Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cambridge cops insist they were right to arrest black scholar Henry Gates for entering his own home

Photo: Henry Gates, Jr.

The situation was ludicrous from the get go: police responded to a call that two men might be breaking into a house through the front door, in broad daylight. The caller even cautioned them that the men might live in the house and might be dealing with a recalcitrant door. The police arrived to find a middle-aged man who walked with a cane, and arrested him after he provided proof that he was the owner of the house.

Then the police falsely blamed the caller for bringing race into the situation. In fact, the caller never said either man was black.

I think it's possible that the arresting officer couldn't stand being yelled at by a black man.

Certainly the police officer overreacted when an innocent man became angry and called him a racist. Crowley let his pride decide whether the targeted man would be punished for expressing anger at being questioned for entering his own home.

The police tried to shift some of the blame for their actions to the woman who made the call, saying that she brought up the issue of the men being black. In fact, a tape of her call reveals that she did not even say the men were black when she was asked if they were black. I apologize to Lucia Whalen for being one of the bloggers who blamed her in some way for the fiasco. She is blameless; she was merely assisting another woman who brought the situation to her attention.

Crowley's weakness was being too hot-headed to walk away when an innocent man became furious at having the cops question him for being in his own home.

Would Mr. Gates have been reported to police if he had been white? A black man trying to get a door open in an upscale suburb may have looked like a criminal to the elderly woman who asked Lucia Whalen to call 911.

Swim Club Under Fire For Banning Black Kids
San Diego sheriff's deputies arrest Francine Busby supporters at home fundraiser

Henry Louis Gates case: Should yelling at a cop be a crime?
Disorderly conduct charge gives police a lot of power
Chicago Tribune
By David G. Savage
Washington Bureau
July 25, 2009

WASHINGTON -- For some defense lawyers, the arrest of Harvard University professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. was less about racial profiling than about how people can be arrested simply for speaking angry words to a police officer.

The laws against "disorderly conduct" give the police wide power to arrest people who are said to be disturbing the peace or disrupting a neighborhood. In Massachusetts and elsewhere, the courts have said the "disorderly acts or language" must take place in public where others can be disturbed.

It is probably not a crime of disorderly conduct for a homeowner, standing in his kitchen, to speak abusively to a police officer.

According to his police report, Sgt. James Crowley said the professor was "yelling very loud" and "accusing me of being a racist."

Complaining that the "acoustics of the kitchen" made it difficult to communicate, the officer said he "told Gates that I would speak with him outside."

On the porch, the officer arrested Gates for being loud and abusive in the presence of several neighbors on the sidewalk. The charges were later dropped.

[Maura Larkins comment: What a sneaky, manipulative tactic.]

"You might think that in the United States, you have a right to state an opinion, even an offensive opinion. But prosecutors like to say you don't have a right to mouth off to the police," said Samuel Goldberg, a Boston criminal defense lawyer.

"Gates was saying, 'You are hassling me because I'm black.' I understand how that's offensive to a police officer," Goldberg said. "It's astounding to me to call it criminal."

Matt Cameron, a criminal defense lawyer in East Boston, said the state's law against "disorderly conduct" dates to the 1600s.

"It's a handy tool for the police because it is so broad and confusing," he said...

Mass. Cops Point to Favoritism in Harvard Prof Case
ABC News
July 22, 2009

Police officers from across Massachusetts are raising questions about favoritism over the handling of disorderly conduct charges that were lodged and promptly dropped against prominent Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. refutes the police account of his arrest.

The incident began when Cambridge Police Sgt. Joseph Crowley Crowley had responded to a call about someone apparently trying to break into Gates' Cambridge, Mass., home. Crowley said Gates called him a "racist cop" after he arrived at the house and asked the Harvard professor for identification.

Gates refused after saying: "No I will not." Gates then, according to Crowley, said he was being harassed because he is a "black man in America." As the confrontation escalated, Crowley was then joined by a Hispanic Cambridge police officer and a black sergeant, according to two high-ranking law enforcement officials who have been briefed on the case and Cambridge police reports.

Gates was arrested and booked on a disorderly conduct charge.

"The actions of the Cambridge Police Department, and in particular, Sergeant Joseph Crowley, were one-hundred-percent correct,'' said Hugh Cameron, president of the Massachusetts Coalition of Police. "He was responding to a report of two men breaking into a home. The police cannot just drive by the house and say, 'looks like everything is ok.'

...Jim Carnell, a union representative for the Boston Police Patrolmen's Association, said cops are "furious at the way Crowley is being vilified."...

"If Professor Gates was poor, he'd be in a jail cell."

