules are different for drivers and immigrants, who are required to provide identification upon request.) If you don't feel like chatting, ask the officer whether you are free to go about your business. If he answers no, you are being detained, which means the officer must acknowledge and abide by your full menu of civil rights, including the famous Miranda warnings.

The instant that Gates identified himself as the homeowner any trace of probable cause of exigent circumstances dissapeared. This means that he could only enter or remain in Gates' house with a warrant, or with Gates' permission. The sergeant was legally required, in Massachusetts, to identify himself immediatly, not just his name, but proof beyond an easily obtainable costume that he was in fact a policeman. It does not matter at all if Gates was being nice about it or not. This would be a bit exrreme, but Gates or his driver could have called 911 and reported the police sergeant as an intruder -- because at that moment he was.This is not a matter of who was being a bigger jerk. Centuries of common law, the Fourth Amendment, state law, and a rather large stack of specific case law place limits on what police can do, with a wide leeway built in to make sure police can do their job. This was outside of that.

Kathy, right, and my comment is that step 4 -- that Gates gets huffy but, crucially DOES produce identification showing his right to be in the house. Ergo, he cooperates, and the only thing he does "wrong" is that he makes it clear that he is unhappy about being required to provide his ID in the first place. This is not a crime. Which is to say, that nothing in Step 1-4 in any way justified Step 5, the officer's refusal to provide Gates with HIS identifying information, which request, apparently caused the officer to go around the bend when he realize that a complaint might be filed against him, and thus pretty clearly willfully escalate the confrontation with Gates. Gates may have gotten huffy and upset, but the police officer escalated -- and that is exactly what police officers are supposed NOT to do.

Enough already.. if this keeps up we will be hearing from Pat Buchanan and Al Sharpton.. and their nasty wisdom .. cable news is making the calls now ...ugh

Barbara, are you clear on the timeline of Step 4? When did he produce his ID? After how many minutes of arguing?I can just imagine if a cop stops me driving. "License and registration, please." Then me yelling for--how long?--before finally handing over my documents. Somehow "cooperation" is not what I would call that.Huffy okay. Upset okay. Unreasonable delay in complying with a perfectly reasonable request because huffy and upset, uncooperative citizen, not okay. And I'm pretty sure it's against the law. Steps 5 on: The officer, was wrong to refuse to identify himself, especially after Gates (eventually) identified himself. He was wrong not to leave the house, and he was wrong to trick Gates into going onto the porch. That looks incredibly like entrapment to me. He was wrong to arrest somebody he'd tricked into a code violation. If I'm accurately reading his actions, he deserves disciplinary action.I think Gates should at most have gotten a ticket or something, if indeed the stautes say that people have to cooperate "promptly" or "immediately." But his arrest was wrong and a civil rights violation whether race had anything to do with the officer's actions or not.And yet the fact remains that all of this could easily have been avoided if Gates had just reasonably realized that people who break into houses look suspicious, that breaking into one's own house "looks" exactly like breaking into anyone else's house, and if he could possibly even have summoned up the perspective to laugh it off. Gates is perhaps the preeminent scholar on race in the country. He's the dean. More than anyone else he should be able to recognize the difference between a racially charged question and a regular question. I think he blew the call.

No question there is racial profiling and that a black person will be questioned much more than a white person. But there is no question in my mind that Skip Gates was out of order and provocative. The Sergeant has said that Gates referred to Gates' mother. Why everyone is slightly faulting Gates and strongly accusing Crowley is unfair in my opinion. Secondly, Obama made an enormous gaffe. He made a valid point on the wrong story. Rightly or wrongly we all know that you remain calm when a police office approaches. We know he is a police officer. S/he does not know who we are. Gates exploited this situation and that does not serve him well. He should not get away with that. Nor should Obama.

Kathy, your analysis is missing something pretty crucial: the balance of power was all on the policeman's side. He had the weapon; he had the power to make an arrest, incarcerate, cook up charges, etc. to teach the non-cop not to mess with him. That's why the responsibility can't be shifted back to Gates, no matter how much you might disapprove of his alleged behavior. He can do whatever he wants in his house; the police can't arrest him because they don't like his hospitality. It's great that you were able to keep your cool when being questioned by police officers for stupid reasons. But if you weren't such a model citizen, if you got shouty and asked for a badge number and all that, it still wouldn't be even a little bit OK for the police officer to arrest you when he had the option of simply walking (or driving) away. "Sorry to have bothered you." That's all the cop needed to say. Attempts to make this anything other than a story about a cop abusing his authority end up reminding me of the old joke -- "You're under arrest?" "What for?" "Resisting arrest!"

