Racial Profiling in Massachusetts

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Posted July 22, 2009 by Kristian Lin in Blotch

Well, now, this is disturbing. Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home by Cambridge police after a neighbor called reporting a break-in. (She had seen Gates and his limo driver trying to open the front door, which was stuck.) The officer on the scene, one Sgt. James Crowley, reportedly refused to identify himself or produce a badge as required by Massachusetts state law, and arrested Gates for disorderly conduct even after he produced proof that he was the homeowner.

For anyone who’s ever harbored suspicions of cops, this is perfect. Prof. Gates is African-American, and he’s one of our country’s most distinguished scholars. If you’ve ever read his books (this one is pretty good), you know that he’s the furthest thing from a wild-eyed militant. He’s got a list of academic credentials longer than your arm and mine put together. He had just returned from a trip to China, where he managed to stay out of trouble with the law in that repressive nation. He’s 58 years old and he walks with a cane. For God’s sake, look at his mugshot photo. He’s wearing a striped polo shirt! How could anyone construe him as a threat?

Of course, Sgt. Crowley arrested him not for being a threat but for disorderly conduct. We only have the word of Gates and the officer for what words were exchanged, and their accounts are at odds. It’s certainly possible that Gates may have been rattled by being questioned in his own house. African-Americans have described the paranoia that can overtake an otherwise rational person of color in the presence of the law. The fact that Gates was unquestionably in the right may only have fed into that. Then again, he had just completed a 20-hour airplane trip from China. I’ve made that trip, and I remember that when I got back, all I wanted to do was sleep. Any of us would have been irritable.

The thing is, the disorderly conduct law in Massachusetts is aimed at speech that’s intended to incite a riot. Since Gates was by himself when he was arrested, they could hardly make that stick. This is probably why Cambridge police dropped the charges against Gates like they were hot coals and issued a really weak apology. If the professor was trying to cite rank and privilege to try to get out of an arrest, as the arresting officer claims, that doesn’t speak well of him. Still, Gates was well within his legal rights to protest his innocence and accuse the officer of racial bias.

This whole incident only makes it harder for cops everywhere to do their job, especially in North Texas where we’ve had our own recent experiences with cops and minorities. Once Gates proved that he was in fact the owner of the house, why did Crowley stick around to be abused by an angry homeowner? And what excuse is there for not producing ID? If the arrest was only made because the cop was embarrassed over having gotten it wrong, then we can file this under The Cover-Up Is Always Worse Than the Original Mistake. And we haven’t even discussed the million-dollar question of whether Gates would have been put in handcuffs if he’d been a white middle-aged Harvard professor. We don’t know the answer to that yet, but more information will be coming to light. Given America’s racial history, you can see why people are jumping to that conclusion. Some people are citing this as the death of the idea of post-racial America, but I never put much stock in that idea to begin with. One thing is certain: If I were James Crowley, I’d be seriously considering early retirement right now. Careers don’t recover from screw-ups of this magnitude.

At such a time, I recall Malcolm Gladwell (another prominent intellectual and African-American) and his experiences with racial profiling, which inspired this New Yorker piece and some passages in his books Blink and The Tipping Point. I also recall Charlton Heston’s line from Orson Welles’ 1958 movie Touch of Evil: “A policeman’s job is hard. It should be hard. The only place a policeman’s job is easy is in a police state.” Over at the American Spectator, Adam Serwer wonders about the 911 caller and why Gates’ own neighbor failed to recognize him.


28 Comments


  1.  
    ben

    Just imagine for a minute being the police offer and being called ‘stupid’ by the President of the United States.

    Oh, and maybe do a little background history on the officer:
    http://www.bostonherald.com/news/regional/view/20090722cop_who_arrested_henry_gates_im_not_apologizing/srvc=home&position=0




  2.  
    Kristian

    Point of clarification: The President didn’t call the officer “stupid.” He said the officer “acted stupidly.” That’s a distinction worth making.




  3.  
    Obama's Seat

    “President Barack Obama said Wednesday that police acted “stupidly” in the arrest…”

    “Obama called Gates a friend, and said he doesn’t know all the facts of the case.”

    I would say that the PoTUS acted rather stupidly.




