The story is whirling around. There is a presumption of racism on one side, a presumption of uppitiness on the other.
Professor Louis Gates, friend of the President, was arrested for "loud and tumultous" behavior (disorderly conduct) for becoming upset when a cop came into his house to investigate whether or not the Professor was a burglar.
Here's the police report. Read it carefully and save the link for reference.
Apparently, Professor Gates had just returned from a trip to China. His door was stuck, so he and his driver needed to force the door open. A neighbor observed this and called the police. I'd want a neighbor to call the police if she thought someone was breaking into my house.
However, once the cop, Officer James Crowley, arrived he should have suspected that the report didn't hold much weight. It was early afternoon, Professor Gates is almost sixty years old and walks with a cane. Not the typical demographic for a burglar.
If you believe the police report (and, let's face it, it is Crowley's written attempt to justify the arrest), Gates was upset and yelling at the cop and saying repeatedly that this was racism. According to Crowley, Gates continued to ask for the cop's name and badge number. It's interesting how Crowley handles this. Clearly, people don't keep asking for information that they already have. From Crowley's account you would think that the professor is demented. At one point he writes that he "began to provide" his name and badge number, and then offers no explanation as to why Gates continued to ask for it. "Began to provide" in copspeak is roughly translated as, "No, I did not provide my badge number". In Massachusetts the law requires cops to wear ID badges with this information on them. I don't know if it is part of the statute, but most municipalities now issue cops business cards to hand out for precisely this purpose. The unstated presumption should be that Gates doesn't get the cop's name and badge number. The cop blames it on Gates yelling. Does this hold water? Wouldn't Gates at least take a moment to jot down Crowley's badge number off of Crowley's chest before resuming his alleged harangue? And, of course, none of this would have happened if Crowley had just handed over a card.
The cop leaves the house because "the acoustics of the kitchen and foyer" made it hard for him to call in information, presumably because Gates kept asking him for his name and badge number. Once Gates steps outside he is arrested.
Here's something that hasn't been circulated in the press very much. Professor Gates' side of the story:
All of a sudden, there was a policeman on my porch. And I thought, ‘This is strange.’ So I went over to the front porch still holding the phone, and I said ‘Officer, can I help you?’ And he said, ‘Would you step outside onto the porch.’ And the way he said it, I knew he wasn’t canvassing for the police benevolent association. All the hairs stood up on the back of my neck, and I realized that I was in danger. And I said to him no, out of instinct. I said, ‘No, I will not.’
My lawyers later told me that that was a good move and had I walked out onto the porch he could have arrested me for breaking and entering. He said ‘I’m here to investigate a 911 call for breaking and entering into this house.’ And I said ‘That’s ridiculous because this happens to be my house. And I’m a Harvard professor.’ He says ‘Can you prove that you’re a Harvard professor?’ I said yes, I turned and closed the front door to the kitchen where I’d left my wallet, and I got out my Harvard ID and my Massachusetts driver’s license which includes my address and I handed them to him. And he’s sitting there looking at them.
Now it’s clear that he had a narrative in his head: A black man was inside someone’s house, probably a white person’s house, and this black man had broken and entered, and this black man was me.
So he’s looking at my ID, he asked me another question, which I refused to answer. And I said I want your name and your badge number because I want to file a complaint because of the way he had treated me at the front door. He didn’t say, ‘Excuse me, sir, is there a disturbance here, is this your house?’—he demanded that I step out on the porch, and I don’t think he would have done that if I was a white person.
But at that point, I realized that I was in danger. And so I said to him that I want your name, and I want your badge number and I said it repeatedly.
The police report says I was engaged in loud and tumultuous behavior. That’s a joke. Because I have a severe bronchial infection which I contracted in China and for which I was treated and have a doctor’s report from the Peninsula hotel in Beijing. So I couldn’t have yelled. I can’t yell even today, I’m not fully cured.
It escalated as follows: I kept saying to him, ‘What is your name, and what is your badge number?’ and he refused to respond. I asked him three times, and he refused to respond. And then I said, ‘You’re not responding because I’m a black man, and you’re a white officer.’ That’s what I said. He didn’t say anything. He turned his back to me and turned back to the porch. And I followed him. I kept saying, “I want your name, and I want your badge number.”