I don't follow, Mollie. I'm trying to understand exactly what you mean. You seem to be suggesting that citizens when confronted by police in their own homes can speak as they please, resist as they may, and always be right, Not just within the law, but also right. And the reason they are right is they have less power. Is this what you mean? Correct me if I misunderstand.

Kathy,The more I read, the more I think Gates acted obnoxiously. But I agree with Mollie. It seems to me that the arrest for disorderly conduct was to punish Gates for obnoxious behavior that was not a crime. Both men felt they were being disrespected. Gate's response was to be loud and obnoxious and threaten to file a complaint. Crowley's reaction was to arrest and handcuff Gates and take him in to be booked. The arrest was not for failure to cooperate. It was not for resisting arrest. It was punishment for behaving in a way that Crowley didn't like. Which one would I rather have a beer with? Crowley. I'd take his side in this matter right up to the moment he made the arrest. But the arrest was a mistake.

MollieThe one thing the officer didn't have was information, and had Gates provided it reasonably and promptly it would have been over in 5 minutes.If you are able, you should listen to the officer's interview - it is all over the radio in Boston, so I don't know where it originated. And BTW, there were witnesses, and they so far have coroborated Sgt Crowley's version of events - including the fact that the whole thing started with him saying something like - I am Sgt Crowley with the Cambridge Police and I am investigating an active break-in could you step out on the porch so I can speak with you. and Gates saying (or shouting) something like - Why because I am a black man in America?Crowley's version was not that this ticked him off, but that it seemed a strange response. When he saked if there were other people in the house, Gates said - that's none of your business.Try and put yourself in his shoes. He's been told by a witness that there are two men - he sees one. The possibilities are endless at this point. Moreover, Gates is acting in an unusual and unreasonable manner. Is he under durress? Are there two other people inside and Gates doesn't know about it? Is this a dometic violence situation? Granted, at some point Crowley figures what's what. Should he have arrested him? As far as the whole - in his own house argument - he was definitely outside - all four cops and two witnesses confirm this, and he warned twice that he would be arrested if he didn't stop shouting and name calling. Also, I have seen arguments about Gates being "lured" outside, but Criowley explained - and it seems reasonable - the he wanted him outside because it is safer for both the cop and the subject to be out of a confined space if things escalate. Crowley made a judgment call, and you may or may not agree with it, but it is unfair, and I think inaccurate to attribute it to race.

The more one looks into it the worse Gates looks. Maybe it is a case of power (or status) corrupts. "According to the report, Professor Gates also accused the sergeant of being racist and yelled that he wasnt someone to mess with. Right. He is not someone to mess with. He is the expert on racism while he pulls a racism gotcha."Charles J. Ogletree, a Harvard professor who is acting as Professor Gatess lawyer, said he had looked into Sergeant Crowleys professional record but would not say whether he had found anything troubling."What about the reverse. Gates' professional record? Situations do nor create character. They reveal it. "Mr. Ogletree added that Professor Gates had not ruled out a lawsuit, but that for now, he was focusing on how to keep the country talking about issues of race and law enforcement. "Yeah. Thanks Officer Crowley for furthering my agenda. This is now becoming hucksterism. Enter stage left--Al Sharpton.

I stand by my previous comment and would add, that after listening to the nPR report this morning, there's something of a Rashomon phenomenon here not onl yamong the principals, but the commentators.I think continuing to badget the topic serves little useful purpose except to make talking heads and bloggers happy/

Crowley made a judgment call, and you may or may not agree with it, but it is unfair, and I think inaccurate to attribute it to race.I think there is absolutely no way to know if race played a role here in Crowley's thinking, so I think it is only fair to assume it didn't. But it apparently was instantly the issue for Gates. So it is fairly clear that it was Gates who was the one engaging in racial stereotyping. However, it seems clear to me that Crowley was saying, "If you don't shut up, I'm going to arrest you." It's kind of like when parents say to kids, "If you don't stop crying, I'll give you something to cry about!" I would certainly want a police officer to try to calm things down under this kind of situation. After all, it had been established that no breaking and entering had taken place and Gates was in his own home. I don't think it is wrong, in the wake of this incident, to point out that many blacks fear and distrust the police, and with good reason. But I still think Gates was in the wrong to instantly jump to the conclusion that he was the victim of racism.I remember a laugh-out-loud funny moment on the old show Sanford and Son when Fred Sanford (Red Foxx) called an airline and got a recorded message something like, "All our representatives are busy. Please stay on the line. You will be connected with the next available representative." And Fred Sanford muttered to himself, "I bet I wouldn't have to wait if I was white." I think Gates might have been doing something a bit similar in instantly assuming he was dealing with a racial incident.

