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Monday, July 27, 2009

Comments

Ironically, Gates has probably done more to damage the cause of those who work to document and raise awareness of the very real and very serious problem of racial profiling than anyone I can think of.

Ironic? Convenient, I'd say. And, tied with your earlier point,

I'd say this is the most substantive and meaningful story to entirely dominate the U.S. news cycle since the Summer of the Shark.

I'd say just a bit too convenient.

Surely, there must be lots of examples of white Harvard professors being arrested in their own homes after being mistaken for burglars, right?

Sorry, but that last comment was much too charitable towards the cop involved. Gates was arrested after it was clear that he wasn't a burglar.

When I was a kid, growing up on the mean streets of Milwaukee, WI, the police officers in our neighborhood knew all of us. They gave us baseball cards. They weren't watching us - they were watching out for us. They knew our folks, too.

I don't know how long this officer patrolled this neighborhood, but my first order of duty would be to introduce myself to the people for whom I work. Because you can't tell criminals from citizens if you don't know who the citizens are.

Your arguments are the same as Sean Hannity's. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your position.

And please - stop with the liberal bashing. Next you'll want to bash black men who get arrested in their own... oh, I see.

John Caruso, I love you, depend on you, and I thank you for your work. I come to your site everyday. But I respectfully disagree on this one. What is shocking is the number of white liberals not hurling charges of racism and not being dismayed by a very prominent example of abuse of police authority but deriding, belittling, dismissing Gates (how easy that seems to be) and the significance of his illegal arrest, suggesting that he wanted to get arrested for the publicity, and even being glad that he was arrested. Yea, there are more important issues and better heroes who don’t make it largely about themselves (O.J. Simpson wasn’t a good hero either) but the fact is the attention of the public is riveted on this story and that can be useful and it has been quite revealing. Because the general public, even people who should know better, seems to think that the police can do anything they want, enter your home without your permission, arrest people for shouting or not being sufficiently “cooperative,” etc., and that we all have to bow down to the police and do whatever a police officer says.

Now the thing about racial profiling -- and the story seems to have generated some beneficial coverage of racial profiling, including a television host being surprised on-air that her co-host has actually experienced that -- is that the “suspects” are always black (or brown or dark or whatever). What makes it racial profiling is that they are suspected of a crime while doing something everyday and non-criminal, only or largely because they are black. The “suspects” in this case were basically having trouble with a door being stuck. Now the interesting twist to this story (sorry, I find it fascinating) is that the 911 caller (you probably know this by now) did not report seeing black men and couldn’t tell what race they were. It was Crowley himself who leapt to the conclusion that the suspects were reported as black. (He never saw the second man, who was a light-skinned Moroccan.) That makes Crowley a racist. Most of us are.

But it is still a case of racial profiling because Crowley, who had no actual eyeball evidence of a crime (the door was not broken open) and only a report of a possible break-in, saw a black man standing inside the house behaving normally, assumed he was a suspect in a crime, and treated him that way.

I am surprised that you cannot understand why a black man would be alarmed at the sight of an armed, white police officer at his door (I think it’s safe to say that Crowley probably wasn’t smiling) demanding that he step outside without explaining why. Frankly I would have been alarmed too and I am a white woman. And given what then transpired, it would seem Gates was right to be alarmed.

NomadUK: Good point. It was pretty much a guarantee that those who want to denigrate the importance of racial profiling would run with a story like this, and I'm sure they thank Henry Gates very much for handing it to them on a silver platter.

SteveB: Surely, there must be lots of examples of white Harvard professors being arrested in their own homes after being mistaken for burglars, right?

There aren't any other similar examples of black professors (Harvard or otherwise) either; this is sui generis. And had Gates not made up his mind what the "narrative" was and acted accordingly, there wouldn't even be the one.

Christopher: Your arguments are the same as Sean Hannity's. Perhaps it's time to re-evaluate your position.

Hannity mentioned the Summer of the Shark?

Seriously, if there's a specific argument you take issue with, say so. Claiming that Hannity said something I said is just like Hannity telling all of us on the left that Osama bin Laden says some of the things we say—both in how convincing it is as an argument, and how fair it is as a tactic.

Xihuitl: But I respectfully disagree on this one.

Bless you for that. And thanks for the other kind words as well.

Now the interesting twist to this story (sorry, I find it fascinating) is that the 911 caller (you probably know this by now) did not report seeing black men and couldn't tell what race they were. It was Crowley himself who leapt to the conclusion that the suspects were reported as black.

Actually there's been misreporting around this. The police report didn't state that the caller identified them as "black men" in the 911 call, but rather when the officer talked to her at the scene, so the gotcha reporting around "but she didn't say it in the call!" is no gotcha at all. Her lawyer (not her) has since denied that she used the phrase at the scene either, but that was in the context of trying to distance her client as far as humanly possible from the phrase "black men", which, as we see, is on its face evidence of racism. Personally I don't put too much weight on it no matter what actually happened (which we'll never know), since the cops weren't just randomly profiling a house because there was a black man there—they were responding to a report of a serious crime.

But it is still a case of racial profiling because Crowley, who had no actual eyeball evidence of a crime (the door was not broken open) and only a report of a possible break-in, saw a black man standing inside the house behaving normally, assumed he was a suspect in a crime, and treated him that way.

Nope, I can't go for that. Crowley had a report of a crime in progress at a residence that had been the target of a similar crime just recently. He approached the man (not "black man") standing inside the house as a possible suspect because he has no other choice in that situation (a potentially deadly one for him, and possibly for the occupants of the house if they were inside when the "break in" occurred). And Gates' initial refusal to provide identification or cooperate no doubt put him on even higher alert. This is critical context that's regularly left out.

I definitely understand Gates' alarm, but the fact is that in this case it was entirely misplaced; Crowley was there to help him, not to toss him in jail. That only happened (rightly or wrongly) thanks to the "narrative" Gates had constructed in his head, and the way he acted on that narrative.

Honestly, in my mind the people who've been the most hurt by this whole thing are the neighbor and Crowley, both of whom have been smeared far and wide as cross-burning racists, when there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that they are. Gates has already profited by it, greatly, and will continue to do so the rest of his life.

By the way:

(...the second man, who was a light-skinned Moroccan.)

Actually there's been more misreporting around this; Gates himself identified his driver as a "large black man" in the article I linked to.

...a racist. Most of us are.

I appreciate the honesty of this, and I agree that there's a lot of truth to it (which is one reason I made the point about white liberals protesting too much). It's also why "racist" in cases like this is not only a worthless word, but one that's so damaging, because all it does is shut down the possibility of a frank and open discussion on a critical issue.

Isn't the bigger issue the implict acceptance that the police can arrest someone "just because"?

It's a bigger issue in my mind. Unfortunately, the focus on imagined racism has clouded the water.

(And actually, thinking about it a bit, I doubt there'd be a similar reaction if some Bubba in Alabama were hauled in by the local police while yelling at them from his front porch....)

OK, so you don't think the Gates was justified in the arrest. Because your post does not make this clear. And there is lot of shit out there arguing that contempt of cop is a legitimate reason of arrest. In course of attempting not to "rehash ten thousand other half-assed comments" you may want to make clear that you are not one of the ten thousands of thousands who seem to think cops should be believed until proven lying or that we have a legal or moral obligation to be deferential to cops at all times. You are posting publicly, which makes it possible that at least some reader have not been following your work long enough to know "John would never think that".

You're right that some people will likely think that...but though it may be a fault, I just don't believe in adding disclaimers to my writing. You're right that my post didn't say anything about whether or not the arrest itself was justified—and that means people shouldn't make assumptions about what I didn't write. Which is true in general.

They will, of course (with everyone, not just me), but there's no preventing that no matter how many words you use. So I just say what I actually mean, and then if people jump to incorrect conclusions I address it if I think it's likely to result in a better understanding, and ignore it if I think it's not.

On the issue of the arrest itself, I think it raises an important issue, but I don't see it as the slam dunk indictment of police authoritarianism that so many people on the left do. It's not an ideal test case, basically. And overall I think there's a lot of subtlety to the question of whether or not disorderly conduct laws have a valid function in society, when they should be applied, and so on.

“Her lawyer (not her) has since denied that she used the phrase at the scene either, but that was in the context of trying to distance her client as far as humanly possible from the phrase "black men", which, as we see, is on its face evidence of racism.”

Wait a minute. Now you’re projecting and reading minds. Lucia Whalen, in a very cautious and circumspect call to 911, in which she also said the two men might live there and might just be having a problem with their key, specifically said she couldn’t tell the race of the two men. She also through her lawyer said she never spoke to Crowley at the scene other to identify herself as the caller. Why are you not believing them? Why would Whalen later say the men were black if she couldn’t tell? The Cambridge police chief, last I heard, is unable to explain where Crowley got the idea that the two suspects were black.

“Gates himself identified his driver as a ‘large black man’” … Black is a very broad term. Basically, in America, you can look white and still be considered black. Gates might have thought of his driver as black but he also described him as someone who didn’t look black unless you got very close to him. Most Moroccans I’ve met are olive-skinned.

“Crowley had a report of a crime in progress” – Crowley got a report of a possible break-and-enter in progress. I don’t know how many gajillions of reports like that cops get everyday and what percentage turn out to be false alarms, people who lost their key, etc, but I would imagine it is high. In any case, the fact remains: Crowley saw a man acting normally, talking on the phone, answering the door. …”he has no other choice in that situation (a potentially deadly one for him)” … He had a choice and cops make it everyday: say good afternoon, everything okay here, we had a report, etc. or go with the step outside thing (into my domain where I can arrest you). He chose hostile. (Maybe that’s what he teaches in his racial sensitivity course.) Gates had every right to refuse and stay within the legal shelter of his home and it doesn’t matter if Crowley was miffed. If Crowley thought it was such a potentially deadly situation, why did he promptly (and illegally) follow Gates into his house when Gates turned to go get his identification? “And Gates' initial refusal to provide identification” ..Where do you get that? Commonly cited but on the basis of what? And by the way, Gates was not legally obligated to provide any identification, certainly not while in his own home. That’s a basic American right which has gradually been eroded state by state but not in Massachusetts. That’s a whole different, lengthy issue. However, just imagine if it had been Gates’ nephew with a different name and living in a different state who was staying at the house in his uncle’s absence. Crowley could have and should have been easily satisfied with Gates’ explanation of the lock and the driver and the luggage which would have matched up with the witness’ statement if Crowley had bothered to stop to talk to the witness.

“Crowley was there to help him, not to toss him in jail.” Obviously not; Crowley did toss him in jail. He certainly never communicated to Gates that he was there to help. And that was his job.