[Maura Larkins comment: If Professor Gates were white, he'd never have been arrested. Does the police union approve of keeping poor people in jail for entering their own homes? I doubt that the DA does. I simply do not believe that the DA would prosecute such a case unless cops have some sort of ongoing understanding with the DA. If I were this cop, I'd have apologized and left, and I sure wouldn't have arrested the homeowner whose homecoming I had interrupted.]

...there are questions about the way the case was handled. David Frank, former prosecutor and a writer for Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, said it was "unusual" for a case to be "nul-processed" [charges dropped] without a court appearance. Gates was slated to be arraigned on disorderly conduct charges on Aug. 26. He is now demanding an apology from Crowley instead.

[Maura Larkins comment: I don't believe David Frank. I believe that what is unusual here is that a man was arrested as a result of entering his own house. No arraignment should have been scheduled.]

"Legally, the prosecution made the right call. The issue, though, is that if Gates were an electrician from Everett and not a well-known professor from Harvard the reality is in that in all likelihood he would have to defend himself against the charges in a courtroom," Frank said.

[Maura Larkins comment: Does Frank think it is right for a citizen, any citizen, to have to defend himself in court for entering his own home?]

..."I think what went wrong personally is that you had two human beings that were reacting to a set of circumstances, and unfortunately at the time cooler heads did not prevail," said Downes...

Gates, who according to his lawyer had been trying to force open a jammed door, was inside the house when the Cambridge police officer got there.

Asked about allegations that Gates' arrest was racially fueled, Downes said, "Our position is very firmly that race did not play any factor at all in the arrest of Mr. Gates."

[Maura Larkins comment: The next paragraph seems to contradict Downes' conclusion.]

The officers were sent to the house after a 911 call placed by a Lucia Whalen Thursday afternoon. Whalen, who works at Harvard Magazine, had reported that two "black men with backpacks" shouldered their way into a home on a tony, upscale Cambridge block – one of the leafy neighborhoods that ring the college.

Though Gates eventually identified himself, he was arrested after he allegedly came out of the house and continued yelling at police, even after he was warned that he "was becoming disorderly," according to the police report.

Gates, the director of Harvard's W.E.B. Du Bois Institute for African and African American Research, and former host of the PBS show "African American Lives," had just returned from a trip to China and found the front door of his home jammed, according to his Harvard colleague and attorney Charles Ogletree.

He entered the house through the back door, but then tried to get the front door open so he could bring his luggage in, which may have been when the woman who called 911 saw, Ogletree said.

Photo: Sgt. James Crowley
Photo by Christopher Evans Boston Herald

Cop in Scholar Arrest Is Profiling Expert
Officer Slams Obama for Saying Police 'Acted Stupidly'

NATICK, Mass. (July 23, 2009) -- The white police sergeant accused of racial profiling after he arrested renowned black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. in his home was hand-picked by a black police commissioner to teach recruits about avoiding racial profiling.

Friends and fellow officers — black and white — say Sgt. James Crowley is a principled police officer and family man who is being unfairly described as racist.

[I don't think this police officer is being accused of being racist. He's accused of overreacting when an innocent suspect became angry and called him a racist. There's a difference. Crowley let his pride decide whether the targeted man would be punished for expressing anger at being questioned for entering his own home. I think the racial profiling was done by the woman who reported a black man breaking into a house. Crowley's weakness was being too hot-headed to walk away when an innocent man became furious at having the cops question him for being in his own home.]

Cambridge (Mass.) Police Sgt. James Crowley, seen speaking to reporters Wednesday, said he followed police procedure in arresting black scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. at Gates' Cambridge home. "There will be no apology," he said. On Thursday, it emerged that Crowley is a police academy expert on understanding racial profiling.

Cambridge (Mass.) Police Sgt. James Crowley, seen speaking to reporters Wednesday, said he followed police procedure in arresting Harvard University Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr. outside Gates' Cambridge home. "There will be no apology," he said.

"If people are looking for a guy who's abusive or arrogant, they got the wrong guy," said Andy Meyer, of Natick, who has vacationed with Crowley, coached youth sports with him and is his teammate on a men's softball team. "This is not a racist, rogue cop. This is a fine, upstanding man. And if every cop in the world were like him, it would be a better place."

Gates accused the 11-year department veteran of being an unyielding, race-baiting authoritarian after Crowley arrested and charged him with disorderly conduct last week.

Crowley confronted Gates in his home after a woman passing by summoned police for a possible burglary. The sergeant said he arrested Gates after the scholar repeatedly accused him of racism and made derogatory remarks about his mother, allegations the professor challenges. Gates has labeled Crowley a "rogue cop," demanded an apology and said he may sue the police department.

On Wednesday, President Barack Obama elevated the dispute, when he said Cambridge Police "acted stupidly" during the encounter.

Obama stepped back on Thursday, telling ABC News, "From what I can tell, the sergeant who was involved is an outstanding police officer, but my suspicion is probably that it would have been better if cooler heads had prevailed."...