  4.  
    Kristian

    Really? How do you figure? The president is a law professor, so he’s not likely to be making statements about legal cases without verbal qualifications. (He chooses his words carefully, unlike the last guy.) He’s coming to the defense of a personal friend, saying that Gates isn’t the type to get himself arrested at the drop of a hat. I’ll bet you’d want your friends to come to your defense if you were in this situation. And many other people (click on the links in my post) are saying that the police acted stupidly for arresting the man after he already gave proof that he was the homeowner. So how are the president’s words ill-advised? I don’t see it.




  5.  
    Obama's Seat

    “I don’t know all the facts, but the police acted stupidly”.

    See anything wrong with that (paraphrased) statement?

    On reading the report and seeing the vid of the officer, I’d say not only do I know more of the facts of the case, my opinion is the professor acted stupidly.

    Had he produced ID when asked, it would have been a non-event, and the PoTUS has no business commenting as he did.




  6.  
    Sick of this

    Obama blew an opportunity to calm the country down last night. I think HE “acted stupidly”. The police officer was called to do a job and was called a racist pig cop. Obama glossed over that one. Come on, people! How about this scenario? “Sir we have come to investigate a break in. Do you have ID?”. “Oh, sure officer. This is my house. My door is jammed because of a previous botched robbery attempt (Did not FORGET HIS KEYS, Mr. Obama). Here is my ID. Thanks for looking out, there have been a lot of robberies on this street. ” End of discussion. No problem. Unless you choose to make it a problem I guess.




  7.  
    Obama's Seat

    To call this racial profiling is assinine. They were CALLED by a neighbor, they didn’t just happen by and see two black men trying to open a door and assume it was a burglary.

    I guess though, if they were called out, and saw two white men doing the same thing, they would have just kept on driving?

    I’m on the cop’s side on this one, and I still maintain Obama was out of bounds with his comment.




  8.  
    Kristian

    I suppose people who’ve been harassed by police because of their race (or their sexual orientation, for that matter) have a different perspective on this. We should all probably bear that in mind.

    Obama’s Seat, the police report and Gates’ account of what happened say different things, so we’ve got a “he said, he said” situation here. Without corroboration, we shouldn’t be too quick to take one side or the other to be truth.

    Also, as I mentioned above, Gates was within his legal rights to claim he was being harassed because of his race, whether or not he was actually correct to do so. This is not grounds for an arrest. If there had been grounds, Cambridge police wouldn’t have dropped the charges so quickly.




  9.  
    Obama's Seat

    “we shouldn’t be too quick to take one side or the other to be truth.”

    Then you agree Obama was out of bounds with the comment?

    As for the charges being dropped, you have no idea why. My wild guess is that they would have stuck were it a less noted member of the community.




  10.  
    Obama's Seat

    Interesting…

    CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) – The white police sergeant criticized by President Barack Obama for arresting black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his Massachusetts home is a police academy expert on racial profiling.

    Cambridge Sgt. James Crowley has taught a class on racial profiling for five years at the Lowell Police Academy after being hand-picked for the job by former police Commissioner Ronny Watson, who is black, said Academy Director Thomas Fleming.

    “I have nothing but the highest respect for him as a police officer. He is very professional and he is a good role model for the young recruits in the police academy,” Fleming told The Associated Press on Thursday.

    The course, called “Racial Profiling,” teaches about different cultures that officers could encounter in their community “and how you don’t want to single people out because of their ethnic background or the culture they come from,” Fleming said.

    http://www.breitbart.com/article.php?id=D99KBEAO1&show_article=1




  11.  
    Kristian

    Wow, that is interesting. The president’s comments aren’t out of bounds because a) what he’s saying is no different from what large sectors of the media are saying, and b) it seems pretty clear that the officer did act stupidly. Police are supposed to defuse a situation like this, not aggravate it by arresting someone without cause. (And so far, neither Crowley nor Cambridge PD has shown sufficient cause.) Once he established that Gates was the homeowner, Crowley could have defused the situation by saying “Sorry to bother you, sir,” and walking away. Or, if he was concerned with saving face, he could have said something diplomatic like “Sorry if I frightened you earlier, sir, but we received a report that two African-American men had broken in here. You can understand why we were concerned.” And if Gates had continued to be abusive after that, Crowley still could have left the scene.