“The people who've been the most hurt by this whole thing are the neighbor and Crowley”.. Uh, oh, John, you have really not been keeping up. The caller, Lucia Whalen, didn’t live in the neighborhood but worked there and I think she has been pretty well exonerated of any blame with the release of the 911 tapes. As for Crowley, he’s a bad cop who behaved unprofessionally (among other things calling in additional CPD cars and bringing in the Harvard police after he believed Gates lived there) and illegally (entering the house without permission, refusing to give Gates his identify card required by Mass law, continuing to ask questions and not leaving after Gates had established his right to be there) and entrapping Gates in a bogus disorderly conduct arrest by suggesting he would give Gates the card outside, where he promptly arrested Gates for “tumultuous behavior” etc. Two common motivations for such an arrest: attitude adjustment for Gates and a preemptive move to discredit Gates because Gates was probably going to file a complaint against Crowley.

“It's not an ideal test case, basically.” … Much more ambiguous cases have been decided very clearly in favor of a person’s right to yell at and upbraid the police even in public.

It's possible to think that Gates is a pompous, class-conscious asshole and also believe that Crowley is a police bully and that main issue is authoritarianism, while race may or may not be lurking in the background. I think there's a teensy bit of justification black men have (no matter what their social status) for being paranoid about cops, so I'm maybe a little less judgmental about Gates's supposed projection than you appear to be.

"it may be a fault, I just don't believe in adding disclaimers to my writing. "

It's a fault. There's a lot of pointless arguments that could be avoided with disclaimers, especially if you think in this case that police abuse of power might be an important issue. It's not as much fun ranting if you have to throw in disclaimers, but rants are an overrated literary form anyway.

Not that Gates could have known this, but it seems that Crowley imagined the report about two black men with backpacks--

link

Now you’re projecting and reading minds.

Nope, I was just citing the context, and I already said we don't know what really happened (and probably won't ever). But it's true that I'm not as willing to trust the statements of a lawyer speaking (and advocating) on someone's behalf, and bending over backwards to distance their client as much as possible from the obviously racist word "black", e.g.:

"Let me be clear: She never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene," Murphy told CNN by phone. "And she never said to any police officer or to anybody 'two black men.' She never used the word 'black.' Period."
By the way, compare this to what Murphy said elsewhere:
"She didn't speak to Sergeant Crowley at the scene except to say, 'I'm the one who called,' " said the lawyer, Wendy Murphy. "And he said, 'Wait right there,' and walked into the house. She never used the word black and never said the word backpacks to anyone."
That's funny—I thought Murphy was "being clear" that Whalen "never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene." So was she lying to CNN, or just being overzealous in her denials on behalf of her client (who presumably has a lawyer in the first place because she fears she might be the target of some sort of legal action)?

Much more importantly, as I already said, I don't think it matters. It's possible that Crowley misidentified the person who told him this at the scene, that he mixed up the fact (and it is a fact, remember) that they were black with what he was told by someone at the scene, that he asked if they were black and Whalen responded with "probably" or something along those lines (never saying the word herself), or any number of other mundane and entirely innocent explanations. We don't know. But you're insisting on one single explanation, without any evidence to back it up: that Crowley jumped to the conclusion that they were black because of his inherent racism, and then extensively falsified his police report for some reason (to try to provide some after-the-fact cover for his racist assumption, I guess?). I don't see any reason to assume that that explanation is correct.

I don't want to spend this much time reviewing the other minute details of the case, by the way—ultimately it's pointless, because we can't know everything that happened. But I do think this illustrates that it's not as cut and dried as people are asserting.

...I think [Whalen] has been pretty well exonerated of any blame with the release of the 911 tapes.

No, there's no recovering from the type of smear job she's been through, no matter how much after-the-fact damage control is done. And the sad part is that most of the smearing she's been trying to recover from has come from the left.

But my larger point is that she didn't need to be "exonerated" at all. A description that there were "two black males" attempting to enter the house would have been entirely accurate, and free from any taint of racism. What's absurd and offensive to me is that so many people chose to characterize this poor woman (who was only trying to help) as a racist merely on the basis of that phrase...and that's exactly what I was talking about when I said that people are far, far too willing to throw around loaded terms like "racist" and "racism".

Donald: I agree with your entire first paragraph, and it does appear to me that Crowley may just have been giving Gates some police payback for acting like such a jerk (though I don't know enough about the disorderly conduct statute in Massachusetts to say). Basically I'm open to the "two assholes" theory, though I'm entirely unconvinced by the "racist cop" theory.

"it may be a fault, I just don't believe in adding disclaimers to my writing. "

It's a fault. There's a lot of pointless arguments that could be avoided with disclaimers, ...

Yes, but there's no end to the disclaimers you might have to include and there's also no way to anticipate every wrong assumption someone is going to make. There's a word for writing that includes every possible disclaimer: unreadable.

There's also little difference between the kind of disclaimers we're talking about and feeling compelled to say "I support the troops" or "I love America" to prove one's bona fides. And I feel just as strongly about not having to delineate everything I don't think as I do about that. With that said, though...

...especially if you think in this case that police abuse of power might be an important issue.

...I know you're probably talking about obvious disclaimers in clear contexts, and you're right that it can avoid pointless arguments. And actually I do often include disclaimers and genuflect to the required gods, as required by the standards of civilized discourse, despite what I said (and even though it usually offends my sensibilities to feel compelled to do so). I didn't this time because I think the abuse-of-power angle here is relatively thin—and it's also gotten far less attention than the racism angle, which is what I was focusing on.

It's possible to think that Gates is a pompous, class-conscious asshole and also believe that Crowley is a police bully and that main issue is authoritarianism, while race may or may not be lurking in the background.

Exactly. An excellent summary of this case.

“That's funny—I thought Murphy was "being clear" that Whalen "never had a conversation with Sgt. Crowley at the scene."”

John! John! Those two statements are not inconsistent at all. A person might identify herself and not considerate that a conversation.

“It's possible that Crowley misidentified the person who told him this at the scene, that he mixed up the fact (and it is a fact, remember)”

It was a coincidence.

“No, there's no recovering from the type of smear job she's been through …”

I think she comes out looking like a thoughtful, admirable person. She very politely called in the concerns of the elderly woman who had recently moved into the neighborhood. She explains that she might not have called in on her own and accurately describes the situation as best she can from a distance, clarifying that she can’t see very well, and provides her own reservations. She then waits at the scene and is basically ignored by Crowley when he arrives.

And my own experience is that racism is grossly underestimated and denied, and that’s one of the interesting facets of this case too.

Those two statements are not inconsistent at all. A person might identify herself and not considerate that a conversation.

That's a game try, but I doubt many people would agree the lawyer wasn't contradicting herself rather seriously there. In fact in a courtroom I'd say her first statement might well draw a perjury charge. Personally I don't think she was lying outright—maybe just exaggerating at a key moment, or it may have been the result of a miscommunication with Whalen.

Setting aside the issue of the lawyer's reliability, though, the key point is crystal clear: Crowley and Whalen did talk to one another at the scene. Which is consistent with the police report. So we're back to having no way to determine exactly what was said in this exchange. You say that one and only one explanation must be true: that Crowley, a racist cop, assumed they were black because that's just the way he thinks (about all criminals, I take it), and the fact that he was correct was just a coincidence. I don't see any justification for that assumption, and I think it's as unfair to Crowley as the accusations of racism were to Whalen.

On the issue of the arrest itself, I think it raises an important issue, but I don't see it as the slam dunk indictment of police authoritarianism that so many people on the left do.
Even taking Crawley's word (and I don't) I think it is a slam dunk case that this was a case of "police authoritarianism". I don't mean that Crawley necessarily did anything illegal, because I am not a lawyer. But if what Crawley did was legal then he abused the broad legal discretion law like "disturbing the peace" give to police. When Crawley left the home, he had determined that Gates was not burglar was legally in his own home. It is pretty clear that he was not a hostage. So when Craewley arrested him on Gate's own front porch for yelling, the only reason to arrest him was to punish for having disrespected the police. Or do you really believe that the crowd who were attracted by the large police presence were really frightened or likely to be frightened by a sixty year old man walking with a cane yelling on his own front porch? I don't know about you, but I don't want people with guns and clubs to be the etiquette police, Miss Manners turned armed and dangerous.

Incidentally do I have to point that the Crowley lured Gates out by refusing to give his badge number in a form Gates could take it down. (Mass police are suppose to hand over a card with their badge number on request.) He walked out telling Gates that if he had any further questions to ask outside. Yelling was not illegal inside Gate's home, but may (or may not) have been illegal on his front porch. At this point Crowley wanted to to put Gates in a position where he could be arrested. I don't know why it has to be a perfect test to be obvious that Crawley did something wrong. If Gates did something wrong too, if it was as you say "a case of two assholes" it remains that only one of the assholes had a gun, and a legal responsibility. Do you really think the police should have the right to arrest people for assholedom? Our current police I mean, not some magic pony police force with perfect judgement?

Gar: Actually, you're conflating undisputed information with heavily-disputed information (like the claim that Crowley refused to provide his identification). And also using characterizations like "lured" that presume some nefarious intent, when I think there are various reasonable explanations (which Crowley has provided) for asking Gates to come outside. We just don't know what actually happened.

Nonetheless, as I said, I agree that the disorderly conduct charge was probably unwarranted and likely just punishment for Gates acting like a jackass. And in case it's at all unclear, I'm utterly opposed to authoritarian policing (see, there's one of those disclaimers I don't like to give). I just don't think this is a good case to hold up as an exemplar, because there was supposedly a crowd of people gathering, and Gates does appear to have been yelling (if you don't want to believe the police on that, that's fine—just look at the infamous picture of his arrest and you can see for yourself), and so on. I'm not a lawyer either, but from what I've read that strikes me as pretty close to the grounds Massachusetts allows for a disorderly conduct arrest—certainly within the "reasonableness" test (and even more so if Crowley warned Gates that an arrest on these grounds was imminent, as he claimed in the report).

So yeah, I think there's reason to question what motivated Crowley to make the arrest and whether or not it was really warranted, but it's not black and white (ha ha!). And going back to my main point, even granting that it was entirely unjustified, I don't doubt it would have happened to a white Harvard professor too.

Do you really think the police should have the right to arrest people for assholedom?

Like I said, I think it's a subtle issue and it depends on the circumstances. Let's say someone starts shouting at the top of his lungs at 4am in a crowded residential area, and screams even louder at anyone who comes up to talk to him (but doesn't touch them at all). Do you think it's entirely unreasonable to have a law that allows that person to be arrested if they refuse to stop? I don't. But how do we balance my desire to stand in the street and scream my fool head off with your desire to get a good night's sleep? These aren't simple issues, and I don't think they're well-served by slogans.