It looked like an ocean of police had gathered on my front porch. There were probably half a dozen police officers at this point. The mistake I made was I stepped onto the front porch and asked one of his colleagues for his name and badge number. And when I did, the same officer said, ‘Thank you for accommodating our request. You are under arrest.’ And he handcuffed me right there. It was outrageous. My hands were behind my back I said, ‘I’m handicapped. I walk with a cane. I can’t walk to the squad car like this.’ There was a huddle among the officers; there was a black man among them. They removed the cuffs from the back and put them around the front.
A crowd had gathered, and as they were handcuffing me and walking me out to the car, I said, ‘Is this how you treat a black man in America?’
You have an angry old man who thinks he's being hassled because he's black. He asks for the cop's information but the cop doesn't hand over the card or give the information, as required by regulations. Why not? It only infuriates the man further.
When Gates stepped outside his house he was arrested for disturbing the peace.
There is no law that says anyone has to be polite to police, especially if they come into your own home and accuse you of being a burglar. Maybe it's not warm and cordial, maybe it's even impolite, but it's not illegal. However, there are laws about police providing badge numbers to the public and the one in Massachusetts is pretty explicit. Crowley's should have been displayed, and if not when Gates asked Crowley should have given it. Once Gates identified himself to the officer as the legal resident of that home Crowley had no business there. Crowley acts as if Gates' two pieces of ID weren't sufficient to prove beyond a doubt that he was the lawful resident of that place (although Gates says his driver's license had his address on it). If you produced your driver's license at your front door to a cop, and the address matched your home, wouldn't that be enough proof that you lived there? Would you have to produce a bill of sale?
Surely Crowley was aware enough of human behavior to realize what was happening in Gates' mind and his part in it. Crowley is even an instructor in a police academy class about racial profiling so he apparent lack of understanding is at best curious. Maybe he had a bad day too.
Crowley never mentions Gates' driver's license in his police report. Put yourself in a cop's position and use a little logic here. You ask for identification and the person you ask produces a student ID (or a Costco card). Since you are investigating a potential crime scene do you just settle for the Costco card? No, you ask for a driver's license, which might even have the person's current address. Is Crowley so inept as a police sergeant that he doesn't know what kind of ID he should ask for? Of course not. And if Crowley asked for the driver's license and Gates refused and only gave him an ID that did not have an address, then that should have been mentioned as a reason for detaining Gates. But Crowley never mentions the driver's license. Was he being an incompetent cop not following protocol or was he being deceptive in his report?
If Gates showed him his driver's license, and simple logic says he did, why would Crowley intentionally leave out of the police report the most important part of finding out who that man was inside Gates' house? Once Gates has properly identified himself Crowley's business there is done. In fact, with that little piece of evidence Crowley's malicious motives are exposed. So when crafting his police report the sergeant leaves out any mention of a driver's license even though that would have been the quickest and best piece of evidence to resolve this issue.
Crowley may have felt insulted. I've certainly been insulted many times in my various jobs throughout my life. Not everyone you meet is the prince of peace. But there is no law saying you have to be polite to police. There are actually codes of conduct for police officers. In fact, Crowley could have apologized to Gates, something like this: "I'm sorry, Professor Gates. A neighbor, that lady outside, saw two men forcing their way into the house. We would be derelict in our duty if we didn't investigate. It's clear that you are the resident here. I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you." I've been in situations in my life where I've had to apologize for doing what I was supposed to do. That's part of any job where you work with the public.
Did Crowley deal with Professor Gates with an air of authority that Gates mistook for a racist arrogance, or was Crowley displaying a racist arrogance? I wasn't there, and even if I was I couldn't read their minds. It sounds from reading the police report that Gates was guilty of not showing proper deference to a police officer which, believe it or not, is not a crime.
That's why the disorderly conduct charge against Gates was thrown out. Also, because it was Crowley who actually violated the law by not identifying himself.
This case also shows why racism is so hard to prove. Where does a case of the ass stop and racism start? It's just that in America cases of the ass seem to happen more often to black men by white cops.
People getting arrested for not bowing down to cops happens all too often these days. And it has always happened to black men. Crowley, unfortunately for him, did it to a Harvard professor who is friends with the President of the United States. His bad.
Lowry Heussler sees the incident along the same way I've read it. Note how he decodes the police report. And how he weighs Crowley's conduct in the matter.