Crowley's encounter with Gates was not his first with a high-profile black man, although on the prior occasion he was lauded for his response.

He was a campus cop at Brandeis University in suburban Waltham when was summoned to the school gymnasium in July 1993 after Boston Celtics player Reggie Lewis collapsed of an apparent heart attack. Crowley, also a trained emergency medical technician, not only pumped the local legend's chest, but put his mouth to Lewis' own and attempted to breathe life back into the fallen athlete...

[Maura Larkins comment: I think it's pathetic that this incident is being touted as proof that Sgt. Crowley is not a racist: he did his job even though it required helping a black man. His only other option was to stand there and do nothing while the man died. Few human beings would do nothing. This simply proves that Crowley has some basic human decency. I'm sure he's a nice guy, but he's too proud and vindictive.]

Skip Gates Speaks
The Root
By: Dayo Olopade
July 21, 2009

In an interview with The Root, Henry Louis Gates Jr. talks about his arrest and the outrage of racial profiling in America.

Henry Louis Gates Jr.: I’m outraged. I can’t believe that an individual policeman on the Cambridge police force would treat any African-American male this way, and I am astonished that this happened to me; and more importantly I’m astonished that it could happen to any citizen of the United States, no matter what their race. And I’m deeply resolved to do and say the right things so that this cannot happen again.

Of course, it will happen again, but … I want to do what I can so that every police officer will think twice before engaging in this kind of behavior.

TR: Can you describe, in your own words, what went on in and outside of your home? When did you suspect you were the victim of racial profiling?

HLG: I just finished making my new documentary series for PBS called “Faces of America.” It was a glorious week in Shanghai and Ningbo and Beijing, and on my trip, I took my daughter along. After we finished working in Ningbo we went to Beijing and had three glorious days as tourists. It was great fun.

We flew back on a direct flight from Beijing to Newark. We arrived on Wednesday, and on Thursday I flew back to Cambridge. I was using my regular driver and my regular car service. And went to my home arriving at about 12:30 in the afternoon. My driver and I carried several bags up to the porch, and we fiddled with the door and it was jammed. I thought, well, maybe the door’s latched. So I walked back to the kitchen porch, unlocked the door and came into the house. And I unlatched the door, but it was still jammed.

My driver is a large black man. But from afar you and I would not have seen he was black. He has black hair and was dressed in a two-piece black suit, and I was dressed in a navy blue blazer with gray trousers and, you know, my shoes. And I love that the 911 report said that two big black men were trying to break in with backpacks on. Now that is the worst racial profiling I’ve ever heard of in my life. (Laughs.) I’m not exactly a big black man. I thought that was hilarious when I found that out, which was yesterday.

It looked like someone’s footprint was there. So it’s possible that the door had been jimmied, that someone had tried to get in while I was in China. But for whatever reason, the lock was damaged. My driver hit the door with his shoulder and the door popped open. But the lock was permanently disfigured. My home is owned by Harvard University, and so any kind of repair work that’s needed, Harvard will come and do it. I called this person, and she was, in fact, on the line while all of this was going on.

I’m 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?’

TR: What was the jail experience like? Was it humiliating?

HLG: By the time I was processed at the Cambridge jail, I was booked, fingerprinted, given a mug shot and answered questions. Outrageous is the only word that I can use. The system attempts to humiliate you. They took my belt; they took my wallet, they took my keys, some change; they counted my money. And I knew that because they said, ‘We’re going to release you upon your own recognizance, and the fine is $40, and we know you can pay it because we went through your wallet.’

It’s meant to be terrifying and humiliating. And I couldn’t believe that this was happening to me. And I said I can’t wait to get out, I am eager to talk to my lawyer, and they said they had to book me first. Then I was told that Charles Ogletree was in the building, and that he was there with three other Harvard professors—my friends Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, Larry Bobo and Marcelina Lee Morgan.

I was in jail for four hours. I told them that I was claustrophobic, that I couldn’t be in this cell. And a very nice police officer said here are some of your friends and I could talk to them one at a time in the interview room until the magistrate came and signed the form allowing me to leave. I was there just between 1:00 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., which is an interminable amount of time. I spent the rest of the time in another room, slightly bigger, and my friends just had to sit there and wait. And it was kind of like a Senate filibuster; we had to tell stories in the prison cell.

TR: How has this resonated within the academic community at Harvard? I know that Larry Bobo and Charles Ogletree, also black men, have expressed dismay. President Barack Obama has talked about how difficult it is to hail a cab, even as an elected official. Is there an irony to your notoriety and the incident?