Crowley was there to help him, not to toss him in jail. That only happened (rightly or wrongly) thanks to the "narrative" Gates had constructed in his head, and the way he acted on that narrative.

If this had happened to me, I'm sure I wouldn't have ended up in jail, and not just because I'm white, but because I would have behaved much more respectfully towards the cop. But why would I have behaved differently than Gates? As an educated, middle-class white male, I'm used to being treated respectfully, and so its easier for me to return respect that I assume will be coming my way. If someone treats me disrespectfully, my first reaction is "Huh?", rather than "Oh shit, here we go again..." My first reaction upon encountering disrespect aimed at me would be surprise, or confusion, or maybe even fear, but not anger, because being disrespected is an unusual experience for me. And by the time I would have finished processing that confusion, things would have calmed down, and Officer Crowley would have been on his way.

But any black man, even a relatively privileged one, who has lived in this country for 58 years would have had countless experiences that would cause him to construct the "narrative" you're imagining. Just as Crowley would have had countless past experiences that would cause him to construct a "black men breaking into a house" narrative.

I'm not saying people aren't responsible for their actions (although I will say that Crowley, who was working at the time, had a greater responsibility to control his emotions). But looking at this case in terms of individual behavior misses the warping effect that racism, and its close associate, white privilege, has on us all.

Let's say someone starts shouting at the top of his lungs at 4am in a crowded residential area, and screams even louder at anyone who comes up to talk to him (but doesn't touch them at all).

If Gates was yelling at the woman who phoned in the report, "You racist! I'll get you for this!", then obviously the cop would need to take Gates into custody. But Gates wasn't yelling at anyone except the cop. As one New York City police officer said in one of the stories about this case, "If I can see that I'm the provocation, then I leave." Not an easy thing to do, of course, because there's a serious loss of face involved, but it's the correct and professional thing to do, nonetheless. As I said above, it was racism that got the ball rolling, but after that, machismo was calling the shots. And after the case went public, authoritarianism, in the form of the public's well-ingrained deference to the police ("If you don't talk back to the cops, they won't mess with you.") took over. After witnessing this whole sorry spectacle, I'd say racism to machismo to authoritarianism is the Tinkers to Evers to Chance of our times.

If Gates was yelling at the woman who phoned in the report, "You racist! I'll get you for this!", then obviously the cop would need to take Gates into custody.

You're responding to a general example posed in response to a general discussion about whether or not disorderly conduct laws are ever valid. That example wasn't about race, and wasn't about Gates. And you've also inserted a threat, which voids it.

I posed the example because I've seen many people talking as though disorderly conduct laws are entirely bogus and have no valid role, and I'd like to know whether that's really what they believe, and if so how they feel we should address a situation like the one I posed (or much worse examples that still don't involve physical contact or threats). I consider myself all but a civil rights absolutist, but I also feel we can't just say "free speech!" and think we've had a real discussion.

But any black man, even a relatively privileged one, who has lived in this country for 58 years would have had countless experiences that would cause him to construct the "narrative" you're imagining.

Yes, agreed; given history and his lack of knowledge of the circumstances, it was understandable for Gates to construct this narrative (though odd that he'd respond as he did in that case). I've supported the ACLU et al for many years because they spend so much time documenting racial profiling. However...

Just as Crowley would have had countless past experiences that would cause him to construct a "black men breaking into a house" narrative.

...this is where your argument (including what you've written at ATR) goes off the rails, because it basically asserts that because racial profiling exists in general it was also the key factor in this situation. Which not only begs the question here, but requires us to hand over our judgment to an institutional analysis forevermore, no matter what the specifics of any particular case.

Please make sure you include the title: Harvard Professor, Friend of POTUS, Living in Rich White Neighborhood any time you mention Mr. Gates, or we might think it's just some random black man who got arrested under questionable circumstances, and who the christ would care about that.

Thanks for the sanity on this issue, instead of using it as a blogop to demonstrate your solidarity with the the black man.

This is as much about race as the OJ murder trial, maybe less.

But nothing Gates did merits being put in a cage, even for a few hours. The cop has experience in these situations, he is paid and "trained" to deal with such things. Gates is not. I don't care how smart he is, he is not responsible for being polite to cops. If legally this arrest is justifiable, the law is unjust. Massachusetts Statutes are not an argument. There have probably been people Patriot Acted for less. That's not an argument either.

Marcus: Thanks for the sanity on this issue...

Thanks for saying so. I expected a lonely trip, but I was starting to wonder if there really wasn't anyone else on this island.

But nothing Gates did merits being put in a cage, even for a few hours.

I'd agree completely with that. And whether or not the arrest was reasonable under Massachusetts law, it clearly wasn't necessary.

Donald,
It's possible to think that Gates is a pompous, class-conscious asshole and also believe that Crowley is a police bully

That Gates is either a psycho or racism-baiting opportunist is clear, it's an undeniable fact proven by his own quote in the post above. This is not something "to think", it's a given.


What's your evidence that Crowley is a "police bully", which I assume means "more of a bully than the average cop"? I don't see any evidence.

In fact, - OK, I have never been a cop, and I don't know any cops - but I imagine: suppose it was me responding to that 911 break-in call with 2 people involved. Me, alone. I knock on the door. A guy opens. I ask him to come out to the porch. He refuses and acts nervous - I imagine I immediately draw the gun and tell the guy to get down on the floor.

Crowley didn't do that, he seems surprisingly well-mannered and considered.

Excellent post and replies. The determination of people to see racism where other injustices lie is amazingly strong. If Crowley had come to Noam Chomsky's house to investigate a home invasion and Chomsky had begun to scream about the history of cops harassing leftists, the result would've been the same. Heck, if Rush Limbaugh went into "don't you know who I am?" and screamed abuse on his porch at a cop who wasn't, in his opinion, sufficiently deferential, he'd be arrested. Whether the police should have that power is a discussion this country badly needs to have. Instead, we get Teh Racism, Teh Racism!

I only have one quibble. This is definitely not the most substantive and meaningful story to entirely dominate the U.S. news cycle since the Summer of the Shark. This is the most substantive and meaningful story to entirely dominate the U.S. news cycle since Elian Gonzalas

this is where your argument (including what you've written at ATR) goes off the rails, because it basically asserts that because racial profiling exists in general it was also the key factor in this situation.

So it's reasonable to assume that Gates' experiences would lead him to preconceptions about Crowley, but it's not reasonable to assume that Crowley's experiences might lead him to have preconceptions about Gates and his driver?

Anyway, it's not central to my point. Let's give Crowley the full benefit of the doubt (even though you're not willing to extend the same favor to Gates) and assume everything he did up to the moment of arrest was correct. That still doesn't excuse the arrest, which was totally unjustified. Take away the arrest, and Gates has nothing to complain about, and this case would be of interest to absolutely no one. Even if Crowley isn't a racist (and I avoid using that term to describe individuals, because I see racism as a systemic problem) he's still guilty of a serious abuse of his authority. But maybe you agree with that?

That Gates is either a psycho or racism-baiting opportunist is clear, it's an undeniable fact proven by his own quote in the post above.
[snip]
Crowley didn't do that, he seems surprisingly well-mannered and considered.

Where you see "psycho race-baiter vs. surprisingly well-mannered cop", I see two flawed individuals, products of a racist society that makes sane people do insane things. Both did things they shouldn't have done, neither is blameless. If I've been harder on Crowley than on Gates, it's because Crowley was on the job at the time and so should be held to a higher standard. I'd hold Gates to a higher standard if he was involved in an altercation with one of his students. Crowley put handcuffs on an old man who was no threat to anyone, when it was absolutely clear that he was no threat to anyone. That's inexcusable.

Incidentally, I do realize that I might have gotten carried away a bit (just a little bit, if at all); this is my usual reaction to exaggerated rhetoric on the opposite side. That's just how my brain works; I am a flawed individual too.

I can't go back; at this point I am absolutely convinced that my perception is correct. So, ignore me, please.

abb1 has no idea what constitutes a crime, it seems. You cannot disturb the peace without another, non-police officer present. The entire point of a charge of disturbing the peace is that other citizens may be incited to violence. Police officers are not expected to be incited to violence -- there's actually MA caselaw on this. Ergo, Gates committed no crime and the police officer committed a crime: this is the conclusion one reaches by reading Crowley's own report. In other words, even pretending Crowley isn't a liar and his report on Gate's words that night weren't also lies, he's still a criminal. And abb1 would rather back a criminal thug than a citizen who has committed no crime.

Thanks, will. And abb1, though "psycho" is a bit over the top, I agree with most everything you're saying (in particular what you said about Crowley's restraint at the initial meeting with Gates).

SteveB: So it's reasonable to assume that Gates' experiences would lead him to preconceptions about Crowley...

You realize it's not an assumption, don't you? Gates directly admitted that he constructed an entire narrative for the event after hearing just one sentence from Crowley (and seeing the color of Crowley's skin, of course).

...but it's not reasonable to assume that Crowley's experiences might lead him to have preconceptions about Gates and his driver?

I'd say it's reasonable to assume that Crowley's level of "background racism" is similar to that of any other white person in this society. But it's not reasonable to assume that racism was the key factor (the critical phrase I used, and you ignored) behind any of his actions here, or even a contributing factor at all. For that we'd need evidence, and there isn't any.

As to who's more credible, there's a lot we don't know for certain, but everything we do know supports Crowley's credibility and undercuts Gates'. I.e., by Gates' own admission, he had "racially profiled" Crowley; he admits to the "black man in America" comment; he's lying outright when he claims he didn't yell, as evidenced by the photo of the arrest, the tapes that were released (in which he's described with phrases like "loud", "assertive", and "speaking loudly and emphatically"), and a witness who verifies that Gates was "slightly out of control" and "yelling" (and I doubt he was just shouting the same thing over and over that entire time); many things he's said since then show him to be an arrogant, entitled, self-aggrandizing putz (which again lends credence to the phrases Crowley attributes to him in the report); etc, etc, etc.

On the other hand, everything I've heard Crowley say since the incident is measured, thoughtful, and reasonable (as are the things we know for a fact he said at the time of the incident). If it's an act, it's a good one. And everything we know about his background also contradicts (strongly) the racist label he's been smeared with.

Take away the arrest, and Gates has nothing to complain about...

Steve, Gates was already complaining about it before he was even arrested—reportedly asking if Crowley knew who he was, warning Crowley about "messing" with him, saying Crowley hadn't heard the last of it, etc, etc. The arrest only added fuel to the fire that was already raging in his brain. Gates wanted a shit storm, and he got it.

You cannot disturb the peace without another, non-police officer present.

There were non-police officers present; in fact, one of them took the photo of the arrest.

...this is the conclusion one reaches by reading Crowley's own report.

No, Crowley's report actually states that "Ms. Walen [sic] and at least seven unidentified passers-by" were present in addition to the cops.