    If Crowley teaches a course on racial profiling, then he was in prime position to know that the homeowner in front of him (justifiably or not) felt he was being harassed racially. That’s all the more reason to avoid escalating the situation. Crowley may have felt the arrest was necessary to teach Gates that even a Harvard professor isn’t above the law, but if so, then it has well and truly blown up in his face. Crowley couldn’t have known that Gates is a personal friend of both the president and Oprah Winfrey, but he could have predicted that arresting a Harvard professor who’s 58 years old and walks with a cane might be a dicey matter. And as I said, he had no cause. Verbally abusing a police officer is seldom the most intelligent thing to do, but it isn’t a crime.




  12.  
    chineseboomerang

    Obama is racking up quite a history of making statements about situations where he doesn’t know the facts. This situation with the Harvard professor, the Health Care debate where he is both out-and-lying and just plain making things up and the Honduran situation where the government followed the law and their constitution to the letter when ousting their president who, was clearly in violation of the constitution. Of course when he sees a free people ousting a thug who is supported by other regional thugs his instinct is to come to that persons defense.

    For an example of a heroic African American’s stand against vicious liberal oppression and condescention take a look at this guy giving it back to the smarmy Sen. Barbara Boxer. God bless guys like this.

    http://www.breitbart.tv/god-awful-black-chamber-of-commerce-ceo-rips-sen-boxer-for-condescending-racial-remarks/




  13.  
    Professor Buddy

    Kristian, You’re nothing but an anarchist. Gates had a complete meltdown and brought it on himself. Prof. Gates thinks himself above the law… he’s not.
    As for Obama’s comment last night whereby he stated that “there is a long history in this country of African Americans and Latinos being stopped disproportionately by police.” Maybe that has something to do with the fact that they are responsible for a disproportionate amount of the crime.




  14.  
    Kristian

    See, now look what you’ve done, Professor. I’ve been making my arguments without personally attacking anybody on this comment thread. Why couldn’t you have extended me the same courtesy? Surely we can all discuss this in a civil manner. (Although, calling me an anarchist? I think I’m rather proud of that.)

    Anyway, here’s a nuanced take on things: http://www.slate.com/id/2223472/




  15.  
    Obama's Seat

    “The president’s comments aren’t out of bounds because a) what he’s saying is no different from what large sectors of the media are saying”

    So even if he admittedly did not know the facts, he felt justified in smearing the cop because “large sectors of the media” are saying the cop acted stupidly?

    This is the President, not some radio host, and I’d like to see these “large sectors of the media” that were calling the cop’s actions stupid at the time he made that statement.

    Hint: There was and is no “large section of the media” saying any such thing.

    However, Bill Cosby sez: “I was shocked to hear the president making this kind of statement,”

    “and b) it seems pretty clear that the officer did act stupidly.”

    Ah, there’s that “large section of the media”, but I disagree, it’s not clear at all that he acted stupidly. From the arrest report, I’d say gates with his “do you know who I am” BS (always a good way to deal with a cop), and his “yo mama” stuff, and the yelling could have behaved a little less provocatively.

    He could have simply handed the cop the ID, incident over, but he pushed it.

    “Verbally abusing a police officer is seldom the most intelligent thing to do, but it isn’t a crime.”

    If you verbally abuse a police officer, he will most likely arrest you for disorderly conduct. Try it sometime. I did when I was 17, cost me $75

    Of course, I wasn’t a friend of the president’s.




  16.  
    chineseboomerang

    K. Lin,

    No one is attacking you. You’re over reacting just like Gates or Obama and it says much about you and why you have taken a particular stance on all of this.

    The term “anarchist” is merely a political description. It doesn’t have the same connotation as Nazi or Fascist. If you don’t feel you are an anarchist just register the the inaccuracy. You ARE a Liberal though and Obama’s brand of Liberalism comes much closer to Socialism, Communism, Naziism and Fascism than anything else ever seen before in this country.

    And – Please don’t say you are a “progressive.” In the mouths of liberals that term becomes meaningless as do words like hope, change, transparancy etc. Obama’s ideas go back to thugs and tyrants from thousands of years ago and only recently in the last centuries have people begun to free themselves from the shackles put on them by the just such as our president. The only way people can fall for these vicious ideas again is if they are CONSTANTLY and INTENTIONALLY misinformed by the press or if the free press is banned – something Liberals would love to accomplish.




  17.  
    Professor Buddy

    I didn’t mean it as a complement or a pejorative. It’s just an observation.
    You say… The president’s comments aren’t out of bounds because a) what he’s saying is no different from what large sectors of the media are saying.
    My response to that would be that the media parrot the president and the president parrots the media. It’s like one of those strange M. C. Escher drawings where you can’t tell what’s doing what.
    Then you add… It seems pretty clear that the officer did act stupidly.
    My response would be that nothing regarding this episode can be “pretty clear” because we’re only hearing about it through the lens of the mainstream media.
    What annoys me is the way Obama weighed in last night. I was watching it when he said the “police acted stupidly” and I could hear the pitch change in his voice. He was angry. He had made up his mind and it came across as amateur and totally un-Presidential. He’s not Maury Povich or Montel Williams, he’s the President of the United States and he should stay above the fray.
    As for the Ford piece to which you linked… I agree with many of his assertions but towards the end he writes…
    “It’s a symptom of the way we have chosen to deal with poverty and racial isolation in this very wealthy and supposedly egalitarian society. And it makes all police scapegoats for the failed and callous social policies that we have all chosen or acquiesced to”
    He lost me there.




  18.  
    Kristian

    What I haven’t heard so far is any credible defense of the officer’s actions. Let’s not stray off topic: The president is not the issue here. The issue is some faulty police work on the part of Sgt. Crowley, and no one so far (not the officer himself, the department, or any of his defenders in the press or online) has offered up a convincing reason why Gates should have been arrested. That’s because there is none. We’ve already established that verbally abusing a police officer in a private setting, no matter how unfair or vile it might be, does not rise to the level of a crime, at least in the state of Massachusetts. So Henry Louis Gates broke no laws. Since he broke no laws, he shouldn’t have been arrested. Since he shouldn’t have been arrested and was anyway, he’s owed an apology by the officer, not that one looks to be forthcoming. Even if you put the most benign construction on this and say that Crowley is a good cop who got it wrong, the sergeant still should be able to admit his mistake.




  19.  
    chineseboomerang

    But K. Lin, you are completely missing the point which is – there is No, none whatsoever, evidence that any “Racial Profiling” took place. Let me remind you that the very title of your post is -

    Racial Profiling in Massachusetts
    by Kristian Lin

    Insinuating someone is a racist is a very serious charge. It is you and Obama and Gates that should apologize. You and Gates and Obama go around throwing race bombs and then you expect an officer who puts his life on the line to apologize for doing his job.

    The police arrest people who they think are breaking the law. If there is no case it gets dropped. If they think there is a case it goes to trial. That’s how it works. Should police apologize to every person who gets themselves out of a traffic ticket. What’s the difference. For you the difference is that you think something more serious happened, namely racial profiling. So back it up K. Lin. You are the one throwing accusations. Prove it.




  20.  
    Professor Buddy

    I’ll tackle the officer’s actions… but the President’s comments ARE part of the larger issue… it’s a mindset…

    Regarding the officer… I can’t speak for Massachusetts law (I would imagine it’s similar to Texas though) but generally speaking when a police officer stops you, you’re under a state of arrest until he releases you. This includes getting pulled over for a traffic stop, jay-walking, or being a freak in front of your Harvard rental property (disorderly conduct). Professor Gates was under arrest from the moment the process began and it was a matter of officer discretion as to whether the subject (Professor Gates) should be released or brought to a police station or jail for further questioning or arraignment. According the the police report (which the Boston Globe first posted, then later scrubbed) Professor Gates told the officers, “I’ll speak with your mama outside,” Essentially, Professor Gates was being a butthole with the police officers, and generally speaking that will land you in the back of a patrol car. It’s called disorderly conduct. Try it sometime. It’s solely the police officer’s option as to whether he/she sacks you up but most of the time, you’ll get a ride downtown. As a matter of fact may I suggest that the next time you get pulled over by the police for speeding, try the ol’ Gates method and see where it lands you. The problem is, you’re not friends with Obama, so you’ll probably just have to pay the fine.

    Here’s the report.
    http://www.thesmokinggun.com/archive/years/2009/0723092gates1.html




  21.  
    Obama's Seat

    Could it be that Gates was actually the one practicing a certain hostile “racial profiling” , and due to his professional position and friends in high places might have challenged the cop to the point the cop had to act to maintain *his* professional obligations?

    If anything, the officer’s history of training in this area would suggest that Gates would be *more* sensitive to to this sort of thing – is it possible he let the guy rant longer because he was black?