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 [disturbing the peace under Massachusetts legal code]. 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.
No one who is familiar with law enforcement can miss the significance of Crowley's report. As so often happens with documentary evidence, a person seeking to create a false impression spends lots of time nailing down the elements he thinks will establish his goal, but forgets about the larger picture. Under color of law, Crowley entered a residence to investigate a possible break-in, and after his probable cause had evaporated, he continued to act under color of law, but without any justifiable purpose. And he covered it up with false charges. Figuring that his best defense was a criminal charge, Crowley did what bad cops do. He decided he would look better if Gates looked worse. Perhaps one day cops will figure out that trumped-up charges worsen a case of investigating something that turns out not to have been a crime. It is horribly wrong when police officers falsely accuse an injured arrestee of A&B PO ("assault and battery on a police officer," a felony) but at least there is some logic to the lie. If a disorderly conduct charge follows an investigation of a non-crime, chances are pretty good that the cop handled himself badly. Pursuit of charges should be strongly disfavored.
The lying matters. I'm afraid that part of the decision to nolle prosse the case stems from the CPD's reluctance to have Mr. Ogletree produce evidence contradicting Crowley's statements.
I'm not surprised that the CPD backed away from this, but I take a hard line on completing an investigation, regardless of whether Gates pushes for one. I've detailed what I think are serious abuses of authority by Crowley, even if his report is taken as true, but I am also very concerned about "testilying" in police reports. Most of us would be fired for giving our employer a false report, even if it concerned relatively minor matters. Employers need to know they can trust us. When a person is prosecuted in the name of the Commonwealth, a testifying police officer is essentially the eyes and ears of the citizenry. Don't lie when you're my agent.
If Crowley lied about Gates' statements, he should not be permitted to investigate crimes ever again. Investigation for the government is a sacred responsibility. Unless Cambridge investigates and acts properly, we're ratifying his actions. We're also putting the public at risk of false arrest and police persecution. Lying cops are like biting dogs. After the first bite we can't say we weren't warned. Conservatives love "zero tolerance" for crime. Could we have zero tolerance for testilying?
I think Heussler's point about the arrest versus merely issuing him a summons is the tell in this situation. There is no need to arrest an old man in his old home for disorderly conduct. He could have merely issued a summons. This matter clearly didn't rise to arresting someone for being angry in his own home.
Another missing piece of evidence is how Crowley got into Gates' home. When Gates goes to the kitchen to get his IDs Crowley is suddenly in there. Neither man explains how. Was Crowley invited in? Unlikely. Crowley by his own narrative didn't see this as a case of hot pursuit, and he didn't have a warrant. Or an explanation of being in the house. Was he even legally inside Gates' home? I don't know.
I've seen complaints in the media that Obama shouldn't have commented on this and stuck to talking about health care. But Obama's comments were a response to a question at a news conference. He said that Gates was a friend so that the audience knew where he was coming from. He conveyed his friend's view of what had happened but after reviewing the problem of racial profiling described the cop's actions as "stupid". I think that even Crowley, in a moment of candor, would admit that.
Friday Obama interrupted the White House press briefing to comment on the uproar. He invited both Gates and Crowley to come to the White House and talk it out like adults. I suspect that this meeting won't happen because Crowley, if he's put in any position where his actions and report can be questioned, will be revealed as the malefactor in this case.
Finally, while I can't measure what racism is or is not in Crowley's heart, it is clear that most of the reporting on this case is slanted from a right-wing perspective that encourages racial strife. Really, I've worked for a union and we stand up for our members, but what actual news value does a union backing a member have? And when a union says that Crowley acted properly, does anyone ask the spokesperson if it was proper for Crowley not to ask for Gates' driver's license; or why wasn't Gates just given a summons instead of being arrested; or why did Crowley just hand Gates a card with his name and badge number, as municipalities now do for identification purposes?
The Republicans have lost on the issues. They are a failed political enterprise, in large part because their economic ideas don't work, their morality is bogus and when they were given opportunities to run things they proved themselves to be incompetent and corrupt. But since Nixon the one thing that they have on their side is racism. You can read it on the internet and see it on television. It's clear that they want to go after Obama because he's black because, quite honestly, there isn't much else. I expect that in the next few weeks we'll all have to take showers after we watch the news.