John: We disagree but my only comment will be about this thing you wrote:


I'll take Henry Gates' attributions of racism every bit as seriously as I do Abe Foxman's attributions of anti-Semitism.

Does that mean you don't take Gates's attributions seriously? Or you take them as being calculated and not sincere?

Do you believe Gates was faking it or that he sincerely thought the white cop was out to harass a black guy?

Correct me if I am wrong but I assume you believe the latter and that Gates was sincere but probably wrong in his assessment, or rather that there was no evidence for him to assume that Crowley was a racist.

Let's think about this. What is evidence? It's the totality of the facts, past and present, that lead you to believe (honestly) one thing or another. Now take Gates's history. The guy has had to endure well-documented racism that very few of us would be able to put up without growing bitter. Or, for that matter, without rushing to judgment when a white cop comes to our home and bosses us around. (How long would I put up with every stranger coming to my house in NC assuming that I must be the servant?) Based on his own past and what he saw at that moment, to conclude that Crowley was a racist (whether true or not) was in fact the most logical inference Gates could make. Especially in view of the statistics showing that racial profiling is a living, racist institution, and that the guy, by his profession, knows the whole african-american history better than anyone.

If you dispute this, please explain why.

But if you don't, then why isn't Gates' instant judgment as worthy of respect as anyone else's. Why do you dismiss it as Foxman-like?

So Gates immediately jumps to the conclusion that Crowley most likely is a racist pig. Which I recall, from a Bayesian point of view, is the most logical, legitimate, natural inference for him to make.

Now what happens? Crowley could say: "I know what you're probably thinking. I can understand why you're shouting, but please let me explain to you why that's not what you think. I am just checking all is fine. All is fine? OK, so sorry to trouble you. Have a good day, Sir."

We know this didn't happen. And we know that the cop arrested Gates, an older guy with a cane in his own home. Which is pathetic and inexcusable. Think about it. If Gates thought that Crowley might have been a racist, now he had the evidence that indeed he was a racist. Again he could be wrong. But from his statistical prior, that was the most likely explanation of the facts he encountered. So maybe Gates lacked generosity of mind or self-control or whatever, but he was being as logically accurate in his call as one could be. In fact, even today, statistically the most likely explanation was that Crowley the cop was a racist. If to the prior of being a cop you add his behavior at the house and Gates's arrest then the inference is inescapable.
It might be wrong but my point is that Gates is more entitled to think that it's right rather than it's wrong.

Now, back to Foxman. I take it you cannot agree that Gates shares with Foxman the illegitimacy of their charging bigotry: white cops have a long history of bigotry but Carter has no history of anti-Semitism. In fact, Foxman's past charges have been mostly or entirely illegitimate while Gates have been mostly or entirely validated.

This implies that your analogy lies somewhere else. But where? Is it that as a Harvard prof, Gates should know better and leave his grievances behind? If so, then how come no one ever asked me to leave my grievances behind as I climbed the steps of academia? Why should the standards for blacks be higher than for whites?

I guess this is a long-winded way of admitting that I didn't understand your point. I think I understood the others (and I disagree with them) but this one I didn't get.

One point where I agree with you is that in the end it's a pretty lame incident to serve as a poster child for police racism.


As I understand it, cases against the tobacco companies must always be class action suits because it is not possible to determine which smokers who get lung cancer would not have gotten it anyway. Not everyone who smokes gets lung cancer and not everyone who gets lung cancer is a smoker. We look at groups of people and can definitely see how smoking affects the mortality of the group that smokes but in each individual case...

In our society, there is a lot of racism. The treatment African Americans receive from the police as a group or an average is terrible and that is well documented but I can't really tell if this is an example of that or not. I think it's possible this could have happened to a white professor.

John Caruso:

1) On the other hand, everything I've heard Crowley say since the incident is measured, thoughtful, and reasonable (as are the things we know for a fact he said at the time of the incident). If it's an act, it's a good one.

You would think he does this for a living.

2) Gates was already complaining about it before he was even arrested—reportedly asking if Crowley knew who he was, warning Crowley about "messing" with him, saying Crowley hadn't heard the last of it, etc, etc. The arrest only added fuel to the fire that was already raging in his brain. Gates wanted a shit storm, and he got it.

So what?

Bernard, I'll tackle two of your points. You say, "How long would I put up with every stranger coming to my house in NC assuming that I must be the servant?" Gates was vaguer; I won't look it up, but he talked in terms of often or many times. Given how the guy exaggerates, I don't doubt that it happened once or twice, but I wouldn't be surprised if that was the extent of it. This is a man who, for many reasons, craves validation in the form of privilege.

As for Crowley's initial behavior, he only knew that two people may have broken into the house. Among the possibilities he has to weigh is that Gates is the homeowner and does not know someone is in his house. This is not a time to be tugging the forelock to the lord of the manner. It's time to get the first person outside as quickly as possible for everyone's safety.

There are extensive historical reasons to excuse and pity Gates for how he reacted. But he still reacted like a racist asshole. Which does not mean he should have been arrested. I think it should be legal to cuss out cops, but that's not what Gates has made the discussion about.

Bernard: Does that mean you don't take Gates's attributions [of racism] seriously? Or you take them as being calculated and not sincere?

It means I take them as being unreliable. In this case, all it took for Gates to impute racism to Crowley was that Crowley was a white policeman asking if Gates would step outside on the porch. That's it. The question of whether or not it's reasonable for Gates to assume what he did is beside the point here; as you say, he's entitled to think anything he pleases. But given what this event illustrates about his standard for leveling the charge, I won't ever take his word for it in the future.

...Carter has no history of anti-Semitism.

And Crowley has no history of racism either—just the opposite, in fact. But Carter is a Westerner, and the West has a long and well-documented history of anti-Semitism, right? So by your analysis I'm as mistaken to dispute Foxman's claims about Carter as I am to dispute Gates' claims about Crowley.

Look, we're entirely agreed that racial profiling exists. But the mere existence of racial profiling doesn't prove that Crowley is a racist (nor even that racial profiling was any significant factor in this instance). No statistical argument can do that, as I'm sure you know.

The charge of racism is a deadly serious one that shouldn't be thrown around without solid evidence—just like the charge of anti-Semitism. So one last analogy: by shouting "racist" when there's no clear basis for it, we cheapen and debase the term, just as people like Foxman have drained "anti-Semite" of all meaning. It's wrong...and even worse, it's a mistake.

Honestly, in my mind the people who've been the most hurt by this whole thing are the neighbor and Crowley, both of whom have been smeared far and wide as cross-burning racists, when there's absolutely no evidence to suggest that they are. Gates has already profited by it, greatly, and will continue to do so the rest of his life.

One of the things I find most peculiar about America is that there's no such thing as being a little bit racist; everybody is either a KKK Grand Dragon or as fresh as the driven snow, utterly free of all prejudice, conscious or unconscious.

Which leads to the situation we have here, where the very instant the R word is brought into play, we get people saying, "Oh my god, those people were just called RACISTS! What a horrible experience this must be for them, the poor dears". And of course that guy can't be a racist, because he loves children and he saved that puppy that was trapped in a well that one time.

We're at the point where you, a reasonable person, are arguing that having a black guy accuse you of being racist is worse then being arrested for no real reason.

I think that that's taking things a little too far, frankly.

It's good that we don't like racism and all, but maybe we could stand to tone it down a little, and admit that people can be racist without being evil, just like you can have all sorts of other flaws and not be evil.

And I really think everybody should try to do this. Yeah, people have a responsibility not to go about randomly tarring people as Neo-Nazis, but I really think they also have to make an effort not to have a complete fucking meltdown the instant a person accuses you of racism, because whining about how horrible it was to be called a racist is ALSO a way of shutting down legitimate discussion.

What Christopher said. It's good that people take the accusation of racism so seriously, but it's also bad, because it's virtually impossible to have an honest discussion about it. I suspect that virtually everyone is a racist to some degree, on the unconscious level. (That notion of unconscious racism seems to bother abb1 back at ATR, but it just seems like a fact of life to me. Some racists know they are racists and are proud of it--others are blissfully unaware of the fact.)

Earlier I linked to a report which seems to indicate that Crowley either lied or else his memory played a trick on him or else the dispatcher screwed up when he said the dispatcher told him there were two black men involved. It's actually more interesting if he told the truth as he remembered it, because it means that somebody somewhere along the line took a report that didn't involve any claims of two black men and turned it into that. I doubt this was done intentionally. But it would be racist.

And race aside, I just don't see a policeman who arrests a 58 year old man with a cane for shouting at him in these circumstances as anything other than an asshole.

As for turning the tables on Gates and making him the chief villain, this seems insane to me. I called him a classist jerk earlier and he said some stupid things but maybe a black man in America who makes it to Harvard can be forgiven if he flips out and starts waving his social status around when a white cop starts treating him as a possible criminal when he's at his own home. And that would be true even if Crowley were the working class saint without a racist authoritarian bone in his body.

Christopher: One of the things I find most peculiar about America is that there's no such thing as being a little bit racist; everybody is either a KKK Grand Dragon or as fresh as the driven snow, utterly free of all prejudice, conscious or unconscious.

I suppose I can't blame you for not having digested every minute detail of the prior comments, but if you think that's what I've been saying you've missed the point pretty badly.

...whining about how horrible it was to be called a racist is ALSO a way of shutting down legitimate discussion.

Your choice:

1) I'm sure Abe Foxman would agree with you.

2) Yeah, well, that's just what a white supremacist pedophile would say.

Newshoggers has posted a video of FOX News legal analyst Judge Andrew Napolitano arguing that what Crowley did was actually illegal under Massachusetts law. I know the source may be questionable but his arguments make sense.

Abe Foxman uses the term "anti-semite" to shut down criticism of Israeli racism and war crimes. But since we're dragging him into the discussion, it's quite true that if you hang out at unmoderated websites that discuss the I/P conflict, you'll soon find that a fair number of people who show up seem to care about Palestinian rights because it gives them an excuse to bash Jews. So if he was merely suspicious and occasionally accused people incorrectly of anti-semitism and then backed down when it was clear he was wrong, I would cut him some slack. But I don't think Foxman operates in good faith.

Gates was a very tired black man with a chest cold coming home late at night in a country with a long history of racist white cops harassing black men at all social levels and finds himself being questioned by a white cop as a possible burglar while standing on his own porch. So he loses his temper. Obviously if I were to try and come up with someone analogous, I would immediately think of Abe Foxman trying to discredit Jimmy Carter for describing Israel's policies as a form of apartheid.