    And, the guy gets let off – would that have happened if he wasn’t a friend of Obama’s and/or a Hahvahd bigshot? if it were me or you or Joe the plumber, would the charge have been dropped?

    As for racial profiling, if there was any, it was the neighbor who called 911.




  22.  
    chineseboomerang

    Obama’s Seat says -

    Could it be that Gates was actually the one practicing a certain hostile “racial profiling”

    In answer I say – Yes, quite possibly. It’s the tactic taught by ACORN, The Black Panthers et al, where they provoke, provoke, provoke and just dare the police to arrest them. Then they scream racism.

    Remember, in Liberal think – Becoming a victim equals power.




  23.  
    Professor Buddy

    Racial Profiling 101

    Racial Profiling Example:
    Police Officer sees black man walking down Camp Bowie. Police Officer stops man because he is black.

    Criminal Profiling Example:
    Police Officer sees black man walking down Camp Bowie. Police Officer stops man because he is carrying a 50″ Plasma Screen TV.

    Professor Gates wasn’t detained and questioned because he’s black. He was detained and questioned because he was found trying to shimmy through the front door of the home he was renting and when questioned about this unusual behavior he became rude and created a public disturbance.

    This has less to do with the fact that he’s black than it does the fact that he’s an Elite who can throw his weight around. Will the fwweekly change it’s blog headline to more accurately reflect reality? No, because they’ve already taken Obama’s “blue pill.”

    See below if you don’t get the reference.

    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Take-the-red-pill-Mr-President-51473502.html

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uGQF8LAmiaE




  24.  
    Professor Buddy

    Racial Profiling 101
    Racial Profiling Example:
    Police Officer sees black man walking down Camp Bowie. Police Officer stops man because he is black.
    Criminal Profiling Example:
    Police Officer sees black man walking down Camp Bowie. Police Officer stops man because he is carrying a 50″ Plasma Screen TV.
    Professor Gates wasn’t detained and questioned because he’s black. He was detained and questioned because he was found trying to shimmy through the front door of the home he was renting and when questioned about this unusual behavior he became rude and created a public disturbance.
    This has less to do with the fact that he’s black than it does the fact that he’s an Elite who can throw his weight around. Will the fwweekly change it’s blog headline to more accurately reflect reality? No, because they’ve already taken Obama’s “blue pill.”
    See below if you don’t get the reference.
    http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/opinion/blogs/beltway-confidential/Take-the-red-pill-Mr-President-51473502.html




  25.  
    Obama's Seat

    I think most of us have encountered overzealous cops at some point, just as people encounter unspeakable bigotry – it’s a fact of life not exclusive to the west, or any particular tribe. Mean people suck all over.

    I don’t think actual struggles are well served by incidents like this, the ridiculous charges of racial profiling, Which, as we and the president now know, the officer was especially qualified to address.

    This is more a question of a Chief executive’s judgement than it is a racial incident, and Obama clumsily created the situation with his inappropriate comment.

    Why he did this is anyone’s guess. But it’s not going to help him sell the latest gizmo program.




  26.  
    Sox #1

    Okay – what if the situation had been reversed? What if the cop had been black and the professor white?

    Would the “large sectors of the media” have covered that as racial profiling?

    Would Obama have said the cop “acted stupidly” then? Or even commented on the situation for that matter?

    Or would a situation with a white professor and a black cop never make it to the forefront of the media?

    Just something to ponder before statements of guilty before proven innocent are made about any (white, black, green or purple) cop performing his job.

    If anyone in this situation was racial profiling it was the neighbor who called the police, especially if she knew a black man lived there.

    There is certainly a double standard in this country! Based on the circumstances of the case along – I support the cop (regardless of his race)!!




  27.  
    mark

    Holy Smokes! I cannot believe what I read here.
    First, being the furthest thing from a wild eyed militant would not keep him from throwing a wild eyed baby fit.
    Second, do you think clothing really separates bad from good?
    Third, we have more than the accounts of Gates and the one officer. More officers were present AND his fit throwing had attracted a crowd of onlookers (read the dang police report)
    Fourth, Gates is only unquestionably in the right to people who don’t have all the info AND refuse to consider anything contrary to what they aready believe.

    With that said, I don’t believe even audio tape of the account, plus corroboration of every single EIGHT OR MORE witnesses would change a dull mind.




  28.  

    Sgt. Crowley DID identify himself – several times.





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