Imagine My Amazement

postI have no choice but to admit that in the past two days, I have witnessed not one, but two miracles of liberal journalism.

Don’t know if you heard how a professor at Harvard was arrested in his own house. He claims to be the victim of police racism.

The first thing that occurred to me when I read the conflicting accounts of what happened: Wasn’t the police officer probably trying to secure the house after having received a burglary report? Why would Dr. Gates refuse to comply with the officer’s request that he step outside? Isn’t it reasonable to think that the officer asked Dr. Gates to step outside for his own safety, in the event that there was an intruder in the house?

Dr. GatesImagine my amazement when I read something in the Washington Post to the effect that the officer may in fact NOT be a racist goon, and Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr., was probably acting like a defensive jerk.

Don’t know if you have heard that there will soon be a new justice on the Supreme Court.

Imagine my amazement when I read something in the Washington Post to the effect that Sonia Sotomayor is a woefully uninspiring Supreme-Court nominee.

My brother used to write for the Washington Post. Of course I would always be glad to buy my brother a beer. But other than that, I have never wanted to buy beers for Washington Post writers.

But the Omnipresent Specter is full of surprises.

7 thoughts on “Imagine My Amazement

  1. Are you referring to the column about Sonia Sotomayor by Richard Cohen (my favorite Wash. Post columnist along with Thomas Boswell)? Cohen said that all the liberal Supreme Court justices demonstrate no original thinking and spout stale bromides, and that Justice Scalia’s opinions (with which Cohen often disagrees) demonstrate Scalia’s ability to outthink and outwrite the liberals.

  2. I disagree with the “don’t mess with the cops” rule. The example that the author wrote about was a completely different situation: cops responding to an alarm at 2 am. “It doesn’t matter if you are right, wrong, at home or on the street, or if you are white, black, Hispanic, Jewish, Muslim or whatever. When an armed law enforcement officer tells you to cease and desist, the wise person (a) ceases and (b) desists.” Baloney. All those things matter. Especially if you are right and a minority. Armed law enforcement officer? That’s police state talk right there. I’m a proponent of the “cops don’t need to be messing with me rule” since that puts our civil liberties in the appropriate place, i.e. before and above the power of the state.

  3. Juan, normally I agree with you. Your intelligence has been very evident in your posts on these humble pages. But in this csae you are wrong. If you’ve never done the job of the cop, you are making your assertion from the wrong viewpoint.
    The rule “don’t mess with cops” is basically a good one – for the safety of all involved. Police officers enter every situation blind – the good guys are not wearing white hats. Until they can get enough information to know the situation, they MUST treat everyone suspiciously. Being polite and cooperative usually means they can do their job, gather the information they need, and you are soon treated as the innocent person you are. Every police officer has had the experience of a “routine” call becoming horrendous, being surprised by who the bad guys really are.
    I do not want a police state anymore than anyone else, but in all the situations depicted here, the police were CALLED to come the aid of the citizens. They didn’t come at 2am without provocation. Being a cop is a dangerous, undervalued, underpaid job, but the majority of sworn officers do it politely and with compassion, even when being screamed at by the people they are trying to assist.

  4. Thanks for your kindness, Mary Ann. In my opinion, there’s a lot more to this story than “loud and tumultuous” behavior. The statement released through his attorney reads, “Professor Gates immediately called the Harvard Real Estate office to report the damage to his door and requested that it be repaired immediately. As he was talking to the Harvard Real Estate office on his portable phone in his house, he observed a uniformed officer on his front porch. When Professor Gates opened the door, the officer immediately asked him to step outside. Professor Gates remained inside his home and asked the officer why he was there. The officer indicated that he was responding to a 911 call about a breaking and entering in progress at this address. Professor Gates informed the officer that he lived there and was a faculty member at Harvard University. The officer then asked Professor Gates whether he could prove that he lived there and taught at Harvard. Professor Gates said that he could, and turned to walk into his kitchen, where he had left his wallet. The officer followed him. Professor Gates handed both his Harvard University identification and his valid Massachusetts driver’s license to the officer. Both include Professor Gates’ photograph, and the license includes his address.

    Professor Gates then asked the police officer if he would give him his name and his badge number. He made this request several times. The officer did not produce any identification nor did he respond to Professor Gates’ request for this information. After an additional request by Professor Gates for the officer’s name and badge number, the officer then turned and left the kitchen of Professor Gates’ home without ever acknowledging who he was or if there were charges against Professor Gates. As Professor Gates followed the officer to his own front door, he was astonished to see several police officers gathered on his front porch. Professor Gates asked the officer’s colleagues for his name and badge number. As Professor Gates stepped onto his front porch, the officer who had been inside and who had examined his identification, said to him, “Thank you for accommodating my earlier request,” and then placed Professor Gates under arrest. He was handcuffed on his own front porch.”

    Why exactly was he placed under arrest after having positively identified himself? And why did the officers not identify themselves as they are required to do? Being “uppity” shouldn’t ever be grounds for arrest.