HLG: There is such a level of outrage that’s been expressed to me. I’ve received thousands of e-mails and Facebook messages; the blogs are going crazy; my colleagues at Harvard are outraged. Allen Counter called me from the Nobel Institute in Stockholm to express his outrage. But really it’s not about me—it’s that anybody black can be treated this way, just arbitrarily arrested out of spite. And the man who arrested me did it out of spite, because he knew I was going to file a report because of his behavior.

He didn’t follow proper police procedure! You can’t just presume I’m guilty and arrest me. He’s supposed to ask me if I need help. He just presumed that I was guilty, and he presumed that I was guilty because I was black. There was no doubt about that.

TR: What do you make of the suspicious neighbor who called the police with an erroneous report of “two black men” trying to enter your apartment? Was this neighborhood watch gone wrong?

HLG: I don’t know this person, and I’m sure that she thought she was doing the right thing. If I was on Martha’s Vineyard like I am now and someone was trying to break into my house, I would hope that someone called the police and that they would respond. But I would hope that the police wouldn’t arrest the first black man that they saw—especially after that person gives them an ID—and not rely on some trumped-up charge, which is what this man was doing.

The good news about the Henry Louis Gates fiasco

America's most prominent black intellectual was arrested trying to get into his own house. So why am I glad?

By James Hannaham
July 22, 2009

...this event will probably make members of the Cambridge Police Department and other P.D.s think twice before they arrest another black man. Imagine the confusion it will cause the po-po -- "Uh-oh. Is this brother a professor, too? What does Cornel West look like?” Maybe some ordinary, untenured black men in the street will get some much-deserved benefit of the doubt now...

Are Police to be Feared?

By Bill Bradshaw, Mission Beach
Voice of San Diego
July 31, 2009

Did anyone else notice the similarities between the current flap involving the Cambridge police and a "distinguished Harvard professor" and the incident a few weeks ago involving a local political fund raiser? Both resulted in allegations of police overreaction and poor judgment in handling seemingly innocent situations, but let's back off and look at the two incidents.

Both started with trouble calls to the police by neighbors. In each case, the responding officer was met with indignation by the person contacted, and rapidly escalated into charges, in one case, of "racial profiling" and in the other, of "right-wing politics". The motives of the responding officer were impugned before the facts were clear. We even had the President, to his discredit, weigh in on the latest case.

There's a simpler, less sinister, explanation. One of the first things a police officer is taught is to take charge of a situation, and to require compliance with his or her instructions in order determine just what's going on. When the officer, knowing nothing of what to expect save for a brief summary from the dispatcher, encounters a "big shot", rattling on about his or her civil rights, it shouldn't surprise anyone that the officer asserts authority, and if an audience is present, bad things can happen.

Let's give the cops a break. Police officers aren't college professors or wealthy political activists, they're public servants trying to do a tough job, who deal daily with the worst of society. Next time you encounter a cop, how about a friendly greeting and cooperation, instead of a recitation of rights?


I agree that society is best served when citizens are friendly and respectful to police. Police, like the rest of us, function better when receiving positive reinforcement. But I disagree that police are doing us a favor just by doing their jobs. We taxpayers pay them for their contributions. If Professor Gates should have thanked Officer Crowley for reporting to work, then Officer Crowley should likewise have thanked Gates for helping to pay his salary. I'm afraid the chances of such a conversation was pretty close to zero in the two cases mentioned since it appears that the manner in which Officer Crowley and Deputy Marshall Abbott approached the individuals they later arrested was not conducive to a friendly exchange. There are some police, however, who do deserve an extra thank you: the ones who keep their emotions out of their decisions.

Posted by Maura Larkins

What happened in San Diego and Cambridge are less about racial profiliing and right-wing conspiracies then they are about a gap between police and citizens. Does the average person know their rights when being stopped by police? I'm not sure they do. I know police officers have a tough job and can never be certain what they are walking into on a call, but they have a higher duty to de-escalate a tricky situation precisely because we give them guns and handcuffs. The officer in the Cambridge situation had no reason to arrest Gates no matter what a jerk he was being. It's not a crime to be rude to police. The San Diego case is a little trickier because of the crowd of people. But I make no apologies for second guessing police in these situations. It's the only way to deter abuse of authority.

Posted by Catherine

A light-hearted look at the situation:

JULY 31, 2009
Obama Pronounces Beer Summit "Thoughtful" Except Biden

WASHINGTON, D.C. Eager to put a major distraction behind him, President Obama today pronounced yesterday's "beer summit" with Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates and a Cambridge, Mass. policeman a "thoughtful" exchange except for the contributions of Vice President Joseph Biden, who crashed the event.

"All right--honey roasted peanuts!"

"America will never be able to have an honest and candid conversation about race until the Vice President shuts up about the freakin' Philadelphia Phillies," Obama said with ill-concealed annoyance to a White House pool reporter as he returned to the Oval Office...

No comments: