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Gatesgate blows up


If you thought Barack Obama's comments this evening on Skip Gates's arrest would make the story even bigger, you were absolutely right. Obama's critique of the Cambridge PD is currently the second story on Google News; high atop; and lead story at (never mind healthcare!). (It's got decent placement at, too, but with less emphasis than those other sites.)

Remember when Eric Holder said we needed to talk more bluntly about race? Well, here's our chance.

But it's also a chance to talk about how the police comport themselves in society, and how the general public should and shouldn't behave when dealing with law enforcement. This Media Nation post is a great place to start: therein, Dan Kennedy argues quite persuasively that the Gatesgate divide is as much about how much deference cops are (or aren't) entitled to as it is about race specifically.

If that sub-topic takes off, like the broader Gatesgate story, I'd urge people to pay attention to how the end of Gates's encounter with the Cambridge PD played out. When Chris Matthews was weighing in a few minutes ago, he read the beginning of the police report in great detail--the part where Gates's alleged rude behavior is described. But then, when he got to what transpired immediately prior to Gates's arrest, he stopped reading and simply said: "and so on."

Matthews should have kept contined, because what comes next sounds to me like a miffed officer trying to goad an irate citizen into arrest-worthy behavior:

As I descended the stairs to the sidewalk, Gates continued to yell at me, accusing me of racial bias and continued to tell me that I had not heard the last of him. Due to the tumultuous manner Gates had exhibited in his residence as well as his continued tumultuous behavior outside the residence, in view of the public, I warned Gates that he was becoming disorderly. Gates ignored my warning and continued to yell, which drew the attention of both police officers and citizens, who appeared surprised and alarmed by Gates's outburst. For a second time I warned Gates to calm down while I withdrew my department issued handcuffs from their carrying case. Gates again ignored my warning and continued to yell at me. It was at this time that I informed Gates that he was under arrest. [emph. added]

Have at it, people.

Here's a starter question: if Sgt. James Crowley really wanted Gates to chill out, why didn't he turn and walk away, instead of 1) telling Gates he was becoming "disorderly," 2) whipping out the handcuffs, and 3) ordering him to calm down?  

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  • O-FISH-L said:

    Adam, surely you jest.  The Sgt. couldn't walk away until Gates stopped yelling or went back inside.  The officer had not only a crime in progress (Disorderly), but one of those rare misdemeanors where the legislature has empowered officers with the right of arrest to quell the breach of the peace.  Few are mentioning that probable cause was found by an independent clerk magistrate, and Sgt. Crowley's criminal complaint against Gates was issued.  That's the legal standard.  If people don't like the law, they should petition the legislature.  

    July 23, 2009 12:36 AM
  • brokenbil said:

    Nonsense, O-FISH-L, the sargeant could have walked away, but he chose not to do so.  This incident was about pride, not a need "to quell the breach of the peace."  What Cambridge police officer wouldn't want to arrest a Harvard professor for giving him lip?

    July 23, 2009 1:56 AM
  • Like-It-Is said:

    Law? Pride? Why are the questions of judgement only being asked of the police officer. Is the professor not responsible for judgement, as well? Why not just ask the same level of good judgement and behavior of both parties. Gates could just as easily chose to be quiet when the officer had begun to leave and descend the stairs. Problem solved. When a policemen kindly gives only a warning in a traffic violation, its not very wise to start yelling threats at the officer. The man is only doing his job. Why invite trouble? That is what Gates did. He created a controversey out of a man just doing his job.

    July 23, 2009 4:02 AM
  • demothsenes said:

    this is lunacy. it is insane your actually trying to justify the officers behavior. the only reason there was any "disorderly" conduct was because a group of 7 rubber-neckers had gathered around to see what was going on. the officer didnt want to look like a punk in front of a crowd (of wealthy whites most likely) by a black man calling him a rascist. the object of law enforcement is to keep the peace and diffuse the situation. if the officer could have walked down the steps and driven off after the reason for the call was no longer an issue, he should have. cops are reguar citizens who we empower to arrest people breaking the law. not goad them into it. there is nothing illegal about being disrespectful.and im sorry but the police report is totally bogus. you expect me to belive that one of the most educated men in the country started going off right from the start and said" ill talk to yo mama outside". that cop lying his ass off. he just didnt know that Gates was somebody who could actually do something about it.

    July 23, 2009 4:28 AM
  • whatistruth said:

    Yes, the officer had the right to arrest Mr. Gates; and yes Mr. Gates had the right to be upset to whatever degree he chose.  Likewise, Mr. Gates suffered the consequence of humiliation for his actions, and now the officer must suffer through his fate.  While police actions may be justified by law, they have consequences that are not defined nor protected by law.  Basic human decency has its place.  However, more important questions underlay this situation.  Why were community member so familiar with this officer?  Is this his patrol?  If the officer is such great friends with the neighbors, why did he not know who live next door (Mr. Gates)? Nonetheless, to be held at gunpoint in your own home with an officer questioning you about why you did not enter you home in the traditional fashion is the true crime.  Furthermore, why did the neighbor not report that one of the "black men" supposedly breaking into the home got into the cab they came in and then drove away?

    July 23, 2009 9:03 AM
  • Farnkoff said:

    "Sir, you're gonna have to move your vehicle- it's parked in a fire lane."

    "Screw you, pig. Don't you know who I am?!!?"

    July 23, 2009 9:04 AM
  • Jerry said:

    Farnkoff, your analogy doesn't work unless Gates is a firefighter in a fire truck parked in the fire lane. Because, y'know, IT WAS HIS HOME and all.

    July 23, 2009 4:10 PM
  • Betty said:

    Demothesenes, you smell of racism!

    July 24, 2009 1:03 PM
  • John Q Public said:

    A police officer risked his life to confront an unknown man about a reported break in. He was immediately accused of being racist, by a supposedly educated scholar who should understand the officer didn't know him and was only protecting his property, all before Mr. Gates identified himself. His university ID did not identify Mr. Gates as the home owner nor was the officer allowed to assess the situation by Mr. Gates. Calling this obvious case of elitist bullying racism is a disgrace to those of us who have really lived with racism and fought to find common ground that feeds the ignorance that is the breeding ground for racism. Shame on Mr. Gates for not taking responsibility for his tantrum.

    July 25, 2009 9:16 AM
  • nigglefritz said:

    It is not a crime to yell at a cop.

    From an article on Huffington Post:

    In several cases, the courts in Massachusetts have considered whether a person is guilty of disorderly conduct for verbally abusing a police officer. In Commonwealth v. Lopiano, a 2004 decision, an appeals court held it was not disorderly conduct for a person who angrily yelled at an officer that his civil rights were being violated. In Commonwealth v. Mallahan, a decision rendered last year, an appeals court held that a person who launched into an angry, profanity-laced tirade against a police officer in front of spectators could not be convicted of disorderly conduct.

    July 26, 2009 2:41 AM

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