As someone who travels alot, often gets home about midnight after a long day, and is dragging stuff into my house in the dark, I have to admit that my first response to descriptions of Gates' behaviour was puzzlement. I couldn't imagine responding that way in such a situation - even if i was really tired.My response is, of course, colored by the fact that I've never had any kind of bad experience with the law and so my immediate first response would be "There must be some kind of bizarre mistake going on here." It would never occur to me to come out swinging verbally or to even feel afraid. (I was once mistaken for an Arab terrorist by Israeli security in the Arab part of jerusalem cause I was waiting on a street corner for ride across the street from a mosque - but also kitty-corner from the American Embassy. But even in that situation, my "innocence" kept me from taking in or fully believing the potential of the situation in which I found myself.)If one had had lots of experiences of being harassed because of race or some other factor, I understand that it would be easy to respond with "they are doing it again". But I would still expect a more balanced response from a man of Gates' background and standing. Unless there are some other factors that we know nothing about.

Mr. Gannon, I agree with you. Furthermore, when a police officer leaves his/her home to go on patrol, it could be his/her last time doing so! (Unrelated point: domestic disturbance runs are among the most dangerous scenarios faced by law enforcement.)Based on the information provided by Mr. Hannaway, it would certainly appear that Professor Gates --- weariness from overseas travel, difficulty getting into house, etc. --- behaved inappropriately toward the police officer. I acknowledge the reality of racial profiling in our country, but if it is operative in this case, it would appear to be on the part of the good professor, not the officer.

Getting to yes: What would it take for Gates, Crowley to shake hands Pride seems like an insurmountable obstacle sometimes. On one hand, you have a black man who has withstood taunts from other blacks for working with The Man and achieving success in mainstream society. On the other hand, you've got an officer who is sworn to uphold civil society, dealing with, in his mind, someone who is being decidedly uncivil. How do you get both sides to admit they maybe went too far?Mnookin: What I would ask each is if they would find it valuable to have an opportunity to really explain to the other person their perspective, to really make it clear what their perspective is, and as part of that, would they be willing to take in the perspective of the other.

Definitely my last comment. It seems to me that both of these guys erred in one primary way, and that was to take the other's behavior personally. They didn't know each other, and I can understand why the police officer was extremely insulted at being called a racist, but he shouldn't have been. Why? Because he should have known that the guy in question was being irrational under the circumstances. In any event, police officers are supposed to find alternative ways of dealing with insults besides ratcheting up the temperature by producing handcuffs.

"I dont think it is wrong, in the wake of this incident, to point out that many blacks fear and distrust the police, and with good reason. "Completely agree. And that's all I'm going to say!

If Obama had only said "wrong-headed" rather than "stupid," this would only have been yesterday's news.He's an intelligent man, but made a stupid (oops, wrong-headed) mistake this time.I'll chalk it up to his being exhausted and depressed because of the sheer idiocy with which he has had to deal (mostly from alleged Democrats) over the healthcare situation.I wonder how many times he has said to his family: maybe I made one hell of a mistake in taking this job?

It's over. Obama invited both to the White House for beer.... issue please? Vatican III is easy after race... ?Jim; No drinks after Margaret's talk.. over half of SF are friends of Bill... (-:

I think this incident provides a teachable moment, except that it isn't about race. There are other occasions on that. This occasion, however, is teachable about disorderly conduct.As suggested in the article below, officers vary in their perceptions and reactions to "disorderly conduct." It's a relief to hear, really. Like all of us, police officers aren't machines. They can't behave the same; indeed, they shouldn't.While this incident has all the markings of "he said, she said" (or "he said, he said"), my own suspicion is that Crowley was ticked off when Gates accused him of racism. I wish the journalists had asked the police interviewed for the article about accusations of racism while on the line of duty & reactions to them. But again it is disorderly conduct rather than race that is rightly (if slightly belatedly) receiving attention from the media.-- Professor Gates said he was not abusive and was the victim of racism, the police report said he told Sgt. James M. Crowley, Ill speak with your mama outside.Several officers interviewed in four cities on Friday said they tried to ignore such remarks. Others said they had zero tolerance for being treated disrespectfully in public.The line of when to put on handcuffs is a personal and blurry one, varying among officers in the same city, the same precinct, even the same patrol car.

"In any event, police officers are supposed to find alternative ways of dealing with insults besides ratcheting up the temperature by producing handcuffs."Barbara, Perhaps this is not your area as a lawyer. I suggest you are mixing up some serious things here. Yes police officers should be patient as Crowley was to a certain extent. The laws on the books against insulting a police officer are there for a very good reason. Copycats multiply. Unfortunately, excessive tolerance leads to chaos and an uncomfortable society if not criminal. This is why Giuliani was such a success in New York. Hoods were running the streets even in Manhattan. Squeegee characters were intimidating locals and tourists if they would object to washing their windows. Boom boxes were ubiquitous and insulting of officers was widespread. There was a famous incident where Giuliani had people arrested who mooned him. He could have let it go. But he was making a point. This is a society of laws. No question Giuliani was excessive in some things. But his general thrust on the law was right and people appreciated it.Even Gates was sure to mention that he respected the police. For sure because without them his upscale house would be at serious risk as it would be for anybody. We rightly prosecute police abuses. At the same time we acknowledge that the making of law and order is in the hands of the police.

This situation spun out of control for one reason: PRIDE. If someone was willing to back down, this would never have happened. I understand completely how insulted Professor Gates was to be in his own home and to have an officer approach him about a potential burglary. Whatever happened after that, oh well. But, when it was established that he was not a burglar, these words should have been said by Officer Crowley: "Im sorry, Sir....". That would have diffused everything, I'm sure. Instead, the officer's pride was hurt because the Professor was not fearful (oh no, are you kidding me, how dare him show no fear of the police!). Yes, he was not fearful, had the audacity to question why the officer was there, etc, etc. Now, that being said, if Professor Gates had calmed down, as hard as that was to do, he probably would not have been arrested. When dealing with someone not willing to listen to reason, it is even more important to be calm, even if you have the absolute right to be upset. What especially disturbs me about this is the police report (I read it) said the officer was trying to radio in something and couldn't because the Professor was yelling and the "acoustics" in his kitchen were not good. So, he turned to go outside and invited the Professon outside if he wanted to continue to speak to him. After going outside on his porch, he was then arrested. Ok, follow me here--did the officer know he couldn't arrest the Professor unless he was outside of his home? Did he knowlingly "set him up" by "inviting" him outside to talk and then arrested him for "disorderly conduct", which is something that must be done publicly? I wonder...To make the arrest was a judgement call, a call that, I think ,was poor judgement, and was an angry response to the Professor. A little empathy could have gone a long way.

Race in this situation is a straw man.It can be incontrovertibly true that Gates was rude. Horribly, inexcusably rude.There are remedies for rudeness - being deprived of your freedom, even for 4 hours is not one of them.It doesn't matter if you're white, black, green or purple.

KAnnThe officers pride was hurt because the Professor was not fearful?? Really??Perhaps it was not fear he was hoping to get, but, oh, say reasonableness, common human decency perhaps.Maybe the ultimate decision to arrest the man wasn't the right one - like the President, I don't have all the facts, but I won't say it was stupid, and I don't think there is any evidence that it was motivated by personal or racial animus.David,You say -"I dont think it is wrong, in the wake of this incident, to point out that many blacks fear and distrust the police, and with good reason."and I say, in the words of Sherman T Potter - horse hockeyThis incident had nothing to do with race until this wealthy, arrogant, Ivy Leaguer who happens to be black interjected it. Why is this suddenly a learning opportunity for everyone else? When people behave badly it's best to focus the attention on that, and not everything else that might be wrong anywhere else.

Apropos of nothing but my own late middle-aged crankiness, the inimitable Sherman T. Potter's phrase was "horse PUCKEY."