Donald: I'm guessing you didn't read very closely either, based on your comments. To make one thing crystal clear: I have no problem whatsoever with the word "racist" (or even "racist pig") being used. I do have a serious problem with it being used when it's not appropriate. And if you doubt the power of the word, consider that people were actually threatening Lucia Whalen because they'd decided she was a racist (based on nothing more than having purportedly described two black males as "two black males" in the process of trying to prevent a crime).

As for the rest, I'd love to defend my beliefs that we're all either the Grand Dragon or pure as the driven snow, that Crowley's a "working class saint", that Abe Foxman and Henry Gates are comparable in every way, etc, but to do that I'd need to have actually thought them at some point in my life. So while I'm disappointed to see you joining in the straw man thrashing (since I have considerable respect for you), if you feel that's a good use of your time I'll leave you to it.

I feel really sad that you posted this. You pretend that a black man has no basis or legitimacy for being wary of cops. You pretend that Crowley was just trying to help out, because, hey, if *you* were in the same situation, your default would be to trust the cop over feeling scared for your safety.

But guess what? You're not a black man. You clearly have only the slightest concept of the reality black people (especially, in this case, black men) live with every day. We live in a racist country with a notoriously racist police force and any white man who thinks he can dismiss this has a whole heap of unexamined privilege that he might want to deal with before posting more about race.

You accuse Gates of projecting onto Crowley, of constructing a narrative based on no valid information. We do not live in a vacuum. There is a long history in this country of white police violence against black suspects. Amadou Diallo was shot 61 times in the back for reaching for his wallet. Are you so devoid of empathy that you cannot imagine that your own privilege as a white man might have shielded you from Crowley in a way that someone like Gates could never have trusted? Especially in that situation?

Read Tim Wise, if you need another white man to tell you things that you won't hear from a black woman. But please, please John-- I know you're an intelligent, otherwise hugely empathetic person. Please educate yourself about the reality of living as a black person in America before assuming that this is all smoke and mirrors and egos. Gates is in the right (self-aggrandizing though he might be, it has no bearing on what happened to him). I, and most people, have no dog in the fight of whether or not Crowley is, on some existential level, a racist. He behaved in a racist way in this instance, and that's all I need to know. I behave in racist ways sometimes, too. We all do. And when we do, we should be called out on them.

And you know what happens when I'm called out on behaving in a racist way? I take a deep breath, step away from the keyboard, and think. Consider this a humble suggestion that you do the same.

It seems to me that the media realizes the anger within American cities and that minorities are finding themselves unemployed and bankrupt.

Thus; the media is working overtime to tell the minorities that "We Feel Your Pain".

The Ol' Rodney King Trip of "Can't We All Just Get Along?"

It was the same trip in the lead-up to the presidential election in 2008.

Obama was ridiculed for suggesting that people were "Angry".

It was only after the election that the media began to storyline the "Anger" being voiced on the streets.

I would think that America is less than a year away from martial law.

Calm

It sounds like folks with a background in anti-racism and Critical Race Theory are entering the discussion. The ones I've encountered in the past have a curious double-standard: on the one hand, they say everyone's racist, so no one should mind being called racist; on the other, they threaten to boycott racists. The attacks on the woman who made the 911 call are typical.

Apologies if I'm misjudging anyone. I got into a flamewar with some Ivy League anti-racists who refused to consider class issues when discussing oppression, and it got ugly. So I did some research on their philosophy and found criticisms of anti-racism and Critical Race Theory offered by conservatives, liberals, and socialists:

"Why Anti-Racism Will Fail" by Thandeka - http://archive.uua.org/ga/ga99/238thandeka.html

"Race, class, and "whiteness theory" by Sharon Smith - http://www.isreview.org/issues/46/whiteness.shtml

"The Lightness of Critical Race Theory" by Winkfield F. Twyman, Jr. - http://www.intellectualconservative.com/article4783.html

"Against Diversity" by Walter Been Michaels - http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2731

"Anti-racism has to go beyond a facile representation game" by Priyamvada Gopal - http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2007/jan/25/comment.media

Racism is evil. But sometimes an ideological approach to fighting evil can be evil in turn. In this case, everyone who wants to insist that Crowley is some form of racist is ignoring the opportunity to discuss police abuse of people of all races, definitely including whites. Consider, for example, "Tragedy and injustice in Chesapeake" - http://athousandcuts.org/2008/06/04/tragedy-and-injustice-in-chesapeake/ - or Tyler Heilman, the 24-year-old Minnesotan who was killed by police though he was obviously unarmed -- he was wearing only a bathing suit - http://athousandcuts.org/2008/06/04/tragedy-and-injustice-in-chesapeake/

Racism is wrong. Attributing racism where another factor is at work is also wrong.

There aren't any other similar examples of black professors (Harvard or otherwise) either

Wrong.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/breaking_news/2009/07/harvard.html

Counter, who had called Gates from the Nobel Institute in Sweden, where Counter is on sabbatical, said that Gates was “shaken” and “horrified” by his arrest. Counter has faced a similar situation himself. The well-known neuroscience professor, who is also black, was stopped by two Harvard police officers in 2004 after being mistaken for a robbery suspect as he crossed Harvard Yard. They threatened to arrest him when he could not produce identification.

This one's from 2008.

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2008/08/29/at_harvard_blacks_perceive_blatant_culture_of_prejudice/

It was the quintessential college scene: dozens of students from the Harvard Black Men's Forum and the Association of Black Harvard Women picnicking on the Radcliffe Quad, playing capture-the-flag and running relay races at their end-of-the-year field day.

But just an hour into the festivities on the sunny afternoon in May 2007, the fun screeched to a halt. Two campus police officers rode up on motorcycles. Were they students, the officers asked. Did they have permission to be there?

The young men and women, dressed in Harvard T-shirts, would discover that a fellow student in a nearby dorm had mistaken them for trespassers, according to students who were there and whose account was confirmed by Harvard officials.

The incident, which ignited criticism from black students and faculty, highlighted the prejudices that many black students say they continue to face at Harvard, not only from police, but from classmates, as well.

Alaya: I feel really sad that you posted this. You pretend that a black man has no basis or legitimacy for being wary of cops.

I'm genuinely sorry to have saddened you, but that's not at all what I've been saying. In the original posting I wrote about "the very real and very serious problem of racial profiling", and even in talking just about Gates I said his assumption was understandable and that I definitely understand why he'd be alarmed.

You pretend that Crowley was just trying to help out, because, hey, if *you* were in the same situation, your default would be to trust the cop over feeling scared for your safety.

No, actually I imagine I'd be pretty scared, though there's no way I'd act the way Gates did. And when I say Crowley was just trying to help out I mean that he wasn't there on some manufactured pretext (like a bogus traffic stop), but specifically to try to prevent a burglary. It's not about trusting a cop because I'm white, and my default definitely isn't to trust cops—just the opposite, in fact. But that doesn't mean I can't look at each situation on its own merits.

I don't want to go through point by point, but I think you're taking various comments that are only intended to be about Henry Gates and generalizing them when I didn't intend them that way. There's very little you wrote that I disagree with...except whether or not Gates is right in characterizing Crowley as a racist. And I think there's no contradiction at all between disagreeing on that point and still recognizing that racial profiling and other forms of ingrained racism are genuine and serious problems. I don't intend to trivialize that at all.

So while I'm sorry to have caused you unhappiness (seriously—that's about the last thing I want my writing to do, unless by some miracle Donald Rumsfeld happens to be reading along), I think it's mainly a misunderstanding. In any case, though, I do respect how strongly you feel about this, and I appreciate the thoughtful comment.

Nice one, Merton. I stand corrected (or mostly, anyway, since only one of those examples was a professor, it wasn't in his home, and he wasn't arrested).

Still, one arrest and one mistaken identity in five years doesn't look like a wave of racial profiling of Harvard faculty. Counter says "It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment"—but if that's really their purpose, they're doing a pretty poor job of it.

And finally: from now on, I'll take Henry Gates' attributions of racism every bit as seriously as I do Abe Foxman's attributions of anti-Semitism.

It's actually YOU who sound like Abe Foxman here.

When Foxman makes an accusation of anti-semitism its purpose it to justify a brutal military occupation in Palestine.

But Foxman and his ADL hit buddies also do something else. They make every attempt to discredit testimony by Palestinians about the abuses of the IDF. Essentially they do what you're doing here. Palestinians can't be trusted. They exaggerate. The IDF is the most moral army in the world, and so on.

There's no comparing what African Americans face in America at the hands of the cops to what the Palestinians face at the hands of the IDF. But a lot of workkng class blacks see the police as an occupying army. Just read up on what young black men had to go through in NYC under Rudy Giuliani. Just read up on the statistics of incarceration of blacks vs. whites.

You are doing exactly what the typical zionist apologist does. Any minute now I expect you to start talking about the Cambridge police as the most moral police force in the world.


And finally: from now on, I'll take Henry Gates' attributions of racism every bit as seriously as I do Abe Foxman's attributions of anti-Semitism.

Actually you sound a bit like Abe Foxman. When Foxman cries anti-semitism it's to justify a brutal military occupation. It's to intimidate. It's to shut down debate on Israel/Palestine.

Whether or not Gates was exaggerating, he's not justifying a military occupation. He's agitating against an urban police force, and many blacks perceive urban police forces (which are increasingly militarized) as occupying armies.

You here are trying to discredit Gates testimony against the cops as surely as Foxman and the Israel lobby regularly try to discredit Palestinian testimony against the IDF. Yes, there's no comparing Gates (or even a working class American black) to a Palestinian in the occupied territories, but it's a difference of degree not kind. Palestinian academics get harassed by the IDF as surely as the Palestinian underclass does.

You are doing exactly what the typical zionist apologist does. Any minute now I expect you to start talking about the Cambridge police as the most moral police force in the world.

This is definitely my favorite comment in the thread.

I am going to note that this thread now has 55 comments in it, which must be some kind of record for this blog, which statistic in itself supports John's thesis more eloquently than mere words.

Whoops, 56. Wait a minute -- does this one count? Then 57. No, wait --

You cannot disturb the peace without another, non-police officer present. The entire point of a charge of disturbing the peace is that other citizens may be incited to violence.

I posted elsewhere a relevant excerpt from the MA statute, there's nothing there about other citizens or inciting violence. You're confusing a courtroom argument about "the entire point of a charge" with what justifies an arrest.

I just don't see a policeman who arrests a 58 year old man with a cane for shouting at him in these circumstances as anything other than an asshole.

He was arrested for 'disturbing of the peace', not for shouting at Crowley.

Now, it's true that his shouting at Crowley caused Crowley to arrest him rather than giving him a pass, but that's normal, that's the best (the least worse) outcome one can expect in this situation, when insulting a cop.

If you're insulting a cop and he decides to retaliate by lawful means, rather than just beating a crap out of you - consider yourself lucky, that's a good cop you're dealing with.

Now what happens? Crowley could say: "I know what you're probably thinking. I can understand why you're shouting, but please let me explain to you why that's not what you think. I am just checking all is fine. All is fine? OK, so sorry to trouble you. Have a good day, Sir."

C'mon Bernard. Crowley's job is to investigate a break-in, not to diagnose Gates' phobias. He is not a psychiatrist, he is a cop. For all he knows there are violent armed criminals in the house, for all he knows Gates is one of them. How could you seriously write such a thing?

John et al, do you say Massachusetts law does not require the officer to provide a card with his information when someone asks for it like that? Because it sure seems like he broke the law and admitted doing so in his report.

Given this, racism seems like a reasonable explanation for his behavior. At the very least, this case seems like "the slam dunk indictment of police authoritarianism".

There is no doubt in my mind that when Gates started yelling: 'you don't know who you're messing with, what is your badge number?' Crowley became reluctant to give him the badge number (can you blame him?), and he stalled, like any cop would do.

But consider this: his job, his main task is not to give his badge number, his job is to investigate the reported break-in. Giving the badge number is merely a procedural detail, low priority.

Suppose a cop is in a firefight and you crawl close to him and demand his badge number - would he be justified in telling you to fuck off in that situation? Of course he would. And I suspect this is Crowley's defense in the badge incident - he was in the middle of investigating a potential crime, and in that situation I doubt there is a requirement to rush into producing the badge.

“Counter says ‘It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment’ —but if that's really their purpose, they're doing a pretty poor job of it.” -- Sgt. Crowley teaches a course on racial profiling because the Cambridge PD is required to by law after a 2004 Northeastern University study on racial profiling found Cambridge to be among the top 40 worst communities in Massachusetts.

“I was curious to see what Black Agenda Report would have to say about this, and (as usual) they didn't disappoint; see here, here, and here for three excellent articles.” – I’m glad they’ve written about it too and if the issue gets more people to read the Black Agenda Report and all kinds of articles and have a better insight into Gates and Obama and class and race issues, rights and economic justice issues that’s great and in fact, that’s the point and let’s have more of it. But the fact that Gates is an elitist serving the interests of the ruling class is no more reason for dismissing legitimate issues about race and rights in this case than saying we should consider whether we like someone or whether their politics are correct in deciding whether we should convict them of a crime.

"It brings up the question of whether black males are being targeted by Cambridge police for harassment"

In, say, Boston's North End - yes, I can imagine blacks being harassed there (although of course each case needs to be judged separately). But Cambridge? Hardly.

Gates was arrested for "disturbing the peace"?? Nice touch of Orwell, abb1. And since you know about the absence of harassment in Cambridge, let me ask you about Princeton (similar class level). Is there harassment of blacks in Princeton?

On the basis of what Gates knew from his past and what he witnessed, he was perfectly entitled to assume that Crowley behaved as a racist. And his arrest removed any lingering doubt. On the basis of what Foxman knew of Carter he had no reason to call him antisemitic except out of bad faith.

Now maybe one can document dozens of cases of white Harvard profs being arrested in their homes. (Dozens because of the black/white ratio on the faculty.) Then I'll admit that Gates should have been better informed. But I haven't heard of these cases.


On the basis of what Gates knew from his past and what he witnessed, he was perfectly entitled to assume that Crowley behaved as a racist.

Maybe he is "entitled to assume", but he is certainly not entitled to act on this assumption. I'm perfectly entitled to assume that he is a psycho asshole, but I would never call him that in his face in a social or professional situation. I would shake his hand and smile. This is how society operates.

I've never lived in NJ. I've lived in Eastern MA for many years and worked in Cambridge. And what does Princeton has to do with anything here, or these statistics of white and black Harvard profs? Let's say 100 black Harvard profs are arrested for one white Harvard profs - what does it say about his particular incident? Absolutely nothing.

All these arguments - that he's learned something from his past and thus is entitled to assume, the staff about the cases of white professors arrested - don't you think you just take exactly the thing they call "racial profiling", turn it around and glorify it?

If Gates is entitled to assume based on his alleged experience (poor thing, construction workers working on his enormous house didn't recognize him as the owner), what about a cop or employer dealing with a black kid - are they perfectly entitled to assume too?

“Suppose a cop is in a firefight and you crawl close to him and demand his badge number - would he be justified in telling you to fuck off in that situation? Of course he would. And I suspect this is Crowley's defense in the badge incident” –-

This one made me laugh. Love the image. So we are to imagine that the situation was so dangerous and high pressure that Crowley never had time, not even as he was leaving, to reach into his pocket and pull out the identity card he was required to carry and obligated to give to Gates, who asked for it repeatedly, and who, according to the above scenario, was not directly involved but just somebody tapping on Crowley’s shoulder while Crowley was busy, uh, calling in more reinforcements.

This argument speaks to another important thread in these discussions. And that is the idea that police work is so dangerous and police officers so generously put their lives on the line for us that they deserve super-respect and obedience at all times. This is a myth propagated to keep us doing just that: never question the power of the police. Police officers deal with a lot of ugly situations and bad people but the greatest hazard they face in their jobs is boredom and inactivity. And perhaps a distorted view of the world. This is not TV land. Police work can be dangerous but not anywhere near as dangerous as logging, commercial fishing, or being a seaman, airplane pilot, miner, construction worker, taxi driver, roofer, farmer, firefighter, common laborer, or heavy equipment operator.

We live in a nation with an increasingly militarized police growing more aggressive and disdainful of our rights. The article about the 287(g) program posted by John above is an excellent example of that.

When I first heard about this case, I did wonder if it was a case of racial profiling. But when I heard Gates was supported strongly by the Cambridge Multicultural Police Association, I concluded it was not. Black cops do not stand up for racist cops.

Bernard, you're not going to find equivalent cases with rich whites because rich whites think of the police as good servants, so they don't get indignant when an officer arrives. They do what the cop requests, then thank him for protecting their property.

Glad to hear from you again, Xihuitl.

But the fact that Gates is an elitist serving the interests of the ruling class is no more reason for dismissing legitimate issues about race and rights in this case...

Totally agreed (and agreed as a general rule as well), but the fact that Gates is an elitist jerk has nothing to do with my rejection of his claim of racism in this case. Similarly, the fact that Gates claims there was racism doesn't mean that racism was actually operative in this case, nor that we have to take his claims seriously. There was one person who demonstrably, through his own admission, was acting on race-based assumptions here: Henry Gates. And he says forthrightly that he projected an entire racist narrative onto the white police officer in front of him. None of that, and none of his history or the history of racial injustice and racial profiling in this country, makes his assertion of racism in this case one that we have to accept. We can (and should) decide for ourselves.

And in assessing whether or not the left's stance on this is credible, consider the critical point that it was liberals who jumped on Lucia Whalen with full-throated accusations of racism and made her life a living hell, under the banner of this same crusade, and for the most absurd reason imaginable. Then, when it started to look like her story would support their version of events, they suddenly took it all back and now hold her up as a hero.

Setting aside the gross hypocrisy, I have no doubt that before she was "exonerated" we'd have heard the same arguments about how wrong it is to deny the structural racism that caused her to describe two black males as "two black males", how her white privilege caused her to see what she expected to see, how she'd never have responded the same way if it were "two white males" forcing the door, etc, etc. And all of it completely wrong. And yet the people who so confidently excoriated this poor woman then seem to have learned nothing at all from their inexcusable behavior, or the crystal clear lesson it teaches about leaping to unequivocal conclusions based on flimsy "evidence" and institutional analyses. And that's as good an illustration as I can imagine of what's wrong with the left's position on this entire issue.

Abb1: Oh, so he shouldn't have had to give his badge number until he had reason to think Gates lived there, which happened immediately according to the goddamn police report?

There was one person who demonstrably, though his own admission, broke the law here. Why the fucking Hell doesn't that take precedence over the grave offense of "acting on race-based assumptions", John?

John: you're right, you don't have to take anyone's claims seriously. Certainly not Gates's if you think he is an "elitist jerk."

Anyway, I'll be looking forward to reading your forthcoming posts on racial profiling. I assume you started with the mickey mouse version as a warmup.

By the way, you have most Americans on your side. Siding with the cops is a reflexive thing among american libs (see shetterly's comment about thanking cops for protecting one's property).

Sorry to all of you who tried so hard, but abb1 wins the thread with this deep, brilliant insight:

>> Let's say 100 black Harvard profs are arrested for one white Harvard profs - what does it say about his particular incident? Absolutely nothing.


Bernard, unless I'm missing something here, you appear to be a victim of some logical fallacy. A statistical pattern does not lead us to a definite conclusion about any specific incident. Am I wrong about it?

Sorry to see you couldn't keep up the surprisingly civil tone of your first comment, Bernard, though (as hf illustrated) you're certainly not alone. Funny how much sarcasm, anger, and cheap shots you can draw just by contradicting standard doctrines, isn't it? Even from people who otherwise agree with 99% of what you think. You know, I'd swear that echoes something I said in my original posting. And I wonder: if y'all can't argue this respectfully with me even though we're on the same side politically, how do you think you can have a worthwhile exchange with the rest of the country?

(To the many people who have stayed civil, by the way, thanks very much; it does you credit, and I really appreciate it.)

While I'm here, let me ask you one thing directly: do you think it was ever valid for people to smear Lucia Whalen as a racist? To restate: do you think there was ever the slightest justification for calling Whalen a racist, even if she had in fact used the phrase "two black males"?

I certainly don't. But given your analysis, I don't see how you could answer anything but "yes" (and in fact your initial posting on this issue implied as much). And if so, as I said before, I think you should consider what that says about leaping to unequivocal conclusions about individuals based on assumptions and institutional analyses.

John, I'm only slightly irritated with you. It probably has something to do with the fact that this issue doesn't really touch me personally. I think you've done pretty much what the lefties you criticize have done, except in reverse--you seem to empathize with Crowley and not at all with Gates. That's strange. You even say you know you wouldn't react the way he did. Neither would I, but I'm not black, I don't have a lifetime of resentment and mistrust of the police justifiably lodged in my skull (though in fact I am a little appalled by the fawning attitudes many Americans take towards both the military and the police) and frankly, I don't think I'd have the guts to get in a cop's face the way Gates did (right or wrong).

I agree that our culture does tend to take often trivial incidents and blow them up into something of world-shaking importance, but you're doing a little of this yourself. Yes, you're getting some harsh reactions, but that happens all the time with people who agree with others 99 percent of the time when they disagree on 1 percent. I still regret the way donescobar seems to have dropped ATR , probably because so many folks jumped on him for his comments on the I/P conflict. (I never thought his comments were that out of line and I probably fall somewhere between Chomsky and Finkelstein in my attitudes towards the conflict.)

"Siding with the cops is a reflexive thing among american libs (see shetterly's comment about thanking cops for protecting one's property)."

Bernard, apologies for not being clearer: *rich* whites behave that way. Plenty of working class whites see the cops as potential enemies.

Donald, you're ignoring what many of us think: Crowley is guilty of abuse of authority, but his abuse does not come out of racism. I don't know if you know any cops, but many people in my part of the blogosphere do not. Some cops are surprisingly liberal, but in general, they're conservative, especially in regard to the institution they serve. Good cops aren't necessarily on a power trip when they demand respect. Buddhist priests and teachers of the martial arts can have the same sense that you may disrespect them as people, but you should not disrespect what they represent.

Which is a long way of saying, yeah, Crowley acted like an asshole in response to Gates acting like an asshole, but Crowley wasn't being a racist, classist asshole like Gates.

P.S. I probably should say that I pity Gates enormously. I've read some of his work, and I thought it was good. But he's an old man who has been protected by wealth and academia for decades; he doesn't realize racial issues are more complex now. If he would get off the racial profiling hobbyhorse, I would like him more, but his pride may keep him there for the rest of his life.

John, sorry but I didn't mean any sarcasm. You told us how serious racial profiling is and why this particular case is a joke. So I expressed the hope that your contribution to the subject would not end with the "joke case" but would tackle the real issue at some point. Why is that a "cheap shot"? I am sorry if my tone suggested that it was. I realize my tone can be irritating. I apologize.

To be frank, I'll admit I was surprised by your post. At first, I thought it was a joke. But then I see you call a black man an "elitist jerk" for having a "hissy fit" while you defend the white cop who is arresting him in his own home.

Wow.

Perhaps we come to this from very different backgrounds or maybe not. I'll tell you my story briefly so you realize for me maybe there's a personal angle which might explain my impatience. I grew up in the 60-70s going to demos holding banners insulting cops and throwing things at them. And I've had quite a few run-ins with them. They were rough but I always knew there was a limit they would not cross. I had friends who got caught in pretty bad incidents but I always viewed those as the exception. I certainly never feared for my life. They never shot bullets: only tear gas. Kent State would have been unthinkable. In fact, I spent only one full night in jail (in Germany actually).

I also spent a lot of time (about 10 months total) in Spain when Franco ruled the place. I remember having to hide to talk to my Spanish friends who didn't trust anyone within earshot, I learned to "shut up" (a hard skill for me). It certainly gave me a different perspective on my freedom to tell cops in France what I thought of the institution they represented. In Spain, whenever we saw the carabineros with their funny hats, we'd just smile stupidly and walk away.

Then I came to America in 77, where I found everyone bragging about the first amendment and behaving like sheep as soon as a cop showed up. I was flabbergasted by the deference to authority. I still find it sickening. 7.2 million people are behind bars, racial profiling is rampant, police brutality is atrocious. All the cops in my neighborhood do is harass the local hispanics and hunt for illegals (when they're not giving tickets to people driving at 26 mph). They've stopped every single male relative of every single black student I've had for summer programs. (I should blog about it. It's both funny and tragic.) The kids came from families in the south with incomes around $15K. In Princeton the average salary of a cop is around $130K: the top cop makes $175K. For those who don't know Princeton. It's tiny. And it has 2 towns! So there are 2 different police forces. Nice job if you can get it.
The sister of a good friend of mine is a cop in Oakland, and the work there is very hard and very dangerous. I'll cut her some slack. But why should I cut the Pton cops any slack?

So I suspect we come to this from very different perspectives. For me cops are part of a larger system in the US that stifles dissent and makes a mockery of democracy. Cops are just an extension of the military system. And it's very effective. I am no hero and I wouldn't do here what I did in Europe, because I don't want to spend 2 years in prison. Which is why I also believe there's much less freedom here than people think: certainly, where it counts, much less than in Europe.

So, no offense Mr Crowley. As a human being you have my complete respect, but as a cop you've got to earn it. And I'll fight for the right of Mr Gates to insult you in his home any time.

Sorry I don't know about Whalen. I think I already know far more than I ever wanted to know.

Anyway, no hard feelings. Good night everyone!


Bernard: So I expressed the hope that your contribution to the subject would not end with the "joke case" but would tackle the real issue at some point.

Ah, ok; "mickey mouse" seemed like a description of the posting, not a way of saying how I was characterizing the issue. Sorry for the misunderstanding (and as you say, no hard feelings).

And I'll fight for the right of Mr Gates to insult you in his home any time.

Yes, as will I. And thanks for the extended story; hearing about your background is interesting and also explains a lot about where you're coming from. My own (and only) time in jail was in Israel, by the way (punishment for breaking the siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem); if you want to see some unambiguous "racist pigs", I can tell you the Israeli border police easily fit the bill.

So I've got no special brief with cops, and I suspect our perspectives are much less different than you're suspecting. Nonetheless, just like soldiers (and despite their shared institutional role), many of them are human beings. And even in this instance I'm not defending the cop per se—I just don't think that what happened here demonstrates racism. No more, no less.

Anyway, thanks again for the reply.

"Crowley acted like an asshole in response to Gates acting like an asshole, but Crowley wasn't being a racist, classist asshole like Gates."

Crowley acted like an asshole and used his power to arrest Gates. That makes him the much much bigger asshole in this situation. Now if Crowley hadn't arrested Gates, but Gates had gotten his badge number or whatever and somehow used his powerful connections to have Crowley punished in some way, then Gates would be the bigger asshole. But that version of events happened in some parallel universe--in that universe I'd be on your side. Here, not so much.

As for Gates being a racist, excuse me, but big effing deal. If I were a black man, like many or perhaps most black men in this country with experiences of being suspected a criminal no matter what my social status (not that it's better for a poor person to be treated this way) and I were standing on my own damn property and some white cop thought I had broken into my own house, unlike some here I suspect I would probably think "oh great, another white jackass thinks I'm a criminal." and if I were tired and sick I might even lose my temper. Not necessarily fair, (though again we don't know), but completely understandable. If you want to say "Hey, Gates is the real racist here", go right ahead. You could say Gates made an understandable mistake under stressful conditions, but yeah, by all means go ahead and label this "racism" as though it somehow compares with the sort of crap black men have to put up with. This compares with that the way spitting on the sidewalk compares with biological warfare.

I grew up around white people who were constantly on the lookout for examples of black people supposedly being racist towards whites and I know such things actually happen, but if you think this is much of an example I think your perspective is really twisted.

John, I respect you a huge amount, but man, this post really sucked. I spent the better part of my 5 mile jog tonight thinking about why, but it's just not worth it. To the extent that this incident deserved attention and you want to point out that Crowley might not be a racist as so many concluded , the answer was not to claim that a black man who is suspicious of white cops who falsely suspect them of being criminals is, gasp, a racist. Yeah, that's real nuance.

If this were my blog I'd pour gasoline on the original post and this thread and then light a match.

"Crowley acted like an asshole and used his power to arrest Gates. That makes him the much much bigger asshole in this situation."

I could sign onto that take. I've been harassed by cops in my time, also.

And I agree there are historical reasons for Gates' racist reaction. But that doesn't change the fact that his reaction was racist. People keep going back and forth on how much weight "racist" should have--whether it describes absolute evil or a natural human state. If it's meant to be objective, a word that describes racial prejudice, Gates was the racist that day. Maybe if he'd been feeling better, he wouldn't have been one.

From the New York Times account, it sounds like the beer meeting went reasonably well. Racism does dwindle when you're drinking together.

" If it's meant to be objective, a word that describes racial prejudice, Gates was the racist that day. "

There are or should be gradations in the meanings of words if they are used objectively. "Racist" could be used of a great many people I know, and in truth maybe every single person on earth, but there are gradations and in the interpretation which is harshest towards Gates, he still isn't much of a racist--he's someone who jumped to a very reasonable though possibly false conclusion under stressful circumstances being falsely suspected by a white cop all too similar to what countless black men have faced before. And somehow you seem sure Crowley wasn't a racist. But I note that you don't really know that--I keep mentioning this to no avail, but there seems to be a mystery as to where Crowley got the idea that there were two black men reported engaged in suspicious activity. It's not what Whalen reported, according to the transcripts. I don't know that Crowley is a racist, but part of what irks me about this thread is the double standard. It's as if to make up for certainties that aren't really certain as believed by one side we've got to counter by pretending to believe certainties that aren't certain on the other side. Why this is supposed to be better is unclear to me.

Bernard, projecting your contempt for the authority onto all individual cops seems silly. The cop didn't come there to stop Gates from entering a whites-only diner, he came to protect his (quite substantial) property. Is this too nuanced? Weird.

Donald,
...he still isn't much of a racist--he's someone who jumped to a very reasonable though possibly false conclusion under stressful circumstances being falsely suspected by a white cop all too similar to what countless black men have faced before.

Is this not exactly what racial profiling is all about?

Donald, do you think black cops stand up for white racist cops? Have you seen the picture of Crowley standing next to a black cop who is smiling, clearly proud to be there for his friend? You mention gradations of meaning. On a racism scale, Crowley appears to be mighty low.

People have been looking hard into Crowley's record. He was appointed by a black commissioner to teach a course in sensitivity to racial profiling. If there was a hint that he was racist in any meaningful way, it would've come out by now.

You're right that we have no certainty. We can't look into his soul, but we can look into his past, and his past appears to be clean.

It's good that Obama's election proved that racism is a thing of the past in the US, otherwise there might actually be a lot of posts on this topic.

Anyway, I think xkcd has the definitive take on the current situation.

Donald: ...man, this post really sucked.

Speak your truth! No, seriously, I'm cool with that.

But...:

To the extent that this incident deserved attention and you want to point out that Crowley might not be a racist as so many concluded , the answer was not to claim that a black man who is suspicious of white cops who falsely suspect them of being criminals is, gasp, a racist. Yeah, that's real nuance.

...see, this is the problem: you keep taking me to task for things I haven't said and don't even believe. E.g., I haven't described Gates as a racist. Go ahead and look; you'll see that the closest I came is a statement that Gates "was acting on race-based assumptions here" (and that was far, far down in the thread), which is of course true. Maybe you mistook the point about "projection" to mean Gates was projecting his racism on Crowley, but I really just meant Gate was projecting that narrative on Crowley; that'd be an understandable misunderstanding, since "projection" can imply something beyond what I meant (but it was the best word).

I'm not trying to play semantic games; I was consciously avoiding the word for Gates just as I've avoided it for Crowley, because I don't see much evidence that Gates is a racist. As you say, he has the default assumptions that are entirely natural and understandable for black men in this society. Those are "racist" in some sense, of course, but as you imply, that doesn't seem like the right word for them.

Anyway, that's just one misconception out of a multitude, and this is the problem for me in responding to many of your comments in this thread: you've got a whole truckload of words you're putting in my mouth and thoughts you're putting in my head that have never been there, and that's frequently because you're missing stuff I've already said that would resolve those misunderstandings. So I look at some of your replies and think, where do I even start?

I don't mean to bust your hump here—I'm just explaining why I'm responding the way I am. And while I certainly respect your right to believe that my position lacks nuance, let me suggest that the problem there may actually be in your reading, not in what I'm writing or in what I think. At times like this I really wish you'd fall back on a thought like: hey, I've learned in the past that John's not a complete moron, so if what he's saying sounds like a giant bucket of kangaroo piss, maybe I'm missing something and I should ask him to clarify it. The benefit of the doubt, you know? I think (or at least hope) I've earned it.

And that's why I constantly harp on having respectful exchanges: because they allow misunderstandings like this to be resolved before they turn into giant, impossibly tangled balls of cat hair.

Sorry for the length, and I'm sorry if I've given offense. I don't intend any. I'm just banging it out at speed, and I didn't have time to make it shorter, and my brain is too broken by this thread to write any more. But I thought it was worth the time to explain because after this many years we're, like, bestblogbuddies, and I'd like you to understand where I'm coming from (now and in the future). Sorry for messing up your jog.

NomadUK: Anyway, I think xkcd has the definitive take on the current situation.

Beautiful. I'm in total agreement with you.

"I definitely understand Gates' alarm, but the fact is that in this case it was entirely misplaced; Crowley was there to help him, not to toss him in jail. That only happened (rightly or wrongly) thanks to the "narrative" Gates had constructed in his head, and the way he acted on that narrative."

this is the bit i have a problem with. firstly it seems cretinous to claim Gates' alarm was "entirely misplaced", he was after all arrested for no reason. secondly if Crowley was there to help him, not toss him in jail why did he toss him in jail? making assumptions about people's motives based on no evidence is tendentious but making assumptions by reversing known factors is just stupid. thirdly you make crowley seem like a passive force not responsible for his own actions. Gates was arrested because Crowley decided to arrest him, not because Gates had a preconcieved notion in his head. there was never any point where Crowley HAD to arrest him, therefore it was entirely on his own initiative and entirely his responsibility.

"Is this not exactly what racial profiling is all about?"

This is unbelievably unforgivably stupid. This is why I'm losing my temper here. Racial profiling is about the police, the freaking government, using their powers to single out members of an ethnic group because they are members of that ethnic group. It's not about an individual person, a member of the group that has been treated this way in this country for hundreds of years, thinking that he's a rather typical victim of white racism when he is suspected of being a burglar by a white cop while standing on his own property. I'm not going to waste any more time explaining this--if you can't understand this then it's time to move on to plain simple namecalling or else just abandoning the thread.


John--

Not everything I'm replying to is directed at you specifically John, though I do think you set the tone with your initial post, which was one-sided and snarky and had a spirit of pre-emptive self-martyrdom. But yes, I'm sure I've projected some things onto you--guilt by association with other things others have said. I apologize for that. This sort of incident calls for nuance and a willingness to point out the stupidities and false assumptions of all sides if you're going to write about it.

There is an interesting piece that I mostly agreed with at Salon which is very critical of Gates and his Ivy League classism which does not make the mistake of excusing the cops--it's by "phantom negro", because the author is an academic who is afraid of openly offending Gates. Link in the next post.

On preview it looks like I'm having trouble with the link, for some reason, so I'll just give the web address.

http://www.salon.com/opinion/feature/2009/07/24/gates/?source=newsletter

Donald,
In case you decide to spend a bit more time here, please help me understand this better. So, if I own a business, or if I'm a landlord, is it OK for me to avoid considering black employees/tenants based on various racial statistics and my relevant life experience? If a black man is walking towards me, does it make sense to cross the street; and if I don't, am I acting stupidly?

I thought racial profiling doesn't (usually) make sense because all these grand generalizations about racial ethnic groups give you very little or no reliable information about specific individuals you're dealing with. Because while the race is a (superficial) characteristic that may correlate with some traits, it certainly doesn't determine or cause them.

And I don't really see what your "hundreds of years" have to do with this. Because someone in the South owned slaves in the 19th century, a Cambridge cop in 2009 must be scary?

I hear your rhetoric and I see that you have some strong feelings about all this, but it doesn't make much sense; frankly, it doesn't make any sense to me at all.

Thanks.

There are two classes of people on this thread. Some see a symmetry between two individuals, Crowley and Gates, and as such find plenty of blame to go around. Others (like me) do not recognize any symmetry at all. There is a private citizen in his home on one hand and there is, on the other hand, an armed cop, a guy with a loaded gun who represents a government that has a monopoly over the use of lethal force.

So by definition Gates cannot be racist against Officer Crowley. He can be racist against Mr Crowley, but the guy on his lawn is not Mr Crowley. He is Officer Crowley. And Officer Crowley is liable to insults in a way Gates is not.

People make the mistake of thinking of Crowley as a kind of neighbor who's coming to help. This is a deep, fundamental misunderstanding of the conditions attached to granting government the monopoly of power.

I am not a libertarian, but that's the part libertarians have gotten right. The right of any stranger to be on my lawn with a loaded gun (ie, a cop) comes with huge strings attached to it in a free society. It's really sad to see people lose sight of this. That's why I find Obama's beer gross because it blurs the distinction between Mr Crowley and Officer Crowley. If you care about freedom, folks, you should be nervous.

in a way Gates is not --> in a way Gates and Mr Crowley are not.

I don't see any symmetry. I see a decent professional cop and a rich crazy asshole insulting and threatening him while he's doing his job, then running outside screaming and getting (quite deservingly) arrested.

I haven't seen any facts so far indicating anything else.

And please, enough with 'the gun' already. There's nothing at all in this story about the gun; this gun is nothing but your rhetorical weapon, but it's become tiring. You are out of bullets.

Quit being so dogmatic, fellas.

Since I used "racist" in reference to Gates, let me clarify that I was using it to describe him at the moment, not always. Sort of like what Aaron McGruder calls a Nigga Moment:

In case the embed doesn't work: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0B9QGrpdu5Y

In life, we all have our nigga moments.

That said, Crowley was coming as the servant of an institution designed to protect rich people. He hears about a possible break-in at a rich person's house. But the person who answers the door does not act like a rich person, who would be grateful for the prompt attention of their lackeys. Gates sees racial profiling where it does not exist, and he screams at Crowley. Crowley sees disrespect for the police where it does exist, and he arrests Gates.

I think everyone agrees that the police have too much authority. Why shouldn't that be the important part of this story?

I don't think 'the police have too much authority' is a good framing.

Socio-economic system with high unemployment, low minimum wage, weak safety net, etc - it has to be repressive or it'll fall apart.

People from the ghetto in Roxbury will come to Cambridge and kick Gates' ass, if they are not kept safely in jails. And they'll kick our asses too. So, if we, with all other things left as they are, just reduce the police authority - we will suffer. Franky, I don't want to suffer.

Donald: Not everything I'm replying to is directed at you specifically John...

But the truckload of stuff I've mentioned that you mistakenly think I wrote or said is the stuff you've directed specifically at me, Donald. I left out some other examples to save you embarrassment.

...which does not make the mistake of excusing the cops...

A mistake I haven't seen anyone here make either. The double standard in this instance is entirely on the "pro-Gates" faction, as per the adjective, because there is no pro-Crowley faction here at all. Elsewhere, sure, but I haven't seen a hint of it here. For my part, I'm solely arguing that there's no evidence from this incident that shows that Crowley is a racist or that racial profiling was the motivation for the arrest.

Thanks for the mitigated apology, but I give up. If you want to discuss this more with me (either the issue or the miscommunication), please email me directly.

Bernard: People make the mistake of thinking of Crowley as a kind of neighbor who's coming to help.

No, he was a police officer who'd come to help. Meaning: he didn't just arrive on the scene because he noticed a black man standing in that house and thought, yeehah!, I get to throw another one in jail!—he went there solely because he was called there to investigate, terminate, or prevent a serious crime. Anyone who would deny this—which I hope doesn't include you or anyone else in this thread—shouldn't be taken seriously, because they're too biased to admit even the most mundane facts.

By the way (and I probably don't have to mention this to you, but not everyone has the same grasp of principles of logic), that says nothing at all about the subsequent exchange, or whether Crowley slipped right into his yeehah! I got me another black man to throw in jail! mode the second he saw Gates' non-white hue. It's entirely possible. But as I keep saying, and will say until the end of time, we have no solid evidence to show that that was his motivation—and without it, I will not simply assume he's a racist based on the color of his skin, Gates' projected narrative, the existence or prevalence of racial profiling in our society at large, and so on.

And none of you should either—no more than anyone should have been willing to assume Lucia Whalen was a racist based on the "evidence" against her.

ichomobothogogus: firstly it seems cretinous to claim Gates' alarm was "entirely misplaced", he was after all arrested for no reason.

"Entirely misplaced" may have been a bad phrase, you're right, though I mean only his initial misunderstanding of why Crowley was there. But: he wasn't arrested for no reason; he was arrested for disorderly conduct. And he was in fact yelling at Crowley inside, and outside as a crowd gathered. Had Gates not done that and still gotten arrested, there'd be an all-but airtight case for racial profiling and Crowley's racism.

secondly if Crowley was there to help him, not toss him in jail why did he toss him in jail?

See also my response to Bernard, but: I can come to your house to play Monopoly with you, then realize you've gone insane and are threatening me with a gun and very quickly change my intention. Basically, you're letting the ultimate result color your understanding of the initial reason that Crowley went to that house in the first place.

As for the arrest, there are several possible reasons why Gates was arrested which we've also already discussed; among those are entirely plausible and even likely explanations that don't require racism (like payback for Gates' yelling, which would be entirely unjustified, as we've all agreed); and in the absence of any solid evidence, we shouldn't just assume that Crowley's a racist. As the lesson of Lucia Whalen so clearly illustrates.

And I think I've just explained that for the last time. Thanks for the comment.

Bernard is making a lot of sense; so is Christopher. I don't know what's happened to John to set him off his rocker, but I hope he gets over it, because he's sounding like a total creep.

Actually, stras, comments like yours make it clear that I haven't been doing enough postings like this one. There are plenty of places to read standard (and validating) left critiques, but my highest goal here is to offer a different perspective and make people think about things in a way they wouldn't have otherwise. Obviously that's going to alienate some people, but the day I muzzle myself in order to keep that from happening is the day I should shut down the site.

"If you make people think they're thinking, they'll love you, but if you really make them think, they'll hate you." I appreciate what you do and think you should keep it up, John.

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