Tied to the mast
…but orange now and black


Most articles indignant about Obama’s comment that officer Crowley—who recently arrested the Harvard prof. Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr.—acted stupidly conveniently omit certain details about the altercation (I’ll get to Drudge’s links in a second).

What we know…

From Richard Thompson Ford at Slate:

Still, the larger problem wasn’t that Crowley considered Gates’ race in assessing whether he might be a burglar. It’s what Crowley did after learning that Gates was the lawful occupant of the house. And this is where the idea that Crowley was a cop just trying to do his job and Gates a spoiled black Brahmin playing the race card doesn’t wash. The details are contested (and of course, the details are everything). According to the police report, Sgt. Crowley “asked” Gates to step outside and he refused. The report states that after Gates produced his identification, Crowley left and that Gates followed Crowley outside to berate him for racism. But Gates says he asked for Crowley’s name and badge number, as is his right under Massachusetts law, and Crowley refused to provide them. Then Gates followed the officer outside and at some point said (or yelled) “Is this how you treat a black man in America”? Everyone agrees that this is when Crowley arrested Gates for “disorderly conduct.”

A police officer arrested a 58 year old man with a cane, on his own property, for, being charitable to Crowley’s position, being pissed off about being accused of being a burglar. Not so pissed off that there was any threat of violence. But pissed off enough to suggest racial motives for Crowley’s suspicion and treatment of him (which, true or not, are pretty plausible).

If Glenn Beck—for whom not killing people is considered an accomplishment—had been arrested on his own property for yelling at a cop who falsely accused him of burglary, God knows we’d be hearing a different and conspiratorial tune.

Here’s the police report. It reads like a lot of ass-covering to me, but then you should probably judge for yourself. Here’s Gates’ side of the story. To be fair, it’s plausible that he has a political axe to grind, but anyway, his account of the altercation tells a rather different story (and one that read more plausibly to me… I read the Root, and Gates doesn’t seem like the hysteric that Crowley paints him to be):

I’m [on the phone with the Harvard housing office] saying ‘You need to send someone to fix my lock.’ 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.

TR: How did this escalate? What are the laws in Cambridge that govern this kind of interaction? Did you ever think you were in the wrong?

HLG: 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?’

How big of a threat to “the public” was a Henry Louis Gates Jr. who was pissed off about being accused of burglarizing what he’d proved to be his own home?

Both stories though, are different from the one told by Fox (and linked to hysterically by Drudge as his headline item—if you want a hysteric look no further than Drudge):

He was charged with disorderly conduct after police said he yelled at the white officer, accused him of racial bias and refused to calm down after Crowley demanded Gates show him identification to prove he lived in the home. The charge was dropped Tuesday, but Gates has demanded an apology, calling his arrest a case of racial profiling.

Why would they not mention that he PROVIDED his identification that in fact PROVED that he lived in the home before he was arrested? Perhaps because their innuendo of an oppressive black overlcass beating down on the working white hero would have been somewhat less convincing?

Final point: how common is it for 58 year old men with canes to burglarize homes in sports coats and loafers?




2 Responses to “Stupid…”

  1. I fully support the reaction by Dr. Gates and Obama, but I think a more important point here is one brought up by the guest writer on the Daily Dish today.


    (and by the way, you’ll note, all of the cases of injustice the Daily Dish links to in that article are from Radley Balko, whom I mentioned to you yesterday. I strongly recommend reading his blog on a daily basis).

    oh, and by the way — why does no one ever ask why it’s a crime to tell off a cop, anyway? Especially when the angered citizen is on his own property.

  2. Yeah, I’ve been enjoying getting to know Conor Friedersdorf (though I miss Sullivan). That was a particularly good post.

    Alright, alright… I’m adding Balko to my toolbar. Don’t get yourself all tied in a knot (*wink*).

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