This incident had nothing to do with race until this wealthy, arrogant, Ivy Leaguer who happens to be black interjected it. Why is this suddenly a learning opportunity for everyone else?When people behave badly its best to focus the attention on that, and not everything else that might be wrong anywhere else.Sean,You and others are clearly very angry and want to make some kind of example of Gates. What is your agenda? And why is it so important to make sure that the indisputable fact that there is still a real problem between white cops and black citizens doesn't get discussed?

As many others have repeated endlessly, and as the NYT article itself noted: There is a world of difference between an insult delivered to a police officer inside the man's home and one that is outside. The officer in this case specifically asked Gates to go outside. This officer lost his cool. Imagine if he had played against the type Gates assumed he was and didn't arrest him -- then Gates might have had time to sleep on it and realize what a doofus he had been. Instead, the police officer did exactly what Gates assumed he would and more or less validated Gates' assumption that white police officers truck no disrespect from a black man, turning the police officer (I am guessing) into the kind of officer he prides himself on not being. It's sad, actually, but I still maintain that the burden in this situation falls on the police, who are trained to deal with conflict resolution. Bill M.: You have no idea what you are talking about.

Today's NYT indicates the variety of views (and training) police get and hold in dealing with situations like these.Despite Cindy's comment, race perception does matter to a minority - a short piece on the news last night indicating there is almost a broad perception that you put yourself in danger as a minority if you question, get mad or ask for an IDThe Pres has allowed he exacerbated things -let them all sit down at the White House with a beer and we can go along holding our own preconceptions in this hard teaching moment..

Gates comes across as an angry and embittered man, not withstanding that he is a renowned scholar at a prestigious university, well respected by his peers, and a personal friend of the President of the United States. I once observed a disabled man in a wheel chair following someone down the aisle of a supermarket, screaming and yelling at the person, saying things like,"You think you're better than I am?", etc. I have no idea what precipitated this behavior, but Gates' behavior reminded me of the incident.Apparently there are audio tapes of the Gates incident; wonder if they will be released?

The more I read about this incident, the more I am concluding that Professor Gates was in the wrong. Why did he behave inappropriately? Jet lag from a trip. Damn door won't open. Black scholar on race and racial relations.Not a good brew for a professor who, one supposes, is respectful and cordial on other occasions.I'm not prepared to "call" the police officer on his decision to arrest Gates. I don't walk in the officer's shoes. Gates' physical appearance and cane notwithstanding, the officer knew --- as all police officers know --- that some of the worst stuff can happen on a person's property including in the home.At some point, if an officer cannot get the situation under control, he likely has no option but to put the offending person in the "cooler" for a few hours.In this instance, the professor comes across as arrogant based on what I've read and heard on the news. I have friends in academia, but some of the most arrogant folks I've known in life have been academics (not my friends, btw :).Obama (for whom I voted) was "stupid" for using this word when --- in the same breath --- he acknowledged he didn't have all the facts.Unless a subsequent report suggests otherwise, I think Gates was in the wrong. His behavior can be explained for the reasons cited earlier, but it cannot be somehow justified or excused.

Obama finally did the right thing and realized he inflamed the issue. He even spread the blame to Gates which he should have. Barbara, I believe I have been in the trenches much more than you have on this issue. By a whopping margin I estimate. You are very good on most issues. This is not one of them.

But the "issue" isn't whether or not Professor Gates behaved admirably. The issue is whether a policeman ought to be able to arrest a person he finds at home committing no crimes. Even if the cop's account is 100% accurate, Gates still has not been accused of doing anything to threaten the safety of the cop or anyone else. The cop arrested him anyway. And he did so when -- as I and others have mentioned already -- he could and should have walked away. If there's some circumstance that makes that arrest anything less than "stupid," it hasn't come out yet.From the article Historyman linked to above:

Lets say I do a stop, Mr. Adams said. I question, and its nothing. Sir, Im sorry, I apologize. Whats the reason for staying, if the angers directed at me? If its directed at a third party, a storekeeper, I stay.But if the officer himself is the provocation, the officer should leave, he said, and added that Sergeant Crowley did not use such common sense.

Sean: Give me a break. If the cop is looking for common human decency then he's in the wrong line of work. Not that there was anything indecent in Gates's response. Did he lose his temper? Apparently. Was his response worthy of praise? Certainly not. Worthy of empathy? Without a doubt. Can Gates's critics here honestly say they wouldn't have had a similar response? I seriously doubt it. I don't see what's so important about repeating the mantra that Gates was "in the wrong" or "arrogant" or whatever. Bill M.: You're sounding more like a mugged liberal every day. Rudy was a wildly unpopular mayor before 9/11.

