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July 24, 2009

Should we use this forum to discuss the Gates incident and Prez Obama's response

I fear what might happen if we open up this forum to a general discussion of the arrest of Harvard prof Henry Louis Gates and President Obama's discussion of the event at his Wednesday press conference. And, of course, none of the formal aspects of the Gates incident and Obama's response has anything to do directly with sentencing law and policy.

Nevertheless, race and class are huge aspects of sentencing law and policy, and the lead story this morning on Politico is this piece, headlined "President Obama steps on third rail of race."   Thus, I figured it might be worth seeing what SL&P readers might want to say about the topic.  Let's all try to keep it civil, folks.

UPDATE:  My apologies for the fact that typepad seems to eat any comment after 25.  Sorry about the snafu, though perhaps it is just as well that this thread come to an end.

July 24, 2009 at 10:45 AM | Permalink

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Comments

I don't see how you get around the inescapable conclusion that Obama plays favorites when it comes to race. He basically called the cop a racist and ignored the appallingly rude actions of Gates.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 10:56:14 AM

federalist, you're wrong. Obama said he didn't know how much, if anything, race played in the incident. But he did say it was wrong (stupid) to arrest a man at his own home for being "rude" as you call it. The charges were evidently dropped because being rude is not a crime. Should it be? The big mistake is calling this a racial issue. When it comes to "contempt of cop" any race can be guilty. There is even training now to avoid "contempt of cop" revenge after high-speed chases that lead to Rodney King-like beatings.

The larger issue is blind faith in the government as opposed to skepticism of police power. Our Framers preferred skepticism over blind faith.

Posted by: George | Jul 24, 2009 11:18:50 AM

In answer to the posed question, I say "no". Plenty of other fora available.

Posted by: Soronel Haetir | Jul 24, 2009 11:27:19 AM

Sorry, George, you're wrong. Obama said he didn't know what happened and then went into a riff about racial profiling, etc. The message was clear.

If Obama really wanted to go into a racial incident, he could have mentioned the Akron assault.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 11:28:24 AM

1. "Disorderly conduct" shouldn't be a freestanding crime. We already have assault, threats, battery, public intoxication, and a bunch of other real crimes to cover actions that should legitimately be deterred and/or punished. Yelling at a police officer in your front yard shouldn't be a crime. Calling a police officer a racist and "making a scene" is rude and apparently unjustified here, but shouldn't be grounds for being arrested and prosecuted.

2. As far as I can tell from reading the accounts of the incident from both sides, both sides overreacted. Gates was observed breaking into his own house, and he should not be surprised and upset when the police show up later to ask him to confirm that he lives there. The account of him calling the police officer a racist and having a tantrum in his front yard doesn't reflect well on Gates. That said, arresting someone whose only offense is making a scene doesn't reflect well on the police officer either. Part of being a police officer is dealing with people who don't appreciate you. It sounds like Gates was jetlagged and the police officer didn't appreciate being called a racist. Human fallibility... should have been the end of it.

3. Unless you're prepared to say that every time a white police officer confronts a black man, "race" is involved, I don't see a racial issue here... except maybe in Gates's remarks during the confrontation.

4. Based on Obama's qualifiers (doesn't know all of the facts, doesn't know if race was involved), he should have just kept his mouth shut. The average bystander can make idle comments about this sort of thing, but when you're the President I think you have some responsibility to refrain from shooting your mouth off. Obama's been good about cultivating a reputation for being careful and circumspect almost to a fault (recall his comments on the Iran elections). This would appear to be a crack in the armor, and I have a lower opinion of him now than I did before his comments. He's also kept this unfortunate incident in the news much longer than it needs to be.

Posted by: anonymous | Jul 24, 2009 11:40:43 AM

Obama has a history of crap like this. Remember his assessment of the beating in Jena--a "schoolyard fight".

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 12:13:18 PM

As a progressive, I am frustrated that Obama has thus far so scrupulously avoided issues of structural racism like mass incarceration, educational inequality, the disproportionate impact of lead/heavy metals in poor and minority neighborhoods, etc., etc., only to speak up about this case.

I'm worried that he squandered some portion of his substantial credibility and stature on issues of race---capital that could have been used to push for meaningful reform---by making flippant, ineffectual comments on what will appear to many to be a sensationalized, pundit-driven he-said/she-said incident.

Posted by: anon | Jul 24, 2009 12:24:54 PM

anon, what do you expect from him--he's glib, not insightful . . . .

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 12:36:50 PM

I prefer to disregard the racial angle and look at the elitist angle. Here, a Harvard professor, in an encounter with the police, says, "You don't know who you're messing with." He then goes on to call -- while being questioned by the officer -- his muckety-muck contacts with the police. The professor's friend, a President of the United States and a Harvard Law graduate, comes to his defense in a NATIONAL press conference, calling the cop "stupid." After all, he's just a cop, right? He's not smart like us Harvard folks.

The racial angle is just one component of the superiority complex displayed in this incident: "I'm superior. I am acting based on the (mistaken) belief that you came here not because of a neighbor's call but because you're a white cop and I'm black. But I can't be mistaken here. I'm a professor of history of race relations in the United States at Harvard -- at Harvard for heaven's sake -- and I therefore know that you must be stupid and racist. So I'm going to be a jerk, yell and scream, call you a racist, and talk about 'your mama.' But I'm superior, so I demand an apology from little ol' you."

As for the cop's conduct in arresting Gates, I can't judge. Based on the police report (admittedly self-serving), the cop gave Gates multiple opportunities to stand down but Gates escalated. When the cop had enough, he arrested Gates.

Mark

Posted by: Mark Pickrell | Jul 24, 2009 12:40:38 PM

On the forum question, I would have agreed with Soronel, but it's too late. The issue is being discussed here.

I agree with the comment of anonymous 10:40 as far as it goes, but one important point is missing. Once the President decided to jump in and criticize the police, he should also have given equal time to criticism of Gates's behavior.

Hypersensitivity and jumping to the conclusion of racism without evidence are major parts of the problem of race in America today. Gates's behavior is a prime example and warrants a lead position in the discussion. Criticizing the police while giving Gates a free pass was beyond the pale, and the President is now getting some well-deserved flak from police organizations around the country.

Post at C&C is here.

Posted by: Kent Scheidegger | Jul 24, 2009 12:44:13 PM

DAB, you are correct in saying this isn't about sentencing law and policy. There are plenty of other active forums now discussing the Gates matter. I don't see what yet another open microphone here will contribute.

Posted by: LEO | Jul 24, 2009 12:45:49 PM

One immutable truth for all is that anyone who is belligerent to a cop in public does so at his own peril.

Gates seemed determined to challenge the officer at every turn and turn this encounter into a "cause celebre".

Posted by: mjs | Jul 24, 2009 12:59:57 PM

"Hypersensitivity and jumping to the conclusion of racism without evidence are major parts of the problem of race in America today."

True. Also, police have been known to be worried about being accused of racism, and it, in one case, seemed to be a cause of police inaction that got someone killed. See, Mardi Gras Riots, Seattle.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 1:07:57 PM

"Hypersensitivity and jumping to the conclusion of racism without evidence are major parts of the problem of race in America today."

And sometimes police are cowed from doing their jobs because of worry about being branded racists, and that can have unfortunate consequences. Just ask Kristopher Kime's family.

Posted by: federalist | Jul 24, 2009 1:13:18 PM

I'm curious to hear what the many, many bystanders say about the incident. The officer's version and Gates' version are so different that they are really irreconcilable. Neither is neutral and, being a criminal defense lawyer, I see absolutely no reason to believe either of them. Cops lie. Defendants lie. I'm surprised we haven't heard from the crowd that the officer said was gathered due to the scene that Gates' created.

Having said all that, I agree with anonymous that disorderly conduct should not be its own offense. In my experience DO charges are gernerally contempt of cop charges that are piled on to other (possibly legit charges) or used as an excuse to arrest someone who is making an ass of himself, but not actually committing a crime.

Posted by: Bailey | Jul 24, 2009 1:36:15 PM

Prof. Berman: The blog is your chattel. You may do whatever you please without anyone's permission.

This is not a court, with a rule of relevance. And, if it were, the law is your chattel, and the judge your employee. There is no need to defer to the slack off government worker. The sole validation of what that goof off does is at the point of a gun. Respect of him is like that of a mob member, based on fear of physical injury, and on nothing else.

This is not a law school class. And if it were, you would have paid tuition, and the professor is your servant. You pay his salary, and he should gratefully cater to your needs, not the other way around.

The indoctrination is so good, it's intimidation has become internal, and habitual.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 24, 2009 4:08:24 PM

Bill Cosby had the correct answer to end this matter. Meet. Admit to each other both were a little wrong. Shake hands. Forgive, forget. Go home.

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 24, 2009 4:09:34 PM

I think President Obama has shown himself unfit for office. He should resign for his totally irresponsible statement (however much I agreed with it before a became a useful partisan political gotcha tool).

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 24, 2009 4:45:17 PM

I believe President Obama spoke heartfelt truth. It WAS unwise for the police officer to arrest this man -- whatever his educational or financial background -- upon proof that he lived in the building the officer suspected he was burgling. My home is surrounded by a local industry and some years back -- at a time when I wore my hair halfway down my back -- security officers for the company stopped me as I was about to enter the yard to my home to ask what I was doing there. It is hard to articulate how incendiary it is to have your presence challenged in your own home by a law enforcement officer who knows nothing more about you than what you look like. And I was the same race as the white officers who challenged me. It can only be far more incendiary to be a black American facing a white police officer. Whatever his reported training against racial profiling, how can this officer not have understood the extreme offensiveness of his erroneous suspicion, even if he was trying to unblock a stuck door? The president's use of the word "stupidly" for arresting a homeowner who gives vent to the emotions, comes nowhere near the insulting implication, or the fear, generated by having an armed governmental officer challenging your right to be on your own property.

I have wondered whether the officer apologized for his mistake to negate the offensivenes of the inquiry. My impression has been police officers are trained not to apologize for their mistakes, as if that somehow undermines their authority.

If nothing else, this tale should be a lesson to the maxim I often hear my fellow white citizens recite that "if you're doing nothing wrong, you have nothing to fear from the police."

Posted by: David | Jul 24, 2009 6:19:55 PM

Speaking of the elitist angle, would one officer arrest another off duty officer under the same circumstances?

Posted by: George | Jul 24, 2009 8:05:37 PM

George, you bet, and the arrested police squeal louder than an African studies prof fingered by a vile Harvard feminist. They expect professional courtesy, get huffy if police does duty.

Gates has Scotch Irish dna. He is a honkey by DNA analysis.

Then Obama was a Cambridge ticket scofflaw. Hates the Cambridge police probably.

http://forums.the-dispatch.com/eve/forums/a/tpc/f/2511037877/m/9431049998/r/6411089998

Posted by: Supremacy Claus | Jul 25, 2009 12:40:48 AM

Gates must be a real jerk. Instead of calmly clearing up the misunderstanding about his jimmying the door to his own home, he gets hysterical, drags out the race card and brings the sergeant's mother into it to boot! What ingratitude! I mean, the cops were there to investigate a possible burglary of his home. Instead of thanking them for their quick response (which was aimed at safeguarding him and his home), he throws a most infantile tantrum. I sure am glad I'm not a student in one of his courses. What an ego he must have.

Posted by: Alpino | Jul 25, 2009 1:45:47 AM

The Gates-Crowley dust-up is instructive because it neatly divides the population into those who believe the cop and blame Gates for throwing a tantrum and those who believe Gates and blame the cop for arrogance and refusing to identify himself. Since I was the guy who first brought Jena to the attention of the world, I appreciated candidate Obama's comments on that subject and found his candor on the Gates issue refreshing. Jena created the same kind of polarizing effect in American opinion. Few people seem capable of maintaining truths in tension. My experience with law enforcement, beginning with the Tulia drug sting, makes me deeply suspicious of Crowley's police report. On the other hand, Gates' version of the incident is probably a bit self-serving as well (human nature being what it is). My blogging on the subject can be found at http://friendsofjustice.wordpress.com/blog/ and http://blog.sojo.net/2009/07/22/in-the-henry-louis-gates-jr-arrest-who-owes-whom-an-apology/

Posted by: Alan Bean | Jul 25, 2009 9:07:36 AM

A man's home is his castle. There is no grounds for arrest. Arrest carries with it the handcuffing, perp walk, fingerprinting, mug shots, disrespect, humiliation. It is not a small thing to arrest someone. Did they ascertain that he really lived in the home after the arrest? No. This was a punishment for speaking up or worse, mouthing off. They should have charged him with the offense of: 'loud black guy mouthing off insinuations that we are honkeys'. It was 'stupid' to arrest this man. Someone in high office should have the gumption to say it.

Posted by: mbp | Jul 25, 2009 9:22:31 AM

I am awaiting the release of the recorded 911 call or other recorded information (e.g. officer's discussion with dispatcher) that could well shed some bright light on this not-yet-very-well-documented issue.

Posted by: John P. Crowder | Jul 25, 2009 9:26:54 AM

The plot thickens.

Arrest of Gates also shines a light on 'disorderly conduct' laws (LA Times)


It is probably not a crime of disorderly conduct for a homeowner, standing in his own 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."

Once on the front porch, the officer arrested Gates for being loud and abusive in the presence of several neighbors who had gathered on the sidewalk.

Posted by: George | Jul 25, 2009 12:03:15 PM

This most likely was what the police call an "attitude arrest" where a person with a bad attitude is arrested for a simple misdemeanor and booked into jail to "teach them a lesson". The most common charges are disorderly conduct or interference with official acts (IWOA) and a fairly common outcome is the charge is dismissed but the most common outcome is the arrestee realizes that the least costly option is to plead guilty pay the fine and move on.

Nobody wants to mess around with simple misdemeanors so the police have nearly full discretion which some officers use wisely and others abuse. The net result are low level civil rights violations that are below the radar unless it is a high profile case. The first people that have to deal with "attitude arrests" are the jail intake staff members and most of the subjects are not a threat to themselves or anyone else and they don't belong in jail. Depending on the jail they will release them as quickly as possible at our jail usually in about 30 to 45 minutes. In other jails they may be detained until initial appearance before a magistrate (in our jail the average length of confinement for persons released after initial appearance is 8 hours).

I think "attitude arrests" are one of the best possible ways for the police to poison their own well.

Posted by: John Neff | Jul 25, 2009 12:26:21 PM

George wrote: "The larger issue is blind faith in the government as opposed to skepticism of police power. Our Framers preferred skepticism over blind faith."

Bingo.

Mark, Obama didn't call anybody stupid. He said officers who handled the Gates matter behaved stupidly. There's a difference.

We know the deification of police officers is all but complete when a badge-heavy cop can somewhat effortlessly back off a popular president who candidly disapproves of his conduct.

Basically cops have been immunized from accountability for anything but beating and kicking (or sodomizing with broom handles) defenseless, handcuffed prisoners in their custody...particularly if the attacks somehow are captured on video; immune even from kicking in doors and fatally shooting citizens after dynamic-entry raids at wrong addresses.

Posted by: John K | Jul 25, 2009 1:15:48 PM

George wrote: "The larger issue is blind faith in the government as opposed to skepticism of police power. Our Framers preferred skepticism over blind faith."

Bingo.

Mark, Obama didn't call anybody stupid. He said officers who handled the Gates matter behaved stupidly. There's a difference.

We know the deification of police officers is all but complete when a badge-heavy cop can somewhat effortlessly back off a popular president who candidly disapproves of his conduct.

Basically cops have been immunized from accountability for anything but beating and kicking (or sodomizing with broom handles) defenseless, handcuffed prisoners in their custody...particularly if the attacks somehow are captured on video; immune even from kicking in doors and fatally shooting citizens after dynamic-entry raids at wrong addresses.

Posted by: John K | Jul 25, 2009 2:05:30 PM

123D. The rent-seeking criminal cult attorney perpetuates his control and continued employment with civil rights suits, habeas challenges, and frivolous torts.

Posted by: Redundancy Clause | Jul 25, 2009 3:06:52 PM

Alan. I'm going to agree with you. I like the truths in tensions. My own reaction was a pox on both their houses. Gates shouldn't have overacted but then the neither should the police. And I didn't understand why Obama need to get involved. It was, at it's heart, a simple misunderstanding. I don't see any evidence that it was anything more. I see lots of effort on both parties part to turn it into something more, but sane heads should not let that bother them.

Posted by: Daniel | Jul 25, 2009 4:06:32 PM

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