  5. Juan, thank you for the additional information. Dr. Gates started out on the wrong foot by refusing to step out on the porch. I don’t see a valid reson for his refusal. It was a legitimate request for safety’s sake.

    I’m not saying that refusal, nor the events as they are depicted here, was grounds for arrest, BUT, as you well know, events are often colored to protect the interests of the relating party. What is released by the press is often very different than what actually took place. Those of us who were not present can only surmise based on representations from *both* sides.

    The accompanying photo speaks volumes to me. The facial expressions of the police officers are calm, only the person in hancuffs is displaying a great deal of emotion. It appears that the officer on the right is trying to calm the individual.

    I don’t see anything in the events, as they are related here, to indicate that the officers ever acted or spoke rudely. The biggest complaint against the officer is his refusal to identify himself? Why was Dr. Gates “astonished” to see additional officers on his porch? Responding to a 911 call warrants the deployment of more than one officer. I am dismayed that the “specter” of racism is even being raised in this situation. It appears to me to be more a matter of belligerence. The actions of police officers should not automatically be assumed to be negative. Police officers are worthy of the “benefit of the doubt”, too!

  6. I’m not sure it’s the wrong foot though: we all have a constitutional right to refuse the police admittance into our homes absent a warrant.

    Now, I absolutely agree that Dr. Gates was no doubt rude. But, even according to the police report, the officer “was off in a residence with someone who appeared to be a resident but very uncooperative” and then “was led to believe that Gates was lawfully in the residence.” Then, when Gates produced his Harvard ID, _after_ confirming his identity, the officer “radioed and requested the presence of the Harvard University Police.” Why? At that point in time, it was absolutely clear that there was no need for police presence of any kind. There was no crime in progress, nothing left to do. Why call for _more_ police then? It’s not just that the officers wouldn’t (or couldn’t) identify themselves. There was no need to call for more police (beyond that which would normally been present for a 911 call).

    Dr. Gates was plainly wrong for being rude. I can understand he was probably tired from his trip. And I can certainly understand that it bugged him to see police come up and wonder why he’s in his own home (even if there was a perfectly valid reason for them to be there).

    When we moved to our neighborhood a few years ago, I was stopped by an elderly neighbor when I was driving home from watching the fireworks on the fourth of July. We’d moved in a month earlier and she didn’t know who I was (nor did I know her). But she stopped my car and wanted to know why I was on her street. I told her that I lived there. But what bugged me is that she didn’t stop anybody else. But she saw a brown guy driving on the street and that warranted suspicion. That definitely impacts my perception of this neighbor. And, I would imagine that Dr. Gates’ perception of the police is similarly impacted.

    So, I’ll recap from my perspective: Was the neighbor warranted in calling the police? Sure. It was definitely suspicious to see anybody, regardless of the color of their skin, breaking open a door. Was the initial police response adequate? Yup. Did Dr. Gates go “high and right” right off the bat? Absolutely. (But, was it his right to refuse to let the officer in his home. Definitely.) Did Gates comply with the officers request to identify himself? Yes.

    This was a great point for the situation to begin to de-escalate. But neither Gates nor Officer Crowley took the smart and responsible steps to do so at this time. And Officer Crowley, being a professional police officer, has the appropriate training to do so. Instead of doing so, he chose to use his power to escalate by making threats of his own (which he subsequently carried out).

    I think that there are racial implications in this situation (which in no way mean that Officer Crowley behaved in a manner that was in any way racist). I think that those implications need to be instructive for all sides. Gates has to learn that just because he’s being questioned by a police officer, doesn’t mean he’s being profiled. Crowley has to learn that there is a segment of the population which has a historical mistrust of the police, even if his intentions are completely unimpeachable. Both sides need to learn that there are better ways to address this situation. I hope that the fact that the charges were dropped doesn’t mean that all parties won’t learn the appropriate lessons.

    So, I don’t think that the rule should be “don’t mess with cops.” I’d rephrase my earlier statement and say that “police and citizens need to be smart and polite with each other.”

  7. I completely agree with your final statement! All parties have a lesson to learn, smartness and politeness are important!

    Back to the beginning, though, the police officer didn’t ask for ADMITTANCE, he asked for him to step OUT!

    Given the agitated state of Dr. Gates, calling for backup was legitimate, just in case. When events turn sour, they do so with VERY little warning, even when it appears to be dying down.

    I do not believe there are racial implications here. I don’t deny, with great sadness, that racial bias happens. But there isn’t anything in this situation that indicates it! It’s two hotheads getting their dander up, perhaps; the proverbial “p***ing match”. If Dr. Gates had been cooperative from the beginning, it is likely the situation would have been “routine”. Police are trained to be calm in explosive situations, but that doesn’t mean that they aren’t human and subject to being affected by severe aggravation. Even if the officer was seething inside, he controlled his emotions and did not behave rudely.

    In order for the civil law to protect ALL of us, we have to submit to the lawful authority of those that serve to protect us. Just as a parent deserves respect from his child, a law enforcement officer deserves respect from the citizens.

    Hopefully, as you say, all parties will learn the approprate lessons!

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