Bill M. is not sounding like a "mugged liberal": He's a cranky but honest, and ultimately very decent man. It seems to me that he calls them as he sees them, and devil take the hindmost. Good for him.

From Andrew Sullivan:"Maureen's dad was a cop and she knows people like James Crowley. I do too. And Obama is right that cops like Crowley are good men in general (although I can't pass a judgment on someone I don't know). I also believe in being respectful and polite to policemen as a rule, and do not recall any moment in my life when I haven't been. But I do think it's necessary to remember that policemen are our servants, not our masters. We pay their salary - and they'd better treat us right. And I find the many comments that we should always show deference to the man with the gun and the badge and never publicly criticize cops to be alarmingly authoritarian in its implications.""Alarmingly authoritarian in its implications."Bill Mazzella rightly, in my view, criticizes what he sees as a culture of blind submission to the Roman Catholic equivalent of the police, and fails to see the irony, not to mention the likely connection, between Catholic culture and the call for reflexive deference to civilian police authorities. I don't like the secular authoritarian vision any better than I like the religious one.

Barbara, in a newspaper column from yesterday, Clarence Page uses the phrase "contempt of cop". A valid usage would be something like this: 'Skip Gates was arrested for the "crime" of Contempt of Cop'. It distills Andrew Sullivan's point quite well, I think. the already long list of improbable White House get-togethers - Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon, Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat, Princess Diana and John Travolta - we will be able to add the names of a black professor and a white policeman...Admittedly, it is tempting to view the invitation as the ultimate conflation of the age of Obama and the age of Oprah.Aside from the choice of beverage, there is something very daytime television, something very soft focus, something very soft sofa, about this attempt to defuse the controversy...

One more, linking Obama to presidents past:Yet startling and novel as Mr Obama's attempts to defuse the controversy are, he is merely upholding a long tradition. Presidential racial politics have often been conducted with gestures, symbols and photo opportunities, and this is but the latest example of a well-worn genre...

You forgot what in my memory is the oddest of them all, Michael Jackson and Ronald and Nancy Reagan, touting Mrs. Reagan's "Just Say No" campaign. Talk about odd. Jackson seemed high at the time, and it was in the era where he always wore one glove and big sunglasses. As news about his drug dependence emerges, it seems odder still in retrospect. I remember Nancy Reagan looking at him with an alarmed expression on her face. (On tv of course -- I wasn't there!)

MJ and the Reagans at WH sounds odd all right (link to video below). But the Reagans must have been used to all sorts of celebrities from their years in Hollywood. On the other hand, few people honored by the WH would have dressed like Jackson, as you mentioned.BTW, RR remarked in his diary (published not long ago) on this occasion that he was surprised to find MJ very shy.

Last one from me... Barbara's comment prompted me to read a little on Jackson's visit, including some interesting trivia after the visit that involved our nation's current Chief Justice.

If Prof Gates had been Caucasion, all the anti-government hermits out West would have been having a fit about civil rights being violated. If a white man were arrested on his own property after having not committed any crime. this conversation would have been received a lot more sympathetically by most people. FOX, CNN, MSNBC and all the talk shows, blogs, Twitter and every other news source would be talking about how everyone's rights could potentially be violated. But, because it was the proverbial "angry black man", oh well, you know he was very disrespectful and brought it on himself. I am one who wholeheartedly beleives in respect for duly constituted authority. If I'm in trouble, you'd better believe I would be thrilled to see a police officer to help me. I would never talk to an officer the way Gates did, but officers know, in their line of work, they are not seeing society at it's best. That's the name of the game. If they want to see people at their best, they need to work for Publishers Clearing House and give away money. EVERYONE would love them then. But, being an officer of the law is not for people who expects everyone to love them. As an experienced officer, I think he should have been able to rise above the fray, look behind the angry words, show some empathy (because you and I know if he were in that situation, he would have been very ticked also) and just apologize to the man and leave his home. Was Gates wrong, absolutely, but as the very old saying goes, "Two wrongs don't make a right".

Add new comment

You may login with your assigned e-mail address.
The password field is case sensitive.

Or log in with...

